April 7, 2007

Summer Mission 2007: Subic

Mission status: Accomplished.

After going from Manila to Boracay and Panglao on land in 2005, this family’s love and trust for the eight-year-old white Mazda pick-up truck is tested yet again — this time in Subic.

Actually, it’s Wylo’s fault. Turns out my 10-year-old brother signed up for an in-house Math training of sorts, which required him to stay for three days and two nights at the Legenda Hotel inside the Subic Bay Freeport, about a three- or four-hour drive from Manila, discounting traffic. The unico hijo in a place that far away for that long by his lonesome? And with MATH? Clearly, there was no way my father (or auntie, for that matter) would have allowed that to happen.

And honestly, I wouldn’t have, either. I mean, the setup had the words, “ROAD TRIP” and “VACATION” written all over it, it would be some sort of deep injustice to NOT take the trip with him.

And so, having filed the leave five days before (because I’m a good employee like that) I was fortunately able to spend the first half of my long (read: seven-day) Holy Week break with le familia, getting lost on national roads connecting Subic, Zambales and Bataan, laughing at tube crack signs everywhere and dodging sneaky SBMA traffic enforcers.

To Subic, to Subic! (Travel-time)

Saturday, March 31: The first thing that hit me when it had finally sunk in, how I was in the middle of Manila before 5 a.m., was the fact that I was not 1) from a gimik or 2) even the least bit inebriated – as was my default state of being on Friday nights-Early Saturday mornings since 2007 started. Anyway.

We left the house, all five of us, a little after 4 a.m. Daybreak caught up with us at the North Luzon Expressway at around quarter to 6, and I had never been on the road that early in years, it was almost as if I was seeing the sun rise for the first time all over again – you know how it is, seeing something again after a long time of not catching it, kind of gives it that new-feel. Anyway.

It occurred to me then that I had been traversing EDSA far too often that the mere sight of TREES lining a major road fascinated me. Breakfast was at Jollibee in Dinalupihan in Pampanga, which introduced me to Jollibee’s latest new fare, the Bangus Sisig. (Which, btw, rocked. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of my food reviewing skills.)

Wylo’s registration for the event was scheduled from 8 to 10 at the El Centro inside the Base. We reached the place 30 minutes before the deadline – mostly after driving along the wrong roads and almost exiting the Base via the Morong, Bataan exit and getting a traffic violation ticket from a very strict SBMA officer. (More on this later)

As if a sign of things to come, we did spend most of Day 1 getting lost in Olongapo mostly and in adjacent places as well. We ended up getting a room in a place called Ann Raquel’s, which straddles the border of Zambales and Bataan. The entrance is just beyond the “Thank you for visiting Olongapo” marker, it cannot be missed.

Get a room! (Accommodations)

Basically, I got the idea of Ann Raquel’s from the Internet. It was also featured in this book my father bought, which contained tips, maps and contact numbers of establishments most likely useful when you’re traveling around the country.

We got a room for four persons for P2,200. The room’s pretty decent – it’s aircon and it has hot and cold water (a must if you’re traveling with my father and sister, and hands down the BEST feature of this place, not to mention, the BEST shower compared to the other places we visited). While it has a TV with cable, unfortunately, the channels repeat ad infinitum.

The place, at first glance, is nothing really extraordinary – there’s a pool with a giant concrete slide and its customers are mostly families with lots of children. No foreigners here.

However, a warning: The food is kind of pricey (hello P25/cup of rice, but when you’re really tired from hours and hours of getting lost, do you really have a choice?) The good news is that the place is at most a fifteen-minute drive from the heart of Olongapo – which contains a Chowking branch, a Mcdo outlet and two Jollibee stores. Even better is the fact that the people at Ann Raquel’s don’t really mind if you bring food in from the outside, if corkage is what you’re worried about.

Anyway. We spent most of the afternoon recovering from all that travel. We hit the pool late that night (the pool’s only until about 9 p.m., if I remember correctly) and then enjoyed a hot shower prior to bed. It was a good Day One.

DAY 2

Sunday, April 1: Still at Ann Raquel’s, we discover early that morning that there is more to the place than what met our eyes initially – as a matter of fact, the place was HUGE as in SPRAWLING. The last-minute tour revealed another giant pool with an even bigger slide, a hanging bridge, a koi pond, tennis courts and a huge roller-skating rink/dome. It’s the kind of place that would drive the kids crazy, and as we walked side by side, my sister and I, we were laughing our heads off just imagining how Wy would have a *fit* if he knew we were here and he wasn’t. (snickers some more)

The thing about the Math event Wy was in was that it only had hour-long visiting hours per day. Yes, visiting hours – as in hospitals and prisons. Heh. Anyway. Wy’s visiting hours that day was at 9:30 a.m. and we made it there unscathed.

It was on the way out that we got apprehended again for our SECOND traffic violation inside the Base in more or less 24 hours. Auntie, who was the designated driver on Day 1, got apprehended for “not fully stopping” when she was supposed to, entering a one-way street and driving without a seatbelt on the day before (that day we barely made it to the Registration). This time around, it’s Dad behind the wheel and he was apprehended for illegally immediately going after the vehicle in front of us at an intersection.

Now if that sounded weird, or along the lines of, ‘Eh anong mali dun?’ ask no more and accept that Subic Base, as an area, had a pretty weird set of stringent traffic rules. My sister warned against letting me drive for fear that I might get flagged down for overweight driving without sleeves and in shorts – a triple violation.

“Ah ma’am,” my sister says in mock-cop voice, “Bawal po ang driving over 100 pounds. Violation po yun. Wala rin po kayong manggas. Bawal din po yan. At bawal din po ang nakashorts. Please step out of the vehicle.” That biatch. Haha.

Anyway. Learning from the mistake of day 1 (read: getting lost), we decided to visit the Base’s tourism center in hopes of getting a map. It was surprisingly open (and with people on duty too) and accommodating – even on a Sunday! (Plus points for you people, congrats!) The map is free and very useful, and if you have extra money, you could arrange to have a tour guide too.

For Day 2, we decided to transfer from the pool to the beach. We got a room at By The Sea for P1,800. It’s a Park View room for 2, and the resort charged P200 per extra person.

The room’s decent as well – there’s aircon and hot water in the bathroom. What set the place apart from everywhere else, however, was its really GOOD cable tv. Complete channels that don’t repeat, excellent reception.

The sun that high up was SO good and the breeze, so relaxing. By the Sea’s a pretty decent beach, though compared to Boracay, Puerto Galera and Panglao shores, it’s sand and size are definitely inferior, so no breathtaking beach here. Pretty ordinary, not to mention the water’s effin’ scary with jellyfishes and other indescribable objects, both living and non-living. But then we were stuck with that anyway, and there’s no use sulking around because the beach is no fucken Bora and all that jazz, and so. So we do what we do best – we ate and we camwhored some more.

As for food, they have a restaurant and as expected, it’s kind of pricey as well. We decided to drive to the Olongapo center, now only five to seven minutes away, to have dinner at McDo. Unlike Ann Raquel’s, By the Sea *does* charge you if you bring food in BUT, as we later found out, this was only when they caught you doing so. (Sorry guys; they were just burgers, you know.)

At this point, I would like to mention I ran into a couple of high school batch mates who apparently looked very sweet and hmmm. Won’t reveal who. As to whether I said hi, well. I went around with cap on and shades so, no opportunity to be recognized. Hee. I’m painfully shy this way.

DAY 3

Monday, April 2: Apparently, the water’s better in the morning. It’s cleaner and much much more friendlier-looking. Turns out the sea cleans out itself when it is calmer, and it was just SO not calm the previous afternoon, with its waves and everything.

With our By the Sea room expiring at noon, we decided to transfer to yet another place called “Halfmoon Hotel” which gave us a room for 4 for P1,800. The room’s carpeted and large, actually. The usual fare – aircon, hot water. The drawback is that the TV is virtually non-existent. As for the place, it has a small pool with a slide and not much opportunity for camwhoreness.

The food the place serves is actually one of the better ones I’ve had during the trip. Though a bit pricey, that lunch we had in their restaurant left me pretty much satisfied.

So we decided to hit the beach. The one we headed for is one recommended by the SBMA Tourism office, called All Hands Beach, which was a thirty-minute drive from our hotel. Now this one is actually at par with Galera, at best. It’s cleaner than By the Sea, the sand is nicer and the water’s not that scary. The entrance is P100 per head – because it’s a weekday and not a holiday. I think they charge P150 on weekends and holidays. Anyway, we also got a table with nipa roof near the shore for P300-ish.

And because it was already well into the afternoon, my sister and I wasted no time in camwhoring to our hearts’ content. We even rented an aquacycle for P300 an hour, with auntie, Krista and I taking turns pedaling. Who would have thought such a nice-looking thing actually was a torture device.

Food is so-so, but with the servings painfully small, I am wont to *not* recommend it. They’re supposed to charge corkage but for some reason I don’t remember we paid any.

We left the beach when it got dark (of course) and went back to the hotel to sleep. The trip was about to be brought to a close.

Tuesday, April 3: Wylo’s end ceremonies were at 10:30 a.m. so we had to have breakfast somewhere near the venue, El Centro. Out of fear that we might miss it if we tried looking for that elusive McDo branch INSIDE the Base (if any—we weren’t even sure there was one, to begin with), we settled for the first breakfast place we saw – that day, it was Pancake House (insert devilish laughter here).

Needless to say, breakfast was good. However, the *real* highlight of that early morning was my personal sighting of that infamous Neptune Bar, the place where it all started as far as the controversial Subic rape case was concerned.

It was decided that we would go home that evening, but since my eighteen-year-old sister would not be deterred, my father decided to give in to her last request: The Safari.

Zoobic? Zo Nice! (The Safari Experience)

The price they charge per head may be a bit jarring at P395, but I tell you this: The three-hour tour, which features close encounters with tigers, ostriches and crocodiles, and various other animals like Patrash the Abandoned Sheep (I kid you not) and Vixen the Male Deer (who kept chasing me, mistaking me for pechay) and bear Nicholas (in a cage), will be more than worth it.

The kids we were touring with went practically crazy over the animals. To be fair to them, Zoobic charges P100 less for kids below 4ft, while children below 3ft are free, so this actually might be interesting to look into for parents out there who want to introduce their kids to the joys of zoo visits.

The highlight of the tour – and unmistakably, the 25-hectare zoo’s ultimate selling point – is the extreme close encounter with the tigers. In a very clever twist of events, this time it’s people (and not animals) *inside* jeepney-type cages, while the tigers were free to roam outside and POUNCE on your moving cage, provided somebody bought chicken for P200 and used it to lure the tiger nearer.

While some kids were deathly scared of seeing tiger teeth way too close-up, Wylo was, for his part, just beyond thrilled.

Other interesting features of the tour include an open-train ride into an ostrich lair of sorts (and my god, are those birds tall or what) and a feeding session with nearly 200 (yes, TWO HUNDRED) crocodiles, wherein you attach a chicken leg (worth P50) to a stick and dangle it over the crocodiles and watch them jump onto each other’s backs in an effort to outsmart one another and get that chicken. Scary bunch, those crocs.

The tour ended just before five. By the way, the zoo’s only “open” until 4, which means they don’t accept people walking in after 4, because the tour’s at least two hours long and you don’t really want to get stuck inside that jungle after dark.

Tips and Tricks (and other information that could or could not be useful)

+ Read the leaflet they give you upon entering the SBMA gate.
Especially that part that says a Full Stop (not a rolling stop, or any kind of stop) is required at every corner that has a sign to it. I swear these cops really chase people, and having your ticket and license confiscated? Is worth P200.

Another interesting bit is the fact that you can’t immediately follow a vehicle to the other side of the intersection with a stop sign. Case in point: There’s a stop sign and a car ahead of you. The car goes to full stop, looks left and right and then moves on. Do you tail it? Well, by all means do, which was what dad did and we got flagged down about five meters before Jollibee. I swear I almost got into a fistfight because I was. So. Fucken hungry. But then my dad, a.k.a. Mr Cool, held his hunger in and dealt with his fate. Great guy, my dad. Anyway.

What we ought to have done was go to a full stop again and wait a couple of seconds before crossing.

Anyway, I kept score throughout the trip — no, I didn’t get arrested for overweight driving, but my dad and auntie got flagged down once each.

+ Get a map first.
Your first stop should be the Tourism office. I swear it’d make your life a whole lot easier.

+ Use that senior citizen discount card.
I mean, if we were to count all the 20-percent discounts we got off my dad’s senior card when ordering meals or paying hotel rooms? Prolly would contribute much to our gas budget. Some establishments are even so generous, they take 20 percent off the entire tab and not just my dad’s part, so imagine that.

+ Hit the beaches inside the Base.
The sand and sea’s much more cleaner and enjoyable. And hit it earlier, because camwhoring is just so much better under the sun.

+ Try Jollibee’s Bangus Sisig.
Hehe because I thoroughly enjoyed it, though their serving’s a bit on the small side. *cough*calling out to Jollibee*cough*

+ Try other things we didn’t try. *a tear fell*
Due to time and budget constraints (and my fear of heights), we didn’t get to try a few other interesting things like that extreme adventure trip (hello I was wearing slippers, how was I supposed to survive something they call “Slide for Life”, which, in the brochure/map, had a picture of someone hanging OVER A RAVINE, for the love of God), jungle survival training/hiking and go-kart racing (come on Gabby!), just to mention a few.

So, anyone up for Subic? Go call the Tourism Office (047-252 3375/3143) to plan your budget and itinerary ahead and make the most out of that weekend.