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Surviving Baler
NOTE: This article was written more than two years ago. Many things have changed since then. But the general atmosphere of the place still remains the same.

The beach front, Baler’s entertainment epicenter is a stretch of watering holes that starts near a vacation house where the town’s last great funeral violinist was found dead years ago and ends near the shooting location of Apocalypse Now’s famous village attack sequence where Robert Duvall uttered his infamous "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" line. In between these two landmarks are beerhouses, restaurants, videoke bars, hotels, drinking holes, and girlie houses that represent most of Baler’s red light digs. Of course, there are also the beach houses and even residences of Baler’s rich and famous. And to top it all, the headquarters of the PNP is also located along the stretch. Now that’s what i call flocking together.

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During daytime, the stretch looks sleepy because, well, most people there are still asleep. Most of the road is unpaved and always look like the lunar surface - gray, potholed, and dusty. Except for some restaurants and 24-hour drinking spots like Tiago’s, most of the establishments are close, so there’s really not much to look at during the day. Except for the beach, stretching as far as your eyes can see. The beach is cool, though the sand is not the Boracay type. The place gained reputation as a good surfing site during monsoon seasons. Most tourists visit this place because of that "call of the wave" and there’s not much of them. There are times when you can have all of the beach to yourself. Paradise? Maybe. But the beach is another thing to talk about. My real intention is to rant about the spots along the entertainment stretch. Like where’s the best place to go (none really), where’s the cheapest beer or where’s the best sisig. So let’s start with the first on the stretch. Let’s start with the baddest.

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TITA GUDING’s is a restaurant and videoke bar. In a fenced compound there’s a big wood and nipa structure where you can do the singing on an arcade type videoke machine, or eat or dance if you like. They also have cottages if all you want is to relax and smell the salty breeze of the ocean.Tita Guding’s offers the baddest service available along the beach front. Upon entering the place you will acquire the power of invisibility where you can just sit for hours without being noticed by their "waiters". On occasions where they feel your presence, you will encounter a drowsy looking boy on street clothes asking for your order. You have to ask for everything here - table napkins, ashtray, songbook, ballpen, and paper to write your videoke favorites on - things that you think should be instantly provided when you get in. The foods are cheap and good. I like the sitsarong bulaklak best but sometimes it’s not cooked good. Maybe their chef is a mood swinger. The sisig also tastes good. Its only 35 pesos and it resembles a salad more than a real sisig. But I came to love the taste of it. Other than the mani, i don’t like the rest of their menu. The pancit is full of kikiam and fishballs, which I don’t really like. and the sandwiches and burgers are bad. The beer is cheap, only 20 pesos and even cheaper during the day. Gin is also available at 50 pesos per bottle, chaser included. The sound of their videoke machine is bad. The music is very loud and noisy and you need to shout real hard so the sometimes-grounded microphone can pick your voice. Good for drunk people I think. As with the other arcade-type-token operated videoke machines in town a song here can cost you 5 bucks. But one thing good about this place is that few people go here so there are nights when you are the only person in the place. That’s sing-along galore if you’re into a crooner mode. And the songbook stinks man, really stinks. I don’t know if the real Tita Guding knows what’s happening in her turf. She’s a good caterer but this place caters bad. Tip: If you really want to go cheap, you can just rent one of their cottages for 50 bucks and bring all the stuff you need for a binge. You can also bring a case of beer inside their karaoke house for a corkage of 50 pesos. Then you only have to buy the pulutan.

UPDATE: Since this thing was written, Tita Guding's improved a bit but it's still on the bottom of my charts. There was a change of characters and the 45 caliber snobs were gone. The new replacements now served good and you won't feel invisible anymore. The karaoke machine was replaced by a better one. The sound is better and the mic is not grounded. I never had the chance to smell the songbooks.

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I can’t say much about ANGARA’S BEACH HOUSE. Before Aurora’s most famous last name was attached, the place was called BALER GUEST HOUSE. It was one of the first lodging places along the beach. Now it’s managed by the ex-mayor’s daughter and specializes in lodging out-of-towners. Since i’m a local, I rarely go there. Once when Igan and I got really drunk with this friend we taught how to drink gin, we decided to rent a room there because the only way we can go home is to crawl and Suklayin would be a long crawl. The room has 2 beds, a small table, a retiring electric fan and a cr with a broken doorknob. The sheets are clean and the attendant is gay, literally. We were not able to check the food since we only had Nissin cup noodles. The whole gig cost Igan about 400 bucks. Don't be turned-off by the front view of the place, the inside court looks better. A day’s stay there would cost about 300 bucks for a 2-bed room.

UPDATE: In an effort to regain it's former glory, the Angara's Beach House is now demolished to give way to a better-looking building.

After the Beach House there are two competing disco houses located side by side. These are the only disco places in town and could be cramped with people on weekends and holidays. MAHARAJA Discoteque offers the tried and tested disco with live female band concept. This is the oldest existing disco in town. Now it's rarely open, and seems to be on the brink of extinction, eclipsed by the current popularity of the nextdoor COCOHUT which offers the same thing - even the quality of the music are the same - bad. But there’s really no other choice if you want to practice those ballroom steps because these are the only dance halls in town. I go there to watch the bands - literally watch them. Both of these places have what they call Female Bands performing 3 one-hour sets every night alternating with one-hour of dancing time. These bands are mostly imported from Nueva Ecija or somewhere (maybe there's a school for this showbands since all of them looks the same, performs the same songs and do the same choreography). The bands have real names and have male members but since most of the singers are girls, we just call them female bands. The foods? Except for the french fries for pulutan I rarely try anything here. We go there for beers mainly. But recently I tried the sisig at Cocohut and at 50 bucks it could be the best sisig in town. And consider this a warning, these two places collectively hold the record for most shoot-outs in the province. Yep, this discos sometimes turns into shooting galleries. Stay alert, be prepared to spread thin on the ground once you hear gunshots. And don't count on the local police to help you because in most cases, they're the ones shooting each other.

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UPDATE: In the past six months, the place has been relatively peaceful. No gunshots anymore just the usual drunken stuff. Maharaja, in a bid to regain their lost glory tried having two performing bands but the people didn't come. Maybe because the bands play bad compared to the Cocohut performers. Meanwhile Cocohut is now under new management and there's not much difference that happened. But the good sisig is gone and was replaced by the salad-looking one from Tita Guding's. Turned out that one of the former girls at Tita Gudings with the power of turning you invisible is now at Cocohut and probably the one who's doing the sisig salad. Small World. And don't throw your bill or chit because the guard checks it to make sure you have paid.

One British friend aptly summarized what’s to expect at BAY’S INN, the best place in town for food, drinks, and lodging. He said that the place offers "good food and bad service". Imagine that in British accent. That's the way he sees it but it's not that bad. I really can’t complain about the food, they’re really good - the taste and the looks, but you have to bring a folding bed to sleep on while waiting for your order to arrive or maybe a thick book, say War and Peace. The waiters are not really trained but they're doing their best. If you're lucky there's this drunk semi- psychotic junkie who loves bugging the customers, but mostly he just engage in philosophical debates with himself. Then there are these hordes of cats waiting for your leftovers. On some occasions when they have a group of visitors from Manila or other far places, they close the restaurant to locals. One more thing, the restaurant's comfort room is a tourist attraction all by itself. It's probably the smallest in the whole stretch of the beach front. I mean, you have to stand on the toilet bowl to close the door. I never tried lodging in the place, but they say that the amenities are good. The prices are manageable. Now, those are just my rants - what I "observe". But if you ask me where's the best place to stay here in Baler, i'll recommend this one. It's just zero meters from the beach and the foods are great. Fave foods: the garlic chicken, the sisig on a sizzling plate, and the different recipes of fresh fishes and seafoods. Like Tita Gudings, the pancits are full of fishballs and kikiams. If youre looking for the best pancit, I recommend Mely's at the poblacion.

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UPDATE: Service is improving. Sisig is now served express - 5 minutes flat (or we just got lucky). There are less cats in the vicinity and junkie i was talking about may have found a new place to bug. One suggestion: microwave oven. But one more thing, somebody posted on an internet message board that he noticed bays inn's kitchen drain pipes flows directly on the beach in front of the place. I also saw it and i hope they will do something about it.

Almost facing Bay’s Inn is a place called Sea Breeze Resort It's also a lodging place with 3 rooms. This place I never visited in my life and really not in my map. I think it's also a restaurant but I never bothered going there. It's not a beach front place. Its a road front. It comes after Cocohut and a vacant lot. Maybe a good place to stay if you got really drunk, can't crawl home, and Bay's Inn is full.

The next place is my favorite - Tiago's. It's also a beach front place that comes after Bay's Inn, 2 private beach houses and a vacant lot. It's quite a secluded spot and definitely not a place for ambience. Most of the cottages are old nipa constructions that seems to have experienced a lot of typhoons. The place offers no c.r. to pee in so you just have to use the fences. It's official name is Baystore, but it sounds uncool so we locals call it Tiago'a after the proprietor who seems to be always under the influence of alcohol. It's definitely the best place to be if you want to get raving drunk. The drinks are cheap especially the gin. And the foods are great. Their staples are the beef steak and the rellenong bangus. Surprisingly, for a place that doesn't seem to be concerned with looks, the service here is good - courtesy of Ka Tiago and his wife and some girls that you can ask to accompany your binge if you like. There are two rooms here - wooden huts - that you can rent for 100 pesos if you can't go home because of too much alcohol or if you're a cheap chickboy. This place is really a third world experience. Not one that you can read on a Departmet of Tourism pamphlet.

After two private beach houses from Tiago's is the DSB resort and lodge. There's no restaurant here, just rooms and cottages for picnics and out-of-towners. A second storey room is available for rent with a good view of the beach. There used to be a karaoke house inside this hamlet looking compound but it fizzled into extinction. In front of DSB is a whole house for rent that used to be the short-lived SHEKINAH videoke - Igan's favorite hunting ground. It existed for about 1 year and was one of the places with girls for rent. Apparently, it fell out of competition with other well-established girlie houses. I went there once, already drunk with my alcohol buddies. It was already close but a friend managed to hassle the manager for one more round of warm beer and two songs. I slept on the table.

UPDATE: There's this new lodging place called M&M which seems to be a short-time place with 4 or five one room apartments lined in a row. I have no idea about his place which is about 1 year old.

Next stop - the SURFER'S INN, hangout of the town's surfing community. Like DSB, there's no restaurant here just rooms and huts for rent. There's a store where you can buy gin and Chippy or canned pulutans. They also rent-out surf and body boards. This is owned by the family of our bud Rommel - who is the Philippines' 2nd best surfer. Foreigners planning to stay for the whole surfing season rent rooms here for a flat monthly fee. This way they can stretch their dollars to the limits.

Just up the road to the left is the Governor's house. And in the beach front, just after the Surfer's Inn, is the Governor's Resort and Restaurant under construction and on its last pace of completion. It's a real resort right out of the pages of a DOT travel mag. The centerpiece is a huge glass-walled restaurant that looks intimidating for locals used to the Tiago's ambience. The roof, like the cottages surrounding the building is made of red-brown Tegulas. When finished, this beach-side resort will have 2 sprawling swimming pools and just across the road, a hotel. My guest is price wont be cheap. Not for natives like us but a good place for once-a-year dates.

UPDATE: The restaurant is now open. It's called Bahia De Baler, the classiest place in Baler to dine-in. The place is really intimidating with its glass walls, huge tables, greatly finished interiors, and uniformed waiters. There's also a live band playing on special occasions. (The Capitol Band actually - in one of their "official" gigs). I went there once with Metong, Allan (DJ Ray Mani for those FM listeners in Batangas City) and Baler's secret beauties Lelet and Janice. We were in a table 3 meters wide and we filled one-fifth of it. We ordered a sisig and beers. The price is slightly higher than Bay's Inn's maybe because of the extra cost for ambiance. There are lots of choices in the menu but most are not available. The chickens are listed under "poultry" but the porks are not under "piggery" but simply "porks". Maybe I'll have a date here, if I can find one. And the hotel across the road is already under construction.

VILLALUZ RESORT used to be the old MIA Resort back in the early 80s, established to accomodate the influx of surfer-tourists who were first to discover the waves of Aurora. Now its an unkept place with lots of rusting passenger jeepneys used by the ill-fated Villaluz Express. Now it is mostly rented out for family reunions and beauty contest practices. The last time I entered the place was about 2 years ago and i'm really not sure if its still operating. This place is ancient, man. A fitting location for an out-of-town set of OKATOKAT.

After the archeologically-friendly Villaluz Resort is KTV. It operates only at nights and one of the favorite places of the SOP rich DPWH employees who never even bother to change their uniforms or DPWH printed tshirts before going here. It offers chicks galore, local and imported. The place is well-kept and the quality of their karaoke is good. They use VCD instead of the usual jukebox-type consoles. If you want to sing they will give you the mike and you will have to recite the disk and track numbers of the songs.

If you've reached reading this far you will notice that Baler's entertainment rough road is really a stretch of sing-alongs. Diversity is not a hip word here. It's really boring. I've been to KTV about three times and mostly to wash guts with a pop of beer after a gin binge. So my recollection of the place is mostly blurred and hazy. The chicks all looked-like a Gaussian-blurred Photoshop image. The foods are the usual sisig, french fries, sitsarong bulaklak and lumpiang shanghai. Beers and pulutans are cheap if you're the one drinking. If you like having girls with you, their drinks costs 500% more. I'm cheap so I just hold myself. After KTV, the beach front turns into grassland with a sprinkle of shrubs and old coconut trees. There are few private beach houses until you reach the gates of the PNP headquarters. But on the left of the road there are more karaoke bars. There's the ruin of what used to be the infamous BE HONEST, a full-pledge beerhouse and girlie bar. The place died of sexually transmitted disease. Then There's LA FLOR. It offers the same service as the KTV but they have no in-house girls-for-rent. This is where you bring them in if KTV or the next door STP is full to the brink. LA FLOR is a 10 square meter of concrete structure with bad-sounding karaoke set. There are also cottages outside that are rarely lit- the better to execute your brief period of fornication. The foods are just the usual stuff and priced like the other digs.

STP, just nextdoor to LA FLOR is the shoe-in replacement to the infamous BE HONEST. Going there means going for the girls. It's also a videoke bar and i've never been there. It's a hunting ground for sex starved Aurorans from high school students to off-duty policemen, office guys, and catholic seminarians. I mentioned high school kids because here in Baler there's no restriction on who can buy alcohols. The 18 year old limit is not strictly enforced so you can have a ginfest here even if you're still in elementary. Also the roads near the strip could be very dangerous on late nights. There are lots of drunken souls practicing their driving skills so you have to be alert to dive on the roadside or duck behind a tree when you see headlights careening your way. Well, Thoreau said "A government is governed best when governed least". I'm yakking things out of STP topic because I've never been to the place. Drinking beer with a girl on sexy outfit sitting beside you is one sin too many for me. But I have friends who like going there and are always updated of the new "arrivals". If the devil resides in Baler, this is one of his hangouts.

AMCO Beach Resort is the biggest resort in town. It's more than an hectare in size highlighed by the mansion like 3-floor building nailed in the center of the place. Most of the place are trimmed grass with no trees. It's not a beach resort really, the beach is on the other side of the road. It's a road-front and river back property. There are mostly trimmed grasses with spots of noni trees in the area. In front of the hotel-restaurant building, there's an oval shaped concrete tilapia pond with fountains and a bridge in the middle leading to two large cottages. Then there are pools under eternal construction. Along the back of the place, where a river is located are small cottages and a big multi-purpose barn that's is now another Videoke bar, as if we really needed another one. AMCO "beach" resort is the place to be for lodging, dining, picnics, overnights, weddings, conferences, training, fellowship, parties, anything. They even have their own bus to ferry tourists on a trip around town.

After AMCO is the gate of the provincial headquarters of the PNP. You enter the checkpoint, turn to the right, pass the backside of the camp's target shooting mound, walk a bit more and you will see a white and big beach house. That's the Baler house of Congresswoman Bella Angara-Castillo. After that is the beach, empty and desolate. For surfing dudes, theres a beach break here named Lindy's Point, named after the congresswoman's daughter. If you want to have a taste of napalm in the morning, you have to trek a little bit more, about 2 kilometers more. Then you will be just at the right spot where the village landing scene of Apocalype Now was filmed - the delta of the Aguang River which surfers calls Charlies Point after the Coppola movie. Walk the beach were Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Larry Fishburne, and Coppola once walked.

UPDATE: The practice shooting mounds going to the congresswoman's place is now gone and replaced by 4 or 5 cottages that is said to be owned by the provincial director. The places are for rent, i think, and could be the safest cottages for rent in the province because its inside the PNP compound. Now the police have no reason to be seen frolicking outside the camp.

After that. nothing but beach. As far as the eyes can see. All the way to Dilasag. And that's all I can say about it.



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