I’m not a huge fan of tourist traps. Sure, I’ve done the Eiffel Tower, the Colleseum, and Masada like a good tourist should, but tourist destinations have always bothered me. They don’t give you a real sense of the culture. They’re artificial and forced, often. And, perhaps worst of all, they’re designed to entertain the lowest common denomenator: the rich American.
No matter how hard I try, even I fall prey to the allures of the tourist trap. The way you know you’ve been suckered is easy.
First off, what’s being advertised is simply too good to be true. Perhaps they tell you there’s a beautiful waterfall that everyone there must see, or maybe it’s the most romantic spot in the city. Whatever they say, it’s probably true, but it’s what they don’t say that’s even more telling. There’s no mention of crowds or lines or anything that might ruin the experience. There’s no mention of entry fees or extra charges for photos. It is, in nearly every way, too good to be true.
The second sign of a tourist trap is the requirement of a guided tour. You can go to the Eiffel Tower without a guided tour and still enjoy it, but odds are you’ll run into at least three guided tours as you try to navigate the small observation platform at the top. You can’t even wander the Colleseum without a guide or guard looking down your shoulder. Not to mention the generally oppressive crowds.
Even if there aren’t crowds, the third sign of a toursit trap is the fees. Sure, you can see the Sistene Chapel… for only six easy payments of $39.99. Oh, and don’t forget to drop an extra $5 for a postcard, $10 to light a candle and pray for someone, and, as long as we’re at it, throw in whatever you’ve got left as an indulgence to have your sins forgiven. As if the millions of priceless works of art the Vatican has stolen and hidden over the years weren’t payment enough.
Surely, there are more signs than the ones I’ve named (like actual signs in English), but this bitter start to an entry has a specific purpose in mind: to give myself a bitchslap for being suckered once again.
With Anthony now in tow, we turned to the map the military had provided. On the back was a list of attractions including one called Subic Safari. When I asked a few of the loccals about it, they said we had the chance to get up close and personal with Tigers.
SIDE NOTE: Ever since I was little, I loved tigers. When my mom worked at the San Francisco zoo, I used to spend every chance I got watching the tigers. When the trainers would let me, I’d help clean and feed them as well, though it was rare. I even got my parents to “adopt” a tiger through the zoo adoption program. Each year, I’d get photos and a letter from the tiger’s trainers telling me about it. When my parents visited Thailand and China, they brought me back a Chinese tiger, which was an actual tiger skin stretched over a wiremesh frame with fake teeth and eyes. It’s lived in my room or my library everywhere I’ve been.
Given my love of tigers, I didn’t even bother to think about what exactly I was going to see. Perhaps the fact this was advertised on the back of a tourist map of the area should’ve been a hint that this wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. If not that, the requirement of a 200 peso cab ride (about $5) to get there and again to get back might’ve been a sign. One cabbie said it was only 150 pesos to get there, but 500 pesos to get back.
Subic Safari sits on the heart of the old naval base. Outside of the main complex, which mimics the worst tiki-style tourist traps I’ve seen, every building is converted bunkers where munitions were stored. The dense jungle wrapped down on the road as we road up, but it never felt as though we were escaping civilization. Small work crews were cleaning the sides of the road, cutting grass and trimming back the jungle.
The only other visitors to the Subic Safari were a couple groups of Korean tourists (and doucebags at that, though we’ll get to that later) and an Indonesian family. The main complex had a long empty queue to buy tickets (which ran 395 pesos a person, not including the extra 50 pesos if you didn’t have a car to get you from one bunker to the next), a gift shop, a small cafe selling overpriced drinks, and a number of live tigers in cages (and one on a chain that would pose for pictures with you for a nominal fee).
As we wandered in, I immediately bolted for the cages. One tiger, shown right, was sleeping, his face close enough to the edge to provide a nice close up. As I began to focus, he awoke and jumped at me. Unfortunately, the picture was mid waking, though I can’t tell if the blur is his movement or mine cowering in fear. Note to self: don’t fuck with the tigers.
After about 15 minutes of waiting in the heat, we were called the front and given a brief rundown of all the kitchily named attractions we would get to see, from the Hip Hop Bay-a-Walk, to the Croco Loco. Already, I was a little miffed.
We were given a tour of their petting zoo, complete with antelopes, baboons, ducks, goats, and camels. Only about half the animals were local varieties, and any interesting ones were hiding behind bars. The Korean tourists would not stop harrassing the animals. They’d kick, shout and throw things to try and get them to do something. Several times, I was tempted to try the same with them.
When the petting zoo was through, we were taken through the snake room and then ushered toward the cafe and offered drinks. I bought a coconut in its shell, hoping to have a moment to sit down and feel tropical for a little. Instead, just as the coconut reached my hand, we were tossed into a cheesy tiger themed “train” and driven to the next location.
This was the highlight of the Subic Safari, and likely the only reason worth going. They had converted Jeepneys ready to roll through a free range tiger camp. The passengers were encouraged to spend another 200 pesos to buy a chicken so the tiger would come close. I wasn’t about to drop the cash, but someone else (cough, Anthony, cough) did.
We piled into the Jeepneys and I, completely accidentally, ended up entrally located and right next to the feeder. The upside was getting some great shots of tiger feeding. The downside was getting sprayed with raw chicken guts. With the magnificent animals crowling right up beside us, I suddenly felt better about the fees being wrenched from our wallets.
The remainder of the trip was nothing special. We went to the Tiger Close Encounter where we walked beside a bunch of cages and were warned that if the tigers lined their asses up towards us, it was to piss on us and mark their territory. One Koren began whipping the tigers with his hankercheif. I moved away quickly and prayed he would get mauled. He didn’t. I was sad.
We were then driven through the “Savannah,” which feature ostriches and pigs and not much else. I was more impressed by the outlying jungle. From there, we stopped at a museum, which consisted of poorly taxidermied animals, and then shown around a dance performance by the “natives.” Jhoan made a point of mentioning quietly that the native people of the Philippines were actually civilized and that this was just a very over the top show. Still, the Koreans ate it up.
After being taken past the chachtki stall, we visited the Hip Hop Bay-A-Walk, which was a series of platforms over an empty pit that would (supposedly) be filled with lizards eventually, when they got enough. Finally, we were taken to the Croco Loco, where small chickens were being sold at 50 pesos a pop to be fed to the crocs. Anthony once again jumped at the chance, though this time they were self-serve fishing poles.
With nearly an hour now wasted, I was excited to get back to the city and try and find some sandals before our beachside dinner. Still, it took neearly a half hour for a cab to get there for us, despite being only a 10 minute drive.
With the Subic Safari a bust for the most part, I swore to myself I wouldn’t be suckered into another tourist trap this trip. Of course, who knows if I can keep that promise. If the rest of the group wants to go, I’ll be suckered right along with them.