You must regard this deviation from your plan as part of the adventure that you sought when you decided to embark on it in the first place...Absence of certainty is its essence. People... who choose to shun the mundane must not only expect, but also enjoy and profit from surprises. - Adam Yamey, Aliwal

When we travel, we start to lose sight of the things that we've taken for granted in our daily lives and experience them again like children experiencing things for the first time. Furthermore, it loosens our grip on solid ground and we start to take off into the clouds. Some might argue that we are breaking our ties with those we love but our experiences while travelling tells us otherwise. For home is where the heart is and this we learn to be true as we carry the bonds with us wherever we go and whatever we do.

Fields and mountains It was late last year when I first entertained the idea of spending my birthday some place else besides home. I got the idea from the numerous travel blogs that I frequent. Most of their owners are full-time travelers or vagabonds so they don't really have a choice but there is a certain thrill to doing it intentionally so I joined the bandwagon.

My original plan was to travel to a place that I've never been to before but March signalled the start of summer which is the perfect season to visit Aurora Province so I decided to go there instead.

Unlike last time, I already knew where and when I should go so by four in the morning I was already on a van on the way to Baler. The van wasn't as crowded like last time too so I was able to enjoy the sceneries especially in Nueva Ecija. A couple of hours later, I was already having lunch on one of the restaurants at Sabang Beach, Baler.

While on route to Baler, my mom informed me that my aunt was admitted to a hospital in Baler so I went for a visit and spent some time with her, my cousin, and my brother-in-law. I stayed for the rest of the afternoon as another aunt going to come and visit but it was already getting dark so I had to leave.

Another aunt and a cousin were in a resort in Sabang but I opted not to meet them since they were there for a seminar on how to operate the PCOS machines for elections (turns out they were at a resort just a few meters from where I stayed). I was also low on sleep so I just went out to get some dinner and then hit the bunk an hour later.

Sunrise in Sabang beach Baler is on the eastern side of the Philippines meaning the sun rises on the sea. I wanted to witness a 'birthday sunrise' so I set an alarm the night before. I guess I got excited because I woke up before the designated alarm time. I quickly did my thing and set off to find a spot at the boardwalk while it was still dark. My wait was rewarded with a golden crown peaking through the clouds as the sun rose and revealed the colors of the sky and everything else around.

It was a good time to reflect on the things that have happened these past few years and to ponder on the things that I will make happen on the years ahead but ultimately it was a good time to savor that one single moment when everything was perfect, that is, until I heard someone calling my name. My aunt who attended the seminar went out to buy shampoo and saw me as she was passing by the boardwalk.

A lot of guests have arrived by the time I returned to the hostel. Breakfast has also been served so I dug in and filled my empty tummy. I asked the staff to inform me if there were any guests who will be availing a tricycle tour so I could join in and share the cost. An hour or two later, I was already on the road with three enthusiastic travelers from Manila who always seem to be able to find humor in everything - exactly the best kind of people to travel with.

View of Baler as seen from the viewdeck Our first stop was Ermita Hill. The climb to the top was short but steep (which might prove to be a challenge for those who are out of shape). Nevertheless, the effort is worth it as one is rewarded with a good view of Baler and the Pacific Ocean from the viewing decks.

I didn't do much research about the tourist spots in Baler but thanks to the sign boards on the hill I learned that it was a historical place for the townspeople as it has served as a sanctuary from past tsunamis and pirate raids during the Spanish era.

We stopped by the Diguisit Waterfalls for some photo ops along the way to the Aniao Islets. It was amusing to see pigs by the road left to roam around like how goats and cows are left to graze on grass fields.

Rock formation The islets didn't look much from far away but up close they were a sight to behold. Turns out it is possible to climb on top of one of the rock formations but we decided to just go around and look for other picturesque areas as one of our companions got injured at Ermita Hill. They probably look great against the setting sun just like the rock formations in Bolinao, Pangasinan.

We had a quick stop by the hanging bridge at Barangay Zabali before heading back to Barangay Sabang to search for a place to eat. We settled for a buffet-style seafood restaurant. I rarely go to buffets but it was funny to witness people racing for the leche flan. It was gone in a flash so we looked out for the second serving and took our places when we saw the  server come out of the kitchen door with the new batch.

With our appetites sated, we set off for Ditumabo Mother Falls in San Luis. Our driver informed us that heavy rain was pouring in San Luis as evidenced by the low clouds covering the mountainous areas.

Rain clouds hanging over the mountains

Luckily the heavy rain had died down by the time we arrived at the starting point of the trek to the waterfalls. The path led us deep into the lush forest crisscrossing the river at some points.The trek was quite easy since the path is already established. Still, people should be cautious as some of the pathways are very slippery.

Ditumabo Waterfalls We were already itching for a dip when we arrived at the waterfalls. I was in awe at the force of the water falling on the basin. There was even mist spraying in all directions.

My mother told me that the water on the falls is really cold so I should bring a change of clothes but I was kind of disappointed when went into the water. I guess I've lived long enough in Baguio and have already gotten used to chilling water temperatures.

On the way back from the waterfalls we stopped by the snack stands and gave ourselves a treat of fresh buko juice and various pinoy snacks before continuing the tour. The sun was already slowly making its way towards the horizon when we arrived at our last destination - the famed 'Millenium' Balete Tree in Maria Aurora.

The tree is no longer as huge as how it used to be but it still gives that scary vibe from balete trees specially in the afternoon when the sun is about to set.

Balete tree It was already dark when we arrived at the hostel. We had a quick shower and went out again for dinner since we were quite starving.

I checked out early the next morning because I was scheduled to hitch a ride with relatives who were bound for La Union. I also didn't bother to wake my companions to say goodbye since I know they needed to recharge for their planned activities that day.

Like always, it's the departure that tends to stick out. Like saying goodbye to a person we've known our whole lives we leave a place feeling like we've lived in it for a long time and it makes us sad because it will never be the same again when we return. It's bittersweet because as travelers we try to discover new places and things and yet we yearn to revisit the places that we've been to and the things that we've done hoping that nothing has changed the second time around.

In memory of Tita Mel. Gone, but not forgotten. You will be missed.