“Uwi ako [I am going home]”, has become our expression every time we tell each other that we are travelling to Baler.
“Everytime I slip into the ocean, it’s like going home.” – S. Earle
I randomly rode a bus that brought me to Baler in 2011.
Home, was not the word I imagined I’ll use to describe Baler someday.
(First time in Baler. Meeting one of my closest friends Jasper)
Ever since I first step foot in Baler, I have been coming back at least once a month in the years that followed.
It is because Balerenos made me feel that I belonged every time.
(Guest and Balerenos sharing fresh seafood placed on top of a banana leaf)
I have been welcomed to homes, invited to different family celebrations, and was even made godfather to three young kids.
Really, they are the nicest and most genuine people one could meet.
(Mira my very first godchild)
In today’s world, it is sad that surfing has taken the negative reputation of being an egoistic activity.
But Balerenos quickly try to douse such negative surfing reputation.
As early as the first surf lessons, Balerenos make sure people understand that it is not the surfing skills that defines a person; it is how great they treat others that is most important.
- Smile and say hello to the people in the lineup
- Share the waves; there is enough for everyone
- Treat everyone as family
These are the lessons taught to me by my Baler friends.
Who wouldn’t want to go home to Baler when doing so feels like a breath of fresh air away from all the negativities of city life?
Their good values can even be traced historically in an event called as Siege of Baler that happened in 1898. During the Filipino-Spanish war, 54 Spanish soldiers on the brink of defeat desperately retreated to the town of Baler to avoid annihilation from the revolutionaries.
Expecting a hostile reception, they were surprised that the Balerenos treated them not as hated colonizers but as guest, giving them basic necessities until a truce was agreed. It was amazing that even during time of war, civility and decency prevailed.
No one better embodied Baler than Janggo Mendoza.
He was one of the great Baler surfing champions, yet his humility and kindness was legendary.
The first thing you will hear about him is his smile, and when you see the “smile” you’ll know it is him.
(Janggo’s trademark smile)
(Janggo surfing his favorite spot Cobra/Cemento Reef)
He always was willing to lend a hand. He was willing to give everything even if he had little.
He lent his motorbike and surfboards. He provided free accommodations for people who are on a tight budget. He gave both surfing and life advice to those who needed it and many more.
He was too nice, probably why God wanted to be with him early.
He touched so many lives that when he died, people from all places went to Baler to celebrate his life.
(Over 100 surfboards lay on the beach sand during Janggo’s paddle out ceremony) (Baler community recalling Janggo’s life before the paddle out) (Start of the paddle out) (Splashing the sea water in celebration of Janggo’s life)
Today the number of tourist has risen, compared to before when Baler was dominated mainly by towering coconut trees.
When I first saw the early signs of development, I couldn’t help it but be worried.
I have seen other places change as a result of development where egoism, materialism, individualism have consumed the values that a real community brings.
(During the times when pitching tent was still the in thing)
Maybe I was being selfish, and didn’t want to see the Balerenos I have felt in love with change.
What is amazing is that amidst the outside influences, Baler really tries to keep its identity and values intact.
The Baler locals try their best to stay true to their roots and values.
(Balerenos smiling and staying friendly with visitors)
Although the coconut trees in which people hang their hammocks have been replaced by hotels, it is great to see that the development has provided Baler with new livelihood and opportunities besides farming and fishing.
Baler certainly deserves to be rewarded for all the kindness and hospitality they have given outsiders.
Go to Baler and encourage them to keep up their tradition, culture and especially values intact so that they will continuously be showered with blessings in the future.
Baler is the soul surfer’s paradise, a second home to everyone. Tara, uwi tayo! [Come, let’s go home]. (Nicco Lampa has been visiting Baler, Philippines regularly since September 16, 2011)