Australia · Day Trips · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

First Swing at the Sydney Surf

Summer is slipping away here in Sydney and I realized that I’d been here since December and had yet to have an Aussie surf.

Back in November, I went surfing for the first time in Baler, Philippines and it was an unforgettable, totally affordable experience. Of course, a one-hour lesson here in Sydney costs nearly seven times as much as a lesson over in Baler.

Fortunately, board rentals are more affordable.

As far as city beaches go, I’d only been to Manly and knew that it was good for surfing. However, both Manly and Bondi beach tend to be insanely crowded on sunny weekend days.

I found this Beginners Guide to Surfing Sydney’s Beaches, which has a brief and helpful overview of beaches in the city, listing the pros and cons of each.

We ended up opting for Maroubra Beach because it’s only an hour from Newtown and the bus drops you off right in front of Let’s Go Surfing. (Check out their website if you want to book lessons.)

Board rentals here are $15 for one hour, $25 for two, and $40 for the day. The shop guy was super chill about us being able to start off paying for two hours and extend if we wanted to surf longer.

He told us to take whichever board we wanted and said we were welcome to come and switch it out for another one if it wasn’t quite right.

We showed up around 1pm and went straight for the waves; when I wandered back to the shop to check the time it so happened that he was ten minutes from closing up.

What I enjoyed about Maroubra:

  • It wasn’t particularly crowded. The surf guide I mentioned earlier said it’s always crowded on weekends and to watch out for locals but I found the crowds fairly sparse and the locals non-threatening.
  • The waves were both fun and manageable at more or less a meter high–similar to what I was used to from Baler.

Surfing setbacks:

  • Later in the afternoon, blue bottle jellyfish swarmed the beach and everyone pretty much had to clear out of the water.
  • Although it was a nice hot, sunny day and the water temperature was initially great, it did get quite cold when the wind set in. If you’re used to a place like the Philippines where you can stay out in the water till the sun sets and hardly feel a chill, you might find that your hands are starting to feel numb and your teeth are chattering come late afternoon down under.

If you’re in Sydney, what are you waiting for? Catch a ride to a beach, pick up a board at a shop, and give surfing a shot.

Even if you don’t catch any waves the first time around, it’s an excellent arm workout and exercise in salt-water tolerance.

Seriously: if you’re a beginner, you’re going to have to work hard for a wave. When you catch it, though, and manage to get yourself upright on the board, the momentum of the ocean below your feet will make you forget every preceding hour spent struggling and want to spend every successive one trying to have that again.

Philippines · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

A Backpacker’s Guide to the Complete Baler Surf Experience

Destination: Baler, Aurora
Objective: learn how to surf in four days


Planning and Budgeting for Your Surf Trip

Travel & Transportation

The bus from Cubao to Baler and back is 650 pesos each way if you take the Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe. It’s a faster and more comfortable trip than the regular air-conditioned Genesis buses and doesn’t cost much more.

Bus schedule:
Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe leaves Cubao at 1:00 AM and arrives in Baler around 6:00 AM
Deluxe buses also leave at 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30 AM, with another Semi-Deluxe at 3:30 AM. The Deluxe bus costs 730 pesos, while the Semi-Deluxe is only 650.

Two Semi-Deluxe buses leave Baler bound for Cubao, one at 4:00 AM and one at noon. Three Deluxe buses are scheduled at 1:00, 2:00, and 3:30 PM.

When you arrive in Cubao depends on traffic; in my case, I left on the noon bus and got to Cubao after 6:00 PM, meaning the trip back was a good hour longer than the night-ride to Baler.


From the bus terminal in Baler, a trike to the Sabang Beach area will only cost you 15 pesos.


If you’re looking for something simple but nice, affordable and still close to the beach, I highly recommend Go Surfari House on T. Molina Street. You can book in advance on Airbnb for about 500 pesos per night. You’ll get a bed with a fan in a shared room and a tasty breakfast.


I’ve been going for an omelet with pandesals, which they get fresh every morning from a bakery across the street and I have to agree with everyone else in this town and say these may very well be the best pandesals I’ve had in my eight pandesal-eating years in the Philippines.

Other breakfast options include tapsilog, longsilog, and bangsilog–a silog for everyone

The guest house is clean and cozy, with a few rooms and one bathroom upstairs and downstairs, a comfortable lounge, a workspace/dining area, a small kitchen, and a bit of a backyard where you can hang out and hang up your wet swimming gear.

Initially, I booked three nights here via Airbnb and with the booking and cleaning fee it cost me just under 2k. Later I decided to stay one more night so I could catch the first day of the Aliya Wahine Cup, for which the host instructed me to simply pay the housekeeper an additional 500 pesos.

I should mention that when a group of guests decides to hold a little house party it can get a little noisy.

One evening, sometime after midnight, I asked the host if there was a cut-off time when guests are supposed to keep quiet and while that didn’t seem to be the case, she did offer to move me to a quieter room farther from the noise.

I passed because I didn’t feel like moving all my stuff in the middle of the night; however, I can draw the conclusion that, while the accommodations may not be perfect, the hosts are perfectly accommodating.

Surfing Budget

The next item in your budget is, of course, surfing lessons and board rentals. From GoSurfari, it’s a five-minute walk to the beach and the nearest surf school is at Nalu Surf Camp.

While there are countless spots along the beach where you can take lessons and rent a board, I chose Nalu for two reasons: firstly, they have lockers for your valuables. Secondly, the going rate for a one-hour surf lesson is 350 pesos but at Nalu, you get a free beer and photo op with that.


That’s a done deal.

In my case, I took two one-hour lessons before renting a board to try surfing on my own. Board rentals are 200 pesos per hour, 400 for a half day (from 7AM to noon or noon to 5PM/sunset), and 800 for the whole day.

My surfing budget was as follows:

  • Day 1: 350 pesos for one lesson
  • Day 2: 350 pesos for one lesson, plus 400 pesos for half-day board rental
  • Day 3: 400 pesos for half-day board rental
  • Day 4: 400 pesos for half-day board rental

That’s an average of fewer than 500 pesos per day and with that, I got in a good 16 hours on the waves.


Food & Beverages

Since breakfast and (instant) coffee are included if you stay at Go Surfari, you only need to budget lunch, dinner, beer, and snacks.

You can sit down for a good meal for 100 to 200 pesos at Maple Inn Seafood Restaurant, which is right before Nalu Surf Camp on your way to the beach.

Alternatively, you can get those delicious pandesals at 2 pesos a piece, or other tasty pastries at Dialyn’s Bake Shop (also on the way to the beach). Moreover, Dialyn’s has the best-brewed coffee for on 45 pesos.

Another nice spot to eat is the Hungry Surfer, which is a little out of the way but easy to get to if you follow the signs. You’ll spend more like 200 to 300 pesos on a single meal here but they do feature some of the best wifi around.


At most restaurants and bars, you’ll pay 50 pesos for a beer, while you can get them at a sari-sari store for 30 to 37 pesos a bottle. A bag of chips might cost you 12 pesos and you can get some tasty mani (roasted peanuts) for just a couple of pesos as well.

Altogether, you can get some nice food, tasty snacks, and a couple of cold ones for about 500 pesos a day.

Budget Summary
  • PHP 1,300 Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe, round trip
  • PHP 500 per night at GoSurfari House
  • PHP <500 per day for surfing (average)
  • PHP <500 per day for food and drinks (average)

Note: 500 pesos is about $10.

Stay for two days and one night, the trip will cost 3,800 pesos; stay for five days and four nights, as I did, and we’re talking 7,000-8,000. That’s about $150 for a five-day surfing trip–not bad.

The Surfing Experience

Learning to surf

Well, for starters, take a lesson. That’ll get you going with the basics but after that, you’ve got to rent a board and head out on your own to learn from the waves and from the local surfers.

Watch and learn, my friend.


When you take your 350-peso one-hour surfing lesson, the instructor will make everything superbly easy: you simply lie on your board, he pushes you out to a good spot, watches the waves for you, gives you a push when the right one comes along, and tells you when to stand up.

All you need to do is perfect your getup and stay on the board.

When you go out on your own, for one, you’ll have to learn how to get through the waves without being tossed about and pushed two steps back for every one you take forward.

My advice: watch how the other surfers do it. When it’s a small wave, paddle into it and coast over with your board. When it’s big, turtle–as in, flip your board upside-down with you under it. I do recommend caution when trying this, especially with regards to the board and your face.

Once you reach a good spot to start catching the waves, you have to face out at least somewhat in order to watch them and turn around fast enough to catch one. Once again, watch the surfers and do as they do: use both arms to paddle in an s-shape–one moving down and one moving up–to turn faster.


What I did, after a few hours of trying to figure things out all on my own was paddle near-ish to surfers who looked like they knew what they were doing.

I would watch them watch the waves, see which ones they caught and how they caught them, and try to imitate. That worked alright for me.

When I ended up in the area where I had taken my lessons, the instructors would yell at me to paddle harder when they saw me not quite getting the waves.

On my third day, I met a chill dude with dreads who let me tag along with him and his crew and took me to some nice waves.

On my fourth and final day on the waves, I met a group of local surfer boys down on the other side of the beach. They not only helped me catch my last good rides after what had been a tough day at sea for me but later, over beers and 2-by-2 while watching the sun set over the beach, they taught me some great Tagalog (Filipino) surfing lingo.


Essential Tagalog Surfing Phrasebook
  • Lusong! – when you see a beautiful wave;
  • Wapang! – when you’re slashing that wave;
  • Langisin – when you spend enough time in the ocean and you get that sleek surfer skin;
  • Kamatis! – I’ve come up with this one myself, applicable if you’re like me the sea and sun get you tomatoed
  • Palong palo – when you’re a wild surfer
  • Kasung – as far as I’ve gathered this is the Tagalog equivalent of Tubular, bruh.

After the waves, we have buhay surf, or the surfer life, which includes such essential vocabulary as:

  • Katuga – a combination of kain, tulog, and gala, meaning eat, sleep, and wander around–which is an excellent way to spend your days in Baler (besides surfing, of course).
  • Sabog – getting high (not on the waves)
  • Manginginom – being a strong drinker (or an alcoholic, depending on who you ask)
  • Yosi – to offer or ask for a cigarette
  • 2-by-2 – the locals’ drink of choice, made as follows: buy a bottle of Ginebra (local gin) and C2 (a juice); open both bottles and place to C2 upside down on the Ginebra bottle; wait for it to slowly seep into the gin, and drink by the shot: old school.


There you have it: an affordable trip and an unforgettable experience in the very chill and beautiful Baler, a place to still your mind, reflect on life, lose yourself in the waves, and wash away that city stress with an invigorating salt-water cleanse.


Philippines · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

A Coco Family Vacation in Puerto Galera

After a few hectic weeks of increasing work demands and a moderately intense diet and training regimen to prepare for my first jiu-jitsu competition, I was nothing if not ready for a vacation.

Last year, around this time, my husband and I had taken our daughter to Coco Beach for a wonderful family vacation and she loved it so much that, despite our separation earlier this year, we decided to go back for her.

My mother has been visiting us here in the Philippines as well and I hoped she would enjoy this beautiful resort.

The trip was booked: my mother, my daughter, my daughter’s father, and I would be sharing a family deluxe room at the paradisiacal Coco Beach in Puerto Galera.

Booking Your Vacation

A room like this–big enough for four adults and up to two children–will cost you about $120 dollars per night and it includes quite a nice breakfast buffet with lots of fresh fruit, a salad and omelet station, some bread and cereal, and hot dishes.

Hold up; let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

October marks the beginning of their regular season, which is when we booked this year, whereas September is still considered low season. Expect peak prices in December and January when the holidays are in full swing and the weather in the Philippines is at its best.

Last year we got a great deal on a regular room for two adults and one child for less than $50 a night and we lucked out with amazing weather in the middle of September.

I booked our trip using, which is what I’ve used to book most of the hotels and resorts we’ve stayed at in the Philippines. I typically find the best prices there and have never had any problems with a booking.

Getting to Puerto Galera

Since we live in the south, the Starmall bus terminal is only a short Uber ride away. Starmall is located along the SLEX in Muntinlupa just before it exits Metro Manila and becomes the Star tollway (and then another tollway).

From here, buses leave every hour to Batangas Port and usually make it there in two hours. In our case, it was a two-and-a-half-hour trip because the driver got off the highway early and made a lot of stops to pick up and drop off passengers.

When the bus isn’t full–which is often the case on weekdays–the driver will stop more frequently to get more passengers. On the way home we had a full bus and made it back within two hours.

Once you get to Batangas City, the bus will stop at a large terminal but you won’t get off yet. After this stop, it will take you straight to the port and if you’re going to Puerto Galera you should head to the far left of the pier.

You’ll liked get swarmed by guys offering to help you carry your luggage and book your tickets for you but it’s typically best to politely refuse.

They’ll often grab your bags without asking and expect you to pay them for helping you later.

Similarly, they will “offer” to take your money to purchase your tickets and pay the terminal fee but before they give back your change they’ll have taken quite a cut for themselves.

Carry your luggage to the smaller terminal on the left side of the pier and purchase tickets to Muelle in Puerto Galera from Father & Son Shipping lines (schedule available online).


Having caught the 7 AM bus, we arrived in Batangas at 9:30 and were just in time to board the 9:35 boat to Muelle–although it didn’t leave until closer to 10 AM.

The seas were smooth and it was a fairly comfortable hour-and-a-half boat ride to Muelle, where we arrived in time for a quick lunch on the pier before heading to Coco Beach for our noon check-in.

Well, quick.

We sat at a bar dubbed “the place to be” because that’s where the people were but had to wait some time for our food. The power went out once or twice while we waited to be served and my mother had time to check out the souvenir shops.

The food was nice, the beer was cold, and after lunch we got a private boat to Coco Beach for 250 pesos ($5).

Travel Expenses

Here’s a breakdown of what this trip will cost you:
Bus to Batangas: P137 (<$3) per seat
Boat to Muelle, Puerto Galera: P230 (<$5) per adult; P200 ($4) per child
Terminal fee in Batangas: P30 (<$1) per adult
Boat to Coco Beach: P250 ($5)
Environmental fee in Puerto Galera: P50 ($1) per adult


Conversely, you can have the resort arrange an airport transfer for you with a private van from Batangas directly to NAIA for P5,000 ($100).

Arriving at Coco Beach

When you step off the boat onto the shore of Coco Beach, you may allow the staff to carry your bags–they won’t ask you for money.


You’ll receive a warm welcome and once checked in you’ll meet your service family, who will take care of you during your stay. They’ll carry your things to your room, bring you a complimentary early-morning pot of coffee if you so desire, and drop off little snacks in the afternoon.

The regular and family deluxe rooms are made of bamboo. They don’t have air-conditioning or hot showers but they’re nice and breezy and who needs a hot shower in the tropics anyway?

Check out this gorgeous view of the ocean from our bamboo porch.



Food, Beverages, and Activities

Anticipating four days at the beach and thinking I would have lots of time to kill, I brought my Mandarin study book and downloaded the audio of my favorite yoga video from Do Yoga With Me on my phone.

Turns out I never did catch a peaceful moment to do yoga on the beach and I barely kept up with my one Chinese character a day.

Mornings were spent swimming in the ocean when the tide is high and you can float above the coral. After a good hour at the breakfast buffet, that is.

Breakfast of champions


When we got tired of the ocean, my daughter and I would transfer to the swimming pool for the following activities:

1. Hurl into the water at the diving practice area

2. Play on the slide (no pictures; too wet)

3. Have a drink at the pool bar
4. Carry on with water fun

Afternoons are good for naps in hammocks, kayaking into the open ocean, and happy hour, heralded every day from 4 to 5 PM: two for one cocktails. Come one, come all, get drunk on our signature Weng Weng!

You can swim in the pool until 8 PM and in the ocean whenever you please.

For lunch or dinner, there’s pizza and pasta at the Trattoria on the beach, a varied menu at the main Carabao restaurant by the pool, and charcoal-grilled specialities up the hillside at the Coco Grill, located just in front of the silent pool only 200 steps up from the shoreline.

Coco Beach also has a dive shop, free diving lessons in the pool, snorkeling activities, free boat rides to a different beach every morning, island hopping trips with packed lunches, a basketball court, a spa, and a whole list of things to do if you get bored of the beach and the pool.

On our way back to Coco Beach after taking the 9:30 boat to another cove

Thank you, Coco Beach, for giving us a beautiful escape from our crazy lives and a place to be nothing but happy. Thank you, also, for singing our daughter her favorite coconut song on our last night.

🎵 It’s a coconut, from the coco tree, but it’s not a nut 🎵