For various reasons our plans to spend a few days travelling in the north of the country never came to fruition, and we have had to make do with daytrips instead. On Saturday we returned to Subic, where we had spent a few days after Christmas. Then we stayed in Barrio Barretto, north of Olongapo City. This time we explored the area south of Olongapo, in the Freeport Zone. This is the former US naval base and is distinguished by its preservation of a relatively pristine chunk of forest, including trees that in other places would long ago have fallen to the loggers’ chainsaws.
We got a sense of the rich natural diversity of the forest as we walked the short trail to the El Kabayo falls. Along the path tall stands of bamboo twenty metres high formed an arch over the path. Along the way we saw butterflies and millipedes and as we passed by we disturbed a small snake that had been sunning itself by the side of the path and which promptly escaped into the undergrowth. These forests provide a home for monkeys (we didn’t see any here, but later a small troop crossed the road in front of our car) and fruit bats. But as we crossed over a rickety footbridge to the pond at the foot of the falls, what really impressed us was the variety of butterflies and dragonflies, which would pause for only the briefest moment, as if to tease us – virtually impossible to photograph.
From El Kabayo falls we drove for about fifteen minutes along a winding but excellent road through the forest until we came to Zoobic Safari. Zoobic Safari has a variety of African and Asian animals, some in cages, others in more open areas. After lunch there we joined a guided tour, partly on foot, partly on a road train, and partly on an armoured jeepney through an enclosure with tigers (which was a pretty unique experience). We had intended to spend some time on the beach, but in the event were at Zoobic Safari all afternoon. I have to say that it was better than I had been expecting. I particularly enjoyed getting up close to the parrots and hornbills in the walk-through aviary and the crocodile enclosure, where for a small charge you can feed the crocs with bits of chicken. While Mary Ann and Sophia were having a break, Dan and I visited the butterfly house. Our guide was a Palestinian gentleman who had lived in the Philippines for twenty years and grumbled about his lot, asking many questions about where we were from. “England.” “Is England a kingdom?” “Yes, we have a queen – Queen Elizabeth.” “Very good.”
It seems that the Butterfly House is the private collection of an enthusiast. There was a tank with some impressively large stick insects and a small walk-through butterfly house with a few beautiful butterflies, mainly the Paper Kite (Idea leuconoe) butterfly. The larger animals in Zoobic Safari, such as the crocodiles, tigers and ostriches, may have been impressive, but my abiding memory of this day, both at the falls and at Zoobic, will undoubtedly be the butterflies.
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