The pilot who crosses the Sierra Madre range into the coastal plain at Baler Bay is well-rewarded with a stunning vista. Baler is a beautiful place. Sheltered by mountains, it is competitive and contemporary without losing its refreshingly rural identity.
Carlo and I made it to Baler for the first time in May, 2008. I can’t recall how we crossed the mountains, but it must have been hairy, because this awesome cellphone photo is from that flight.
On the coastal plain we found the perfectly serviceable but nearly abandoned Juan C. Angara airport. Located inland at the town of San Luis, the airport used to be serviced by scheduled SEAir flights.
Baler is the hometown of a dear old friend who I had not seen for years.
Ruth is a former work colleague with a terrific work ethic — 14-hour days, a persistent passion for excellence, zero tolerance for mediocrity. The type of person who, when upset, might conquer a small country.
I loved it, since she reported to me. If it were the other way around I would probably have assassinated her.
Living in Manila now, Ruth hails from Baler. I texted her that Carlo and I were flying to her hometown, and she urged us to visit her parents’ house.
We flew into the airport, eight kilometers inland from the Pacific coast.
The 1,100 meter concrete runway is long enough for turboprops, but, sadly, scheduled airline flights have been shot down by the economy.
We took a tricycle to Sabang beach. This is the site of the annual Aurora Surfing Cup, perhaps the most prestigious surfing competition in the Philippines.
Captain Kilgore (Robert Duvall) “Loved the smell of napalm in the morning” while surfing this beach under enemy fire, in the iconic 1979 movie, Apocalypse Now, shot on location here.
Carlo and I just had to sample that surf for the record. But we didn’t have time nor equipment for the real stuff, so. . . .
We had quite a hunt for Ruth’s parents’ house, since there are no street numbers. Instead, you ask for people by name. After circling the town for half an hour by tricycle, I finally realized I had to ask around for Ruth’s maiden name.
The tricycle driver slapped his head and exclaimed that he was related to her!
It was uncanny. Her mom Ilovita looks and sounds just like Ruth, gone back to the future in a more senior iteration of Ruth herself. Ilovita is a school teacher and administrator, an historian, and curator of Museo de Baler.
Clearly, the work ethic is inherited too.
We chatted for a few minutes. I listened, mildly incredulous, to mostly tall tales that Ruth had obviously told them about me as a boss.
It was Mothers Day, 2008.
I would finally meet Ruth herself in Baler seven months later. The reunion would be overshadowed by another entrancing woman, though.
Posted from Bangkok, August 19, 2009
Feast Day of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, patron saint of the Baler church, site of the infamous siege of Baler.
Birth date of Manuel L. Quezon in Baler, later President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines.