Baler, Aurora | The Circle Hostel

12:23:00 PM


The island life is the dream life. Nod if ya feel me.

I've been in a chronic beach-lusting mood since last year.  It's an itch that, no matter how many times I scratch, can't be completely cured. When I was in Quezon, I thought of Davao. When I was in Davao, I thought of Baler. Now, I'm thinking of Bali.

Every time I stand before a beautiful beach, its waves seem to whisper to me: 
If you choose the simple things and find joy in nature’s simple treasures, 
life and living need not be so hard. 
Psyche Roxas-Mendoza

The quote pretty much sums up the why. (That and this non-review of Neil Gaiman's The Ocean At The End Of The Lane.) At the beach, life seems simpler and quieter and steady. When I'm at the beach, I want nothing else but to just be there—feeling the sand beneath my toes, dipping them into the waters from time to time, stare blankly into the beautiful horizon, sometimes with a book, always with a really good playlist...TAKE ME BACK AND LEAVE ME THERE FOR GOOD.

So when the Circle Hostel, popular to Manila's artsy beach heads, invited us on a weekend getaway to their newly opened branch in Baler (surf town y'aaall), I didn't even have to think twice before saying yes, yes, yes. 


Baler is a five to six-hour road trip from Manila. We took the Friday night drive so we’d have time to do more over the weekend. We missed the mountainous terrains, rough roads and glimpses of the country life but…in exchange for smoother traffic? Uh yeah, this city girl is all about that. (To be fair, the drive home made up for the loss.)

There are buses shuttling to and from the town daily but if going with a relatively big group, I find it more convenient to drive. (As long as it’s okay to the designated friend, of course, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a willing back-up.)

We reached Circle past midnight and were greeted by the hostel's colorful facade, which (like the voice of the manong slaying the KTV next door) refused to be drowned out by the blackness of the night. I took it as a good indication of the kind of weekend Circle prepared for us.

The Circle Hostel: #ThereAreNoStrangers

Before I let you in on what we did, I'd like to show you where we stayed.

The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila

There are no strangers. 

That is the vibe Raf, our host and one of the owners, and his friends hope the visitors would get during their stay in Circle. You can see it in the way the hostel is built and run: dorm-style rooms, hammocks and the favored provision of space for common areas.

The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila
The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila

There are private rooms but showers (with heater!), sinks and toilets (with bidet!) are shared. There are clotheslines to dry out towels and swimwear, and lockers (bring your own padlock) to keep your stuff safe should you decide to rent a hammock or a bed in the dorm.

We stayed in a co-ed dorm that can fit 20. The beds are comfortable enough, and there are ceiling fans to get some breeze in and nets to keep mosquitoes out, but do take note that the sleeping areas are not designed for all-day lounging.

The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila
The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila
The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila

Breakfast is provided and you can get coffee (Arabica or Dipaculao, around P50 per cup) any time of the day, but that's about all the food they offer at Circle. You can ask the staff for dining recommendations; I'm sure they'll point you to the right direction. (I'll give you some options later!) You can also cook your meals in the open kitchen.

The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila
The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila
The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila
The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila

The best parts of Circle is where you can hang out with other people. It's a great place for barkada bonding but if you do decide to come alone, I'm pretty sure you'll leave with a new friend or two.

Common areas include toilet and shower, kitchen, downstair and upstair lounges, and a half-pipe. Yes, a half-pipe (a small, cute half-pipe). There are no sockets in the sleeping areas so if you need to charge your gadgets, you need to come out to where the bean bags are.

The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila
The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila
The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila
The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila

And even if you're not in the mood for socializing, you still have one good reason to hang around: art. Got a hugot or mad painting skillz? Grab a paint brush and leave your mark (and "pilings") on Circle's walls! (Or stairs or tables or even the pathway!) All of what you see were painted by previous guests.

The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila

My only gripe about our two-night stay were the loud music blaring from neighboring establishments. Buton is generally quiet but when night falls, you will have to deal with cranked up EDM party music on one side and drunk singing from the karaoke on the other. It goes on until past midnight. This Tita of Manila can’t deal. Apart from that, we were comfortable and well taken cared of.

Whether you're a backpacker on an indefinite leave from work or a short-term (read: weekend) vacationist, the Circle Hostel could be the place for you. I lean towards flashpacking more since I don't mind shelling extra for a private room and toilet (I could get down and dirty for the rest of the trip), but I definitely see myself checking in again at the Circle Hostel. Maybe I'll even give both their La Union and Zambales branches a try.

For rates and driving directions, go to thecirclehostel.com.

What We Did

Yoga

The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila
Aldous and Cesar killing it on the foreground. I'm behind them with Karla. 
Our schedule for both Saturday and Sunday began relatively early—on the mat (erm, banig) at 8AM, stretching and twisting our body parts during yoga time with Raf. If you've been following this blog for a while now, you would know that I try to incorporate yoga in my lifestyle. This was the first time I've done it outside the house and with other people, and it feels good to practice with a real yogi for a change. Man, I can still feel the stretch.

I don't think Circle actually offers yoga classes but there is enough space for guests to do an impromptu group session.

Surfing

At around 9 or 10, we were off to the beach to surf!

The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila

The beach is a two-minute walk from Circle. Sabang's baywalk is littered with surfboard rentals and instructors but if you're too lazy to explore, there's a hut by the dike for all your surfing needs. Lessons go for P200 per hour and the surf boards for P150 per hour. If you don't have a rash guard, you can borrow from them at no extra cost.

And here's a tip from surfer friends: Skip the string bikini and put a rash guard on, sweetie. You wouldn't want the waves forcefully unveiling your tatas.


Initially, I decided to sit the waves out—I just didn't have the energy to throw myself into one more physically and mentally draining activity—but then I realized how it's a waste to come to a surf town like Baler and not surf.

So, I took the one hour lesson and, can I just say, while it seemed easier practicing on the shore, being on the waters was hard AF. We had a few good waves but I only managed to stand up on the surfboard and glide smoothly four times—my instructor was counting—one short of my goal for that day lol. (I didn't even think I could do it at all in the beginning but hey, I now understand what Nike means when they say just do it. Free plug because current favorite brand.)

The crowd at Baler's Sabang beach are made of mostly surfers, some learning how to surf and very few who come to swim. It's not a partying crowd but it's not a dead crowd either.

Ditumabo Falls

Late in the afternoon we headed out to see a natural attraction in the neighboring town of San Luis: the Ditumabo Mother Falls.

The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila

San Luis is 30 minutes away from Circle's location. It's an easy drive, with views of wide plantations and fields and quiet residential areas on both sides. Some locals stopped our car at some point (sorry, I can't point out where specifically) because of an ongoing construction, after which we were offered P200 (up to 3 passengers) roundtrip rides by trike to get to the trek's jump-off point. There are tour guides but, to be honest, you won't really need one as the trail is very easy to follow.

The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila

From there, it was almost an hour of crossing rivers, trying not to slip and walking uphill. (Caution: The rocks are slippery.) It was particularly hot and humid that day, so we appreciate all the chunks of the trail where our feet find cold refreshment. We couldn't wait to get to the falls and completely submerge in the water.

The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila



Until we got to actually take a dip. The water was freeeezing, almost to a sub-zero degree. Swimming is still manageable—you just have to wait for your body to adjust to the temperature. The photo doesn't really do much justice to it but the Mother Falls is a beauty to behold. I've seen far more majestic falls in other people's travel pictures but, as it is my first time to trek one, it's something I was excited to see.

Passion Play PH

And then there was one activity that's unique to our Circle experience: Passion Play.

A few years back, two equally passionate individuals—Lois Yasay (you know her from We Are Sole Sisters) and Raf Dionisio—conspired to create a forum that will provide people the freedom to discover their most important passions and realign their priorities to achieve those passions. The two-day retreat was held in the La Union branch of the Circle Hostel and was attended by an intimate group of people, all of whom left with clarity as to what an ideal life means for them. Some, as we were told, actually went to live out their passions while others naturally changed course.

The Circle Hostel | Awesome in Manila

We got a taste of Passion Play as Raf walked us through the first module. It really was revitalizing, if not transformative. Most of us already know what we want to do or the kind of life we want for ourselves but are clueless about the necessary steps to take in getting to where we want to be. It wasn't just motivational—the workshop really had us thinking and working on the first step: organization.

I'll talk more about it in a separate post but that one is subject to the next few weeks' schedule. (Or you know, you can just attend the full workshop in October.)

Where We Ate

Now, the best part of every trip! Just kidding, the company is always the best part. *wink *wink

As I've mentioned, Circle doesn't serve meals. But that wouldn't be a problem as there are a lot of restaurants and hole-in-the-walls around the area. You probably wouldn't even get to try everything in the duration of your visit.


One that you can't miss is Kusinang Luntian. It's an affordable, "kamayan" place where everything you can possibly order is a hit. Everyone was crazy about their Pako Salad, which is essentially a salad that uses fiddle ferns (pako). We ate at Kusinang Luntian twice, 'cause we just couldn't leave Baler without a second visit.


Dinner was at Baler Surfer Grill. You won't be able to ignore the makeshift Volkswagen grilling station, in a dream location that's only lacking a proper sunset view. (Sorry guys, no romantic sundowns at Baler.) Food here is also somewhat cheap, at least not what you would expect from a beachfront establishment.

A few steps away from Surfer Grill is Surf and Chill, where you can get fruit shakes and juices.

If you want cut-rate hotel food, you can also check out Bayler View. Close to everything on their menu are for sharing. I'm adamant that you sample their Chocnut Turon ala Mode.

Kusina Luntian is a block away from the beach (ask the locals how to get there) but the rest are lined up in Sabang.

What I like about dining in Baler is the fact that most restaurants keep it affordable, at least compared to other popular tourist destinations. You can grab a decent meal for P100 or less and that already includes a beachfront view. Even the karinderyas lined up on the Mother Falls trail sell homemade merienda at reasonable prices (P10 for a 3-pc camote cue stick).


And now, the REAL best part of the entire Baler adventure:


I met Ave at a previous #TeamAldous event but the rest of the girls and boys, I only got acquainted with at McDo Katipunan minutes before we all headed out to Aurora. O di ba. What a fun way to meet new people! There really are no strangers here.


The Circle Hostel 
Buton St.,
Baler, Aurora
www.thecirclehostel.com

Many thanks to Aldous for coordinating this event and to Raf for graciously hosting us over the weekend. I really appreciate how the itinerary Circle prepared for us went beyond the usual hostel tour. You gave us a glimpse of a true Baler experience! Consider this a shout out to the "ate girls" that made it one fun holiday: Jenny, Chessika, Phya, Karla and Ave. (Sige na nga, hi Cesar na din!) See you all again soon!

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