Friday, December 7, 2007

Father Tropa's Zoo

If you travel south of Dumaguete on the National Highway you will find the town of Zamboangita. The name is interestingly a bastardization of the original dialect word for Octopus. Apparently long ago legend has it, there was a giant Octopus caught and displayed on the beach and the name stuck. Traveling a few kilometers further south going towards Siaton, you will see (if you look very carefully) a small sign for Father Tropa’s Zoo on the right side of the road.

Father Tropa was a religious leader in the Philippines that had a following which believed that Jesus would come back to earth in a space ship in the year 2000. He even hosted a TV show titled Spaceship 2000. Well the year has come and gone, and so has father Tropa, but his zoo remains. Father Tropa was a dedicated environmentalist and did his best to protect native wildlife. His existing zoo is an outgrowth of his interest in protcting animals. It is a zoo unique to the Philippines, and unlike any zoo you might have encountered in the western world. Humble would be a kind way of describing it. In the genre of bizarre, quirky, and entertaining, it is an interesting stop if time allows.

Passing through the narrow gate is best accomplished on a motor bike or small car. A gate keeper will collect 10 Pesos per person to enter or park, not sure how they apply the fee. In any event you pay, enter, and park. When I entered with my wife we were greeted by a diminutive guide who spoke no English, and very little of any language it seemed. He had this never ending smile and giggled incessantly. He was determined to show us every display and animal.

First on our tour was this largish low building that looked like a Barangay hall or meeting place. Once we were through the doors and our eyes adjusted to the lower light levels, a strange and surreal world awaited. Reminiscent of a Bruegell painting, there were displays representative of your average house of horrors. Our guide was laughing in his imbecilic manner and pointing out every display with great pride. This hall was home to what might be called the dead stuff. Long tables with dusty jars full of formaldehyde in which were preserved every aberration of genetics known to man, including a human fetus with multiple limbs. If you are sensitive or squeamish, don’t enter, because the stuffed two headed calf will certainly put you off.

Other exhibits included many moth eaten examples of taxidermy, both domestic and wild critters. Some of the displays have been artfully repaired with duct tape. Actually this was my favorite part of the zoo. It either brings out the teenager in you, or makes you ill. After the initial shock and cursory tour, our over zealous guide bent down and dragged a large flat box from beneath one of the tables. I was wondering what surprise we were in for now… As it turned out this boxed contained a large very alive Python. Without hesitating he gingerly raised the snake and draped it around my wife. She is very OK with this stuff and played along with the gonzo theatrics. What I don’t understand is how these snakes, and there were more, live in boxes under a table. But there was no time to ask. We were whisked outside again and showed the various animals kept in rusty wire fences and cages. I tried to get some photos, but the cages were so ugly and constricted, it was hard to get anything worthwhile. One of the proudest moments for our guide was when he showed us the “giant” chicken. Essentially a standard size domestic type from Europe or the U.S., compared to the wild native chickens in the Philippines, it was indeed giant. At this point I was muttering to myself but enthusiastically enjoying our tour.
Next up where the two dozen Monkeys in cages, most I assume donated or orphaned. The highlight live animal was the giant crocodile. This thing in a low pool was immense. We missed the feeding, but apparently they throw it a live goat or dog once in a while. I was very glad to miss that. My wife described an earlier visit with here family where in fact a dog was sacrificed in from of visitors.
The last exhibit we saw was father Tropa’s grave. Yes he is there among his beloved animals, forever enshrined, but not stuffed thank goodness.

So if you get tired of coral, exotic fish, white sand beaches, and mountain climbing, Father Tropa’s awaits you, ready to give you an alternative zoological experience.

1 comment:

Market Watch said...

Hello everyone I have a house in Dumaguete, I visited Negros Oriental way back in 1988, when our daughter was born, after learning of Father Tropa's exploits I went to his offices, and his zoo in dumaguete and Zamboanguita, as his guest.

I have just returned after a long while, when I planted some trees in 2001, one of them was planted in memory of friends and relatives departed this life, Father Tropa is one of those I shall always remember, a kind saintly figure, only interested in others well-being and condition, making sacrifices himself to assist the most needy.

I have tried to lead by example, making changes to the lives of a few, not knowing how our seeds of hope may produce a new beginning, even if we help one person with our charity, I have achieved my goal in life.

One of the surviving trees an Indian Mangoe, growing in the mountain range depicted in the picture in this blog on the Island of Cebu on the doorstep of Zamboanguita, overlooked by the "Veranda of the World" as Father Tropa called his area surrounding his zoo and outbuildings overlooking the mountains where our small but blossomng growing tree is. It is prducing hundreds of mangoes now, very sweet, very smooth fleshy type, that smell delightful and taste so delicious, it is on a piece of land we bought, passed by by school children, able to pick the fruit on the way to school for some nourishment on their journey which could be as far a 5 to 10 Kilometres on foot in rough terrain.

So Father Tropa wherever you are, whatever you are doing smiling down on us in Heaven or Paradise, Shangri La (Chinese writer Tao Yuanming of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (AD 317-420) once described in his work a legendary fairyland "Peach Blossom Valley" - a place completely isolated from the rest of the world. People there lived a simple, pastoral life. For centuries, Chinese people merely regarded this valley as an imaginary place.)

Father Tropa has indeed has a place to remember, in his zoos in Negros and Cebu that we visited last week, before setting off back to UK.

I also visited the Taoist Temple (Located in the wealthy residential suburb of Beverly Hills about 6 km north of downtown Cebu is an enormous Taoist Temple. It was built by Cebu's substantial Chinese community (the Chinese make up about 15% of Cebu's population).

The temple is the a center of worship for Taoism, the religion which follows the teachings of the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tze. You can see Taoist devotees following their rituals on Wednesdays and Sundays, as they climb the 99 steps of the temple to light joss sticks and have their fortunes read by the monks.

Built in 1972, the Taoist Temple is constructed in a highly ornate and, some would say, gaudy style of Chinese architecture, and is topped with a pagoda-style roof.

The temple has an elevation of 300 meters above sea level, and if you climb the 99 steps to the entrance, you will be rewarded with a good view of Cebu City and in the distance Mactan and Bohol islands. Nice sunset views too.)

I must end here as I could write a book about my exploits.