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The Heart of Banana: A Journey Through Aurora
The “Heart of Banana” as local surfers would fondly poke fun of, is a phrase that may invite quizzical look from the uninitiated. But for me, this would mean more than the familiar dish or puso ng saging. It means thriving on whatever one will encounter as he interacts with nature and the local community. Surviving in the backcountry after all requires a good deal of ingenuity and pakikisama. Indeed, for the one bent for a unique way to travel, Aurora might offer more than the usual.

The first taste of adventure might as well be the head-spinning zigzag road. Accompanied by Olin Duaso (photographer cum model) and Marco Villareal, both fellow outdoorsmen, we began our trip on July 5, late in the afternoon. We spent our first night in Digisit. Rain-soaked though during the night, we were greeted by a wonderful sunrise. “Añaos” or small islets added more mystery to the sun-drenched sky that change colors every second. The añaos stood still in silhouette with a commanding presence that would remind anyone of nostalgic memories. Yet, their presence also invites questions. Do they outlive our gazes or does our ignorant appreciation spoil them? It was so disheartening to see a bahay kubo implanted at the heart of a serene sight.

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As we drove back, my dismay is even more heightened as we saw large stones painted with environmental messages surrounding a waterfall’s periphery. Clearly, it was plain ignorance to vandal stones that somehow enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of a waterfall. Obviously, the concerned “environmentalists” do not realize that “littering” as their messages proudly conveyed is as much a crime as they do painting an element of nature that must be left in its own state. A simple “karatula” would do for example to remind visitors of wilderness ethics, without leaving much evidence of our intrusion. They must be reminded I suppose of a simple but hard to practice cardinal rule – to “leave no trace” whenever we visit a place beyond our habitation. And so it goes at least for the wild. But for the beautiful beaches lined up with mushrooming cottages, communing with nature in all its pristine glory is a thing of the past.

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Our next destination, the “Mother Falls” in Dimutabo stroke an accent to the already atonal symphony. My heart wept in tears. I can only imagine myself trekking in the river then, wondering at the miraculously designed order of things, thanking God that I’m alive, and that he gave me a chance to witness his creation. What litter now as you trek along the “road” with some traces of a river, are evidences of our concern to extract what we can from nature – electric power and its accessory. Wires are dangling instead of vines. Steel carts and concrete posts adorn every corner. Wooden slabs are scattered to connect boulders. And to my surprise, Mother Falls has lost its grandeur, placing in second as one is greeted first by the slowly emerging concrete structure. I had to scramble my way up slippery slope to get a good shot at the waterfall, and to avoid that “engineering feat” blocking my view. I am least concerned with meddling in politics. I was not aware of the good intention behind the project, but I am also entitled to my opinion - that a waterfall is not only a potential kinetic energy to benefit the province, but a beautiful sight as well to generate income through eco-tourism. Maybe what is lacking is not enough funding but the use of imagination to achieve economic goals without destroying the pristine quality of a destination that many had always been proud of. For all we know, these beautiful places might arouse profound appreciation of nature and of life itself for the many who busy themselves attending to their wants.

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On our way north, past that beautiful Amper stone- formation in Dipaculao, awaits rocky road and dirt, enough to bury one’s intention to ambiguity – whether to go on or not. Yet as we approached Dinadyawan, long stretch of stony beaches, clear blue sky that blurs in the horizon , the sea, the breeze, all compensate for the other wise sleepy small villages. It is not a place for the fast – paced. Slowly, I’m beginning to feel that hard to find word for city dwellers – tranquility. In Dinadyawan, I was not surprised anymore at how the town looks. The beach had its obvious postcard quality scene. We had to use our discerning eyes to look for interesting subjects though.

Dinalungan is our first night stop. Access road to Bulawan Falls is impossible for trikes. We insisted on hiking but the mighty “Kuliglig” took its toll. We enjoyed our trip though and managed to set camp on time. After a while, we savored our first decent meal outdoors. I must admit that we all enjoyed the night in Bulawan. What could be better than lying around huge boulders flat enough for a drinking spree while puffing out tired sighs on a moonlit, starlit night sky? Add to this the cold breeze and the crystal–clear spring water and you have enough reasons to be back. But then again, one cannot help but generate sour notes as you find it difficult to capture in film or view in full the waterfall enchanting enough, if not blocked by a steel bridge connecting the two river banks. In fact the whole place leaves no room for some sense of adventure and exploration, as the slopes are concreted with stairs and cottages and a viewing deck to boot. Maybe our purpose is to make it accessible for as much visitors as possible. But let us not forget that when we intend to bring people closer to nature, we must do so by at least leaving them something to discover and learn from the experience. If the edifices of convenience were built at least away from the main attraction, the thrill of trekking and discovery is even more fulfilling. Unless our purpose to visit a waterfall is merely for bathing which we can do at home, then the structures convenient as they are, will be justified, but for the benefit not of the present and would- be nature lovers.

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    After a quick Kuliglig ride back to Dinalungan proper, we rented a banca for Dalugan, a haven for surfers somewhere in Casiguran. We anchored in a small fishing village with a very few settlers. The place reminded me of a typical surfing destination in other tropical countries. There are no concrete roads and the two stores are in distant locations. However, the lush vegetation is a visual feast in itself. Farmer’s crops abound, and yes, the heart of banana or “Puso ng Saging” can be picked anywhere. If you’re smart enough to bring a fishnet, fresh harvest on a low tide plus veggies and coconut fruit for picking can be a mouth-watering dish. We literally feasted every time with ooohs and aaahs at every sip of sinigang and ginataan. By this time, I realized why the surfers do not worry for as much provision as I do.

Dalugan is a place for travelers, ideal for those who seek peace and quiet not often found in jampacked and expensive resorts. Here, the beach, the people, the village, all kept pace with the natural rhythm of life that seemed so calm, prolonged and still at every passing moment. I just hope that when this place becomes an object of revenue, enlightened entrepreneurs will respect and maintain that same tranquil and serene quality.

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After two nights in Dalugan,, we headed off to Casiguran proper . We rode a banca on a very still water that seemed like a mirror. We boarded off a fishing village, then rented a trike, taking some time off to take pictures. The town of Casiguran,, not so much busy as Baler is a welcome respite after several days in the outdoors. We did not intend to stay overnight but managed to visit some places of interest. We went out and got lost trying to find that swamp I saw several years back with the most beautiful landscape especially at dusk. We realized that it was now occupied by concrete bungalows that have expanded the town’s infrastructure.

Our last destination for a week’s trip is Dilasag, the last town north of Aurora. It was as if I have not accustomed myself yet to the same look of towns in this part of the province. At four o’clock in the afternoon, when we were still figuring out where to camp for the night, I can’t help but wonder as to what exciting discovery could possibly await us in this sleepy as ever town. But one place’s name has registered in my mind to reach though, Canoer. It took us to find Engineer Subia who generously accommodated us for a nice chat and a decent night’s rest. Diniyog, the place where we stayed is already a prize considering that it is only a fishing village. Its white sand beach is already comparable to Puerto Galera. But to our surprise there was a better visual feast waiting for us – Canoer. The fine weather was a blessing, revealing all the brilliant hues available. The sky was a pale ultramarine, clear all through out the horizon with blotches of white-as-cotton clouds. In contrast is deep Prussian blue vanishing to cerulean and viridian green. These are the colors of the sea which further contrast with the sand, jaun brilliant, light enough to reveal every shadows of footsteps. I can’t help but paint in words what I saw, but what I felt is impossible to express unless one set foot on that beautiful sight. What could bring justice to that awe than immerse oneself to the even prettier coral garden? The entire color wheel was there. All the achromatic moving creatures underwater seem to be wondering at us mortals, as to how detached and ignorant we have become, destroying the very magic that may actually bring us non-material but equally fulfilling rewards. This may be the magic that our host felt, confessing that he envy us for living the life that we chose, for discovering a paradise nearby, unnoticed by him for decades.

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Clouds still roll by and change their shapes every moment. And so do distant horizons that get hazier and colorful as the sun sets. I can hear Tatang’s voice reminding us to feel at home still. Horse drawn carts with fresh harvest and the ever – smiling farmers and fishermen still occupy our hand-held lenses. The taste of native Tinola is unforgettable, and so too the hospitality of the man who served it. The sand, the wind, the chill, the soup, all creep in my mind even as I try to close my eyes , as we sat on a bus on our ride back home. Even if we have remaining destinations to be visited and explored like Dingalan and other coastal towns of San Luis, I already felt home and at ease. I had been to Aurora in the truest sense of the word. I had been to where I’ve always been. Only this time, a sunrise or “bukang liwayway” is even more beautiful, more meaningful.

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Photos: Olin Duaso
Olag Stories
Visit this BatangBaler website and discover Poppo Olag. A Baler native who have been to most places on Earth - including the South Pole - but still remains enchanted with his native land.

Click the following topics for a quick link to the differrent Olag Stories.

Aurora, Province
of Enchantment


Finally It Was Over

Putok sa
Dikaloyungan


The Outer Banks of
Baler


Reminiscences


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