Saturday, February 18, 2006

Back to nature in Subic Bay

By Ross Harper-Alonso, Daily Tribune Contributor

If you finish work early on a Friday afternoon, pack the family and overnight bags into the car and head north to Subic Bay. In just a little more than two hours, you’ll find yourself surrounded by unspoiled forests, crystal seas and seascape. Recreational attractions and ecotourism not only engage the senses and force us to see this former American naval base with new eyes, they also bring a feeling of relief that there’s a continuous effort to develop and preserve it on a long-term basis.

According to written history, “during 1900, the General Board of the Navy made a thorough study of the naval base building program, including the newly acquired overseas possessions. For the Philippines, they believed that the US fleet could be easily bottled up in either Manila Bay or Subic Bay. They reached a unanimous decision recommending Guimaras Island South of Manila as the most suitable site for the main American naval base in the Philippines. Many top naval officers, including Admiral of the Navy Dewey and Admiral George C. Remey, Commander of the Asiatic Station, disagreed. They thought Subic Bay held the greatest potential. The Navy called for another study and Remey was appointed as the senior member. Not surprisingly, this board, after examining [Guimaras Island] and Olongapo, fixed upon the latter as the most suitable and practicable place.”

Camayan Wharf

Today, bomb shelters, bunkers and other remnants of the past are either abandoned, cloaked in vines or turned into visitors’ lodgings and places of business. The Camayan Wharf, however, had to be salvaged and rehabilitated.

“The previous resort was a virtual ecological nightmare. People who trooped to the cove left trails of destruction behind,” recalls Tet Capus, manager of the Camayan Beach Resort. “The coral and marine life suffered when they allowed soap and shampoo to flow into the sea when they rinsed off at the outdoor showers. Septic tanks overflowed and contaminated the water. Garbage and leftover food were not properly disposed creating even more serious sanitation problems.”

Because of all the damage it was causing, the Marine Exploration Inc. took over the resort two years ago and opened the environmentally-friendly Camayan Beach Resort.

“Since we are a subsidiary of Ocean Adventure, our goal goes beyond providing guests with excellent service and accommodations. It’s equally important to educate people to respect the animals and their habitat,” Tet points out. “It hasn’t always been easy, but I think we’ve made quite a lot of progress. My entire staff and I came from Ocean Adventure so the advocacy to care for the environment is still very strong,” he adds with pride.

The resort blends well with its natural surroundings where management co exists peacefully with nature. Lush exotic plants and shady trees give it a relaxed and homey feel. The 24-room hotel looks out to the clear waters of the China Sea and has a good view of the Zambales mountain ranges. Bamboo and nipa cabanas line the long stretch of beach where guests can find their own little private space if they walk further down.

Tiger Safari

Mary Ann Pangilinan has the kind of job that could make anyone a tad envious or constantly on guard. She is one of the dedicated park guides at the Zoobic Safari. A private owned wildlife sanctuary five minutes from Camayan Wharf, its 20.4 hectares is home to nine adult tigers, 13 cubs, snakes, ostriches, bear cats, birds and countless rescued animals.

“You have to truly love animals to work here,” she smiles. “They’re like our children. We feed them, clean up after them and protect them from being hurt since visitors not only come in close contact with the animals, but also get the chance to actually handle some of them.”

Needless to say, this is not your average zoo or amusement park. There can be no greater adventure than riding the Safari Ride and getting a glimpse of how tigers behave in the wild. Visitors have to understand, however, that none of them are trained to do song and dance numbers for anyone. Moreover, they are not pets no matter how tame they may seem.

“There are people who come here with different expectations,” Mary Ann explains. “They complain when the tigers are not active or when the staff remind them about the rules and regulations. We try extremely hard to institute awareness regarding the protection and conservation of our wildlife and ecosystem, but oftentimes it becomes very difficult if parents themselves refuse to listen and educate their children.”

To fully appreciate the amazing encounters the Zoobic Safari has to offer, read up some more and discover what the whole family can expect from a visit. Remember the zoo guides are responsible for both your safety and that of the animals. Please respect them and their wards.

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