I’ve been living in Subic for a little over a year now. And I always rave about how nice it is here. But the truth is, aside from a handful of resorts and restaurants, I haven’t really explored a lot of the area (quite unfortunate since I very smugly present myself as a local).
So when I got an invite from When In Manila to to participate in a Subic adventure, I grabbed at the opportunity. Ok. Grab is a strong word. Anyone who knows me gets that my idea of a good time does not involve exerting any kind of physical effort. But playing tourist in my new home seemed too good of an opportunity to pass up. Plus, they said we were going to eat at Aristocrat, so I was sold.
I met up with the rest of the group at JEST Camp. JEST is short for Jungle Environmental Survival Training. It’s one of the more popular tourist places here in Subic. The park is set up with various exhibits, demonstrations and activities to teach you about wildlife, and well, surviving in the jungle.
ON MY ORNITHOPHOBIA
Ok, before I talk about the birds and the exhibit, let me first indulge my narcisstic streak and talk about me. I am not an animal lover. I appreciate a cute puppy once in a while, but that’s it. I’m most especially terrified of birds. I blame this on two separate incidents in my life.
When I was in preschool, I was attacked by a goose. Sounds funny now, but it’s true! Our classroom was near the mini zoo. And although the monkeys were kept safe in cages, the turkeys, the goats and the geese pretty much roamed free. I was on a way back to the classroom with my friend, and there were bunch of geese blocking the path that we usually take. My classmate, who was infinitely smarter than I was, ran away and took an alternate route.
Because I was confrontational even as a child, I decided no biggie, and just started plowing my way through the flock. I must have triggered their protective instincts or something, because the next thing I knew, one of them extended its neck and started after me. I ran to the classroom crying like mad. (According to one of my closest friends, who was in the same class as I was, I was sobbing and wailing, “Kinagat ako ng oc-oc!” Ofcourse, turns out, I was unscathed. (Melodramatic child=melodramatic adult). It was terrifying anyway.
Decades later, with the wild goose incident safely repressed but not forgotten, I went to visit my old alma mater’s zoo. My old school had an environmental thrust and spent millions on building a zoo to raise wild-life awareness. It was then that I encountered the deadly cassowary.
For those who don’t know what a cassowary is, it’s a scary looking bird that’s almost the size of a respectable carabao. Its enclosure in the zoo was a measly mesh cage. Since it was grunting, growling and was clearly not in a good mood, I decided to keep a distance. My then-boyfriend (now sadly my husband) decided it would be funny to thrust me nearer the cage. It pounced and I was almost bitten yet again. So see, I have every reason not to be friends with birds.
Moving to Subic though somewhat altered my outlook on feathered creatures. One of my best friends married an avid bird photographer. And because I’m supportive, I would climb up the roof and spend hours stalking the ones that visited our backyard so he and I could compare notes. They were pretty. But I haven’t actually forgiven them for traumatizing me. It was only when I visited the Magaul Bird Park that I completely made peace with them.
THE MAGAUL BIRD PARK
Our JEST tour started quite pleasantly. Carlo, our our very entertaining tour guide, took us around different bird enclosures to show us their collection. And they had a lot! I later found out that the birds that they have cannot be seen in the Zambales forest. Infact, aside from a handful of local birds, most of these birds were imported from different countries.
We saw a variety of different species such as hornbills, parrots, cockatoos etc. We were also given helpful tidbits as we went from one birdcage to the next. (For instance, did you know that most male birds are prettier than their female counterparts? So the more colourful or “feathery” they are, the more the females will find them cute. This is their version of swag).
A lot of the birds were endangered. And collecting them and showcasing them to the public was not only their way of improving our knowledge of the various species, but also preserving them as well. Because our rainforests are slowly depleting, these animals stand very little chance of surviving in the wild. At least in a controlled environment, they can easily be fed, given the proper medicine and vitamins, and even be set up with a suitable mate. Sounds like a sweet deal.
They were especially proud of being able to successfully breed a type of hornbill called Kalaw, an endangered species found in the Philippines. Ok, so despite myself, I have to admit these birds were pretty awesome. Some of them were huge and colorful, some looked furry and cuddly. But more importantly, they looked like they weren’t inclined to bite my hand off.
THE BIRD SHOW
Admiring the pretty birds in their cages was one thing. But the true test of my tentative friendship with them was being able to sit through the bird show. And guess what? I loved it!!!
The show was done in an open auditorium. (Very important: you will not be allowed to eat during the performance since the birds might get distracted from their debut and decide they want to partake of your meal instead).
It was pretty interactive.When various species were introduced, they would walk/ toddle to the stage unassisted, or they would fly from the back of the auditorium so the audience could see them up close. Every so often, they would ask for a couple volunteers and the birds, assisted by their trainers, would fly off the arm of one volunteer to the next. Hosts would also share important facts about the various birds as they strutted their stuff.
Completely shocking, but my favorite part was the bird “curtain call” . They called on the other birds that weren’t introduced earlier in the show, and a whole flock of them came to the stage. They had exotic ducks, pigeons, chickens and yes, even (my sworn childhood enemies,) , geese. You can opt to come closer, hang out and take pictures with these birds. My new friends rushed to the stage excitedly. I kept a prudent distance.
For information on the Magaul Bird Park and the Bird show, click here
THE OBSTACLE COURSE
As you probably guessed, I am a total wuss. And, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t really enjoy sportsy activities. I am especially averse to extreme sports. In my practical and sensible mind, it does not seem like a good idea to pay for an activity that could potentially cause you physical injury. Seemed like a lose-lose situation.
But I was with a group of bloggers. And I didn’t want to be the newbie prick who refused to do anything fun. So I gamely said yes to the JEST obstacle course.
The JEST obstacle course is a 6-activity course that basically tested your ability to balance. You had to through a progression of elevated challenges that got more difficult as you go along. Each one was set a little bit higher than the previous one. By the time you ended the last challenge, you were more than 20 feet above the ground. (Yes family and friends, I actually did this).
The first leg started off easy enough. You had to cross a very thin tight rope but you had sturdy chords on either side of you that you could hold on to. Plus it was just around 10 ft above the ground. I went through this nonchalantly. And even when my safety harness started falling off and I had stop in the middle of the tightrope to wait for the attendant to secure me, I was pretty ho- hum.
Even the second challenge was a breeze. I just had to crawl through a couple of barrels suspended in the air. Sure, it shook like hell every time somebody moved, but still no biggie. My level of smugness was reaching dangerous levels.
The third challenge was what did me in. There was a tightrope again. But instead of of long vertical cords, there were ropes, distances apart, hanging from above, that you had to grab on to. So for you to be able to cross to the other side, you had to reach out and and grab one rope to the other until you the end of the challenge.
Holy crap. What did I get myself into?
Mae, my new friend, who was right infront of me, had this bright idea of crossing the tightrope sideways. That way, it would be easier to grab on to the ropes and keep your balance at the same time. I mimicked her style, and thankfully got through with my dignity intact.
So if that wasn’t hard enough, the crazy people in JEST decided it would be fun to make a challenge out of swings. So you literally had to move from one swing to another, suspended more than 15 above ground. This took a while because every time I hopped on to the next one, it would rock crazily back and forth so I had to wait for it to kinda stop before grabbing on to the next swing. Once I maintained equilibrium, I had go through the same thing. ACK!!!
If that wasn’t enough, in the middle of the challenge, I had to go through a couple of big swings, positioned diagonally. It would rock sideways if I moved abruptly.
Even harder, towards the end , the wooden swings were replaced by swing ropes. So you just had a thin rope to step on. CRAZY! Anyway, I had no idea how I got through this without falling off, but I did!
The fifth challenge was a welcome change because at least it did not veer erratically back and forth. I just had to go through a makeshift bridge made out of rope that was a 20 feet above the ground. Believe it or not, that was a walk in the park compared to the the other challenges.
Finally, you get to slide down to where you started. Now that was fun!
For a non-risk taker like me, I found the experience oddly exhilarating! Now I get why people love these challenges. There is a sense of accomplishment that you feel when you’ve conquered something you though was physically impossible. I actually want to do it again! (I probably lost 5 pounds from all the balancing, sweating and puffing, so that’s an added bonus:P)
OK, this was way cool! After we did the obstacle course, we stayed for a 30 minute demonstration on jungle survival. The Jungle expert of JEST showed us how you could make a makeshift plate, utensils and a glass out of one long kawayan.
Even more amazing, you could use the bamboo for cooking ulam, making rice and even starting fire without a lighter or a match. How’s that for badass?
They also showed us these branches called kuko ng pusa and ugpoy.When you cut them open, you could get cool, clean refreshing water! We even got to drink some. Our guide says these branches probably stored up to a liter full of drinking water. He also gave me an awesome bracelet from the tusks. What a handy tree! I think I will plant some in our backyard. 😛
THE GIANT SWING
For one of our last activities, our guide brought us to the giant swing. The idea is, you get strapped up in a swing and catapulted from 40 feet above the ground.
Sadly, after hearing my friends scream in glee and terror, I chickened out.
I figured I’d gotten enough street cred from the obstacle course to pass this one up:p Regretted the decision though because everyone who tried it kept on raving about it. I made a mental note to bring my friends here the next time they visit. By then I would have gathered enough moxy to give it a go. Definitely a must-try for people who love the adrenaline rush.
The Jest Camp is located at Upper Mau, Cubi-Triboa, Subic Bay Freeport Zone. For more information on their rates and other attractions, visit their website: www.jestcamp.com
After our fun-filled day at JEST, we eagerly headed to Aristocrat to grab some grub. Truth be told, I was looking forward to this the entire trip. Infact, while I was swinging precariously back and forth in the obstacle course, I was thinking of the crispy pata I was about to order. I was determined not to fall and get injured, because they might end up bringing me to an infirmary and I’d have to skip the feast that lay ahead of us.
As usual, Aristocrat did not disappoint. Aristocrat is a household name in the country. They’re known for yummy, straight-up, comfort-foodish Filipino dishes.
The one in Subic had a special place in my heart. It was the first restaurant we visited when my husband was thinking of accepting a job here (we’re total fans of their restaurants in Manila, so it was a no-brainer for us). It was also a dinner staple when we finally moved in and I did not know how to even work a microwave.
After the adventure we went through, we were famished! Luckily, Twinkle, one of the owners, who came with on our JEST adventure , was thoughtful enough to order some appetizers before we got to the restaurant, so they served the food shortly after we arrived.
We had lumpiang shanghai and calamares for starters. Those were wiped out within minutes. (Not ofcourse, before everyone started taking pictures. That’s the funny thing about eating with bloggers, everyone makes sure they take pictures of the food first before diving in. It took all of my self-control not to steal a shanghai while everyone was busy with their cameras).
Calamares is basically breaded, deep fried squid rings. The ones from Aristocrat were incredibly tender and did not have the over-gummy texture that the other calamares that I’ve tried. The lumpiang shanghai was also quite yummy. The crispy fried shanghai wrappers were generously stuffed with slightly sweet, juicy ground pork. They came with their respective dipping sauces, but they were so tasty you could eat them without any kind of condiment.
Despite having devoured the appetizers, we still had plenty of room for the main dishes. I shared an order of crispy pata with another new friend Greg, and ordered pancit luglog to boot. I also got bites full of fried chicken. (Feel free to judge me. No shame in the game, I ate like a starved refugee in front of my new found friends)
As expected, everything was wonderful! The crispy pata had loads of crispy, yummy pork skin. Normally, when I eat crispy pata, I hoard the skin and do not bother with the pork meat. But even the meat was deliciously succulent so I had a generous helping of that too.
The pancit luglog that I ordered was extremely flavorful and filling. The sauce was rich without being too overpowering. It was also served with a liberal mixture of eggs, shrimp and topped with lots of crunchy chicharon.
The others were also nice enough to share their food so I was able to try the fried chicken. I’ve gone to Aristocrat several times, but I’ve never had their friend chicken. And, no joke. It was the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Aside from being unbelievably juicy and crispy, the honey gave it a distinct flavor and sweetness. I loved my crispy pata, but this trumped my chosen dish big time.
After all that food, I I was understandably stuffed! Infact, I swore several times that I could not eat another bite. But the leche flan came and suddenly I was hungry again. 😛
The leche flan was worth the indulgence. It was sweet, light, creamy and surprisingly refreshing. It was the perfect way to end an incredibly filling and satisfying meal.
I also want to give a special shout out to their staff in the Subic branch. One of my pet peeves is encountering people in stores and restaurants who do not have a good grasp of their products. These guys though, knew their stuff. Not only could they identify their specialties by heart, they also knew which dish worked well with what. So it was the complete dining experience. Props for the excellent service guys!
After wiping out all our plates clean, the Manila bloggers were happily ready to go back home. They were talking about heading to Aristocrat again for dinner. Truth be told, I was very tempted to leave my husband behind at home and jump in the car again. Another food trip seemed too good to pass up. But I was being greedy. So I reluctantly said goodbye.
Much to my delight however, they had one last surprise for us. Not only did they feed us, they gave goody bags with more GCs!! Yey!! Thank you so much for the treat Aristocrat! ( I already planned my orders in advance. Luckily, my husband loves chicken, so the honey fried chicken is in our definite must list).
The Aristocrat Subic branch is located at Lot 2 Blk 2, Maharlika Grounds, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Olongapo City. You can contact them through (047) 252 3910 for reservations. For other Aristocrat branches, you can click here
So that was it for my Labor day holiday. I did a lot of stuff that pushed me out of my comfort zone (in front of people I have just met) and it was pretty awesome. Thanks for the adventure When In Manila, JEST, Aristocrat and new friends! I scored enough bragging rights to be insufferable for at least a month. Until the next adventure. 🙂