Subic to Laguna – Holy Week in 2011

GOOD FRIDAY

This past holy week, we decided to stay close to Manila, and so it’s no surprise that we again ended up in what is perhaps the most accessible vacation spot within a 3-hour drive north from where we live. I’ve written about Subic in a previous article, and I’ve written about the fact that despite having nothing particularly spectacular, we keep finding ourselves there, and there we were…again.

Our objective this time was Ocean Adventure, the country’s first and only marine oriented theme park. It was our second visit to the park, though it was the first for our little toddler, and it was for him that we went there again.

OCEAN ADVENTURE

It has been seven or so years since we first went there, and I was glad that apart from keeping itself open after all these years, and continuing to attract droves of people, it has also grown and improved by a bit. Seven years ago they only had two shows, the sea lions and the dolphins. Now they have four. The park’s grounds has also changed, with the addition of two stadiums for the two added shows, as well as some improved landscaping. They also added an aquarium where people can view the sea lions outside of their “peformance schedule”.

Walk on the Wild Side

We started our “adventure” with a show called “Walk on the Wild Side”. It’s a new show (well, new in the sense that it wasn’t there seven years ago) that aims to acquaint viewers with the other side of kingdom animalia, the one that doesn’t reside in the ocean, plus surprisingly, it also teaches jungle survival.

It starts with a demonstration of jungle survival skills by a native “Aeta”. The presenter teaches the viewers how to light a fire, get water, cook rice and craft your own spoon and fork, should you get unfortunate enough to be stuck in a jungle. I’m not really sure how this part relates to the rest of the show, but regardless if you find a connection or not, it’s always fascinating to watch someone start a fire using only bamboo sticks, right before your eyes.

* Aeta are the indigenous inhabitants of the area around Subic Bay.

Once the jungle survival part is done, and the bamboo-ignited fire is put out, the animals start to come out one by one. The show presents animals found in Philippine forests and coasts, such as bats, the Bear Cat, the Reticulated Python, an owl, and the White-breasted Sea Eagle. The show’s host dispenses some trivia as each animal is brought out, and the animals also oblige by doing some “demonstrations” of their own, such as the Bear Cat hanging by its tail, the bat flying from an inverted position, and the eagle soaring above the viewer’s heads. The animals may be quite few, but for kids and toddlers, it would be entertaining and educational enough.

Bear Cat
Bear Cat Silhouette
The jungle version of "hit the palayok".
White-breasted Sea Eagle
About to soar above the viewers' heads.
An Owl
The Bat

The Adventures of Olongapo Jones.

Our next show was called “The Adventures of Olongapo Jones”, and unfortunately, it was every bit as corny as it sounds like. It’s a show promoting care for the environment, and features an incredibly sloppy environmental activist that goes by the name “Olongapo Jones”, two acrobats that go by the name “Basura Boys”, and two mascots (a turtle and a dolphin) that act as Olongapo Jones’ assistants (despite the fact that they seem smarter than him).

The acrobatic Basura Boys use a large trampoline right in the middle of the stage, and go bouncing and twisting in the air, while throwing a few bits of trash to infuriate Olongapo Jones. They also hop and disappear backstage whenever Olongapo Jones appears on the set, looking for them. In the end Olongapo Jones catches them with the help of his turtle and dolphin friends, and the Basura Boys pledge to join him in protecting mother nature.

The message was, of course, good but the script was just lame, even for a kid. If not for the bouncing Basura Boys, the show could actually induce people to sleep, and it gives you the feeling that what you actually saw was an acrobatic trampoline show masquerading as something else. If you could only make it to three out of the four shows, then this is the one to miss.

Olongapo Jones
The Bouncing Basura Boys go Twisting and Tumbling in the air.
And these Basura Boys can walk on walls too (give it up, Spiderman)

The Dolphin Friends Show.

Our third show was a cetacian demonstration called the “Dolphin Friends Show”. This is “THE” show in Ocean Adventure, and is the absolute “must not miss” for anyone visiting the theme park. I’ve seen this show seven years ago, plus I’ve also seen similar dolphin shows in Singapore’s Sentosa Island as well as in San Diego’s Sea World, yet it was still every bit as entertaining as the first time.

Dolphins and pilot whales jump in the air, walk on water, wave to the crowd and do other exhibitions on cue from their trainors. Dolphins do have an ability at “showmanship”, and I don’t think I’m the  only one who considers dolphins as among the most entertaining animals. They’re not considered the most intelligent animals in the ocean for nothing, after all. The caliber of the stunts and tricks at Ocean Adventure ranks up there with what they have at Sea World, so much so that when I saw the show there three years ago, I was no longer surprised by their stunts. This is the show that makes a visit to Ocean Adventure a must for everyone.

A group of kayakers pass by infront of the dolphin show stadium, on their way to Adventure Beach.
For a fee, you can get up close and personal with the dolphins, at the end of each show.
The blowing of the "bugong" signals the start of the show...
...and the dolphins leap out of the water, to introduce themselves.
Wave to the crowd!
A tight formation!
Stay put boys!
A dolphin does the moonwalk.
Incoming!
Pilot Whale surfing...
...and dolphin skiing!

The fourth show was the Sea Lion Marine Patrol, although we no longer went to see it. We were tired after the dolphin show, despite the fact that we just sat most of the time. It was the middle of summer after all, and heat exhaustion did take its toll. I had seen the Sea Lion show seven year ago though, and judging at how they maintained the quality of the dolphin show, I’m sure the Sea Lion is still as good as I remembered it to be.

LUNCH

We had to stop for lunch though, before going to Ocean Adventure. Subic can be several things for you, depending on where your interest lies – it can be a large watersports pool, an adventure playground, an animal viewing area, or just a plain weekend hang-out spot. One thing that Subic definitely is not though, is a culinary destination. For a place that’s supposed to be tourism oriented, Subic surprisingly falls short on the food scene. None of the restaurants there can compel you to drive through mountains and valleys just to get a heavenly bite, and it feels like the restaurants are content to play the role of stop-overs, rather than becoming destinations on their own right.

There are, of course, the usual big city favorites like Teriyaki Boy, Pancake House and Gerry’s Grill, but who likes to drive three hours just to get the same type of food you can grab from your neighboring mall back home? There is also the Meat Plus Cafe, which I have written about in a previous article, and which is perhaps the only one there that can illicit some sort of loyalty from its customers. It was, however, closed for Good Friday.

* In Catholic Philippines, consumption of meat (especially red meat), is discouraged during Holy Week.

We settled for a restaurant along the boardwalk area called Aresi. The place has been getting some good, though not exactly rave, reviews, and so we decided to take the opportunity to try it. The place has quite an extensive international menu, from pastas to barbecues, and even some Filipino breakfasts.

For my drink, I had their Frosted Java-java, a cool, ice-blended coffee drink that felt perfect to keep you up on a hot summer afternoon. For our meal, we had the Baked Cheesy Chicken Dip (one of their all-time favorites, I think), the Devilled Chicken Italiano, and the Fish n’ Chips.

Frosted Java-Java
Baked Cheesy Chicken Dip
Devilled Chicken Italiano
Fish n' Chips

The Cheesy Chicken Dip was, in many ways, similar in preparation to Cheese Fondue, with cheese and bread being the main parts, except that no flame is kept underneath the cheese to keep it in a melted state, and also that fact that the cheese has some chicken bits in it. You eat it in the same way you eat fondue, by putting the cheese on the bread. However since the cheese is not in a fully melted state, you cannot dip the bread and you have to scoop the cheese into it instead. I felt that it was nicely done, and the only caveat I could find is that I would have preferred to have a little fire under the cheese to keep it truly melted. The dish would have been a perfect accompaniment to beer or wine.

The Devilled Chicken Italiano was made of deboned chicken fillet, barbecued and placed on a bed of pasta and olive oil, and sprinkled with tomato and some spices. It was another good dish. The nicely grilled chicken went well with the lightly flavored pasta.

The Fish N’ Chips was also not bad, though it did not really stand out. The “Chips” was nothing more than plain fried potato strips, and the “Fish” was nothing more than plain fried battered fillets. The word to describe it is “unspectacular”. I also found it a little “over-garnished”, if there is such a word. It came with a salad and dressing, which in my opinion is a little bit of sacrilege. I really prefer my Fish N’ Chips the way the English do it – just fish and chips and nothing else, but that’s just me.

Passing by a "mega-station" in NLEX, on our way home from Subic.

BLACK SATURDAY

We headed the opposite way the following day, going southbound to Laguna. One of the main (and many) drawbacks of Manila and its environs is a lack of public parks where people can spend lazy and leisurely weekends or holidays. People have compensated for this though by turning malls into public places. It’s where people meet up with friends, where families spend bonding time on weekends or where people stroll around just for the sake of it. The Philippines, is probably one of the few countries where “malling” has become a valid pastime.

Another area that has become a pseudo-public-park though is Solenad Nuvali in Santa Rosa, Laguna – a mere one hour drive south of the metropolis. Solenad is actually just the commercial area of a huge residential project called the Nuvali estates, but people have now turned it into one big picnic ground. I have written about some restaurants in Solenad Nuvali before, though this is my first time to write about the area itself. Aside from having a good list of restaurants, Solenad Nuvali also features a few other recreational activities like fish feeding, boating around the man made lake, or simply just walking around the lake shore, while looking at the artful landscaping. It’s no recreational wonderland, but it’s a valid weekend hangout alternative.

Fish feeding is one of the primary activities at Solenad Nuvali. You'll be amazed at the number of Koi fish on that lake.
Sunset at Nuvali
The restaurants at Solenad Nuvali

* All Ocean Adventure pictures taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 40-150mm f4-5.6. All Aresi and Solenad Nuvali pictures taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5.

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