Photos: Marcelino Panevino
Vigan, the capital city of the province of Ilocos Sur, is known for the vestiges of old Spanish architecture. For the longest time, many are amazed with how the city was able to preserve its classic and rustic ambience. Walking along the famous Calle Crisologo with its long stretch of centuries-old houses instantly brings back golden memories of an era when Vigan’s rich lived in the area. Definitely, this is one main factor why Vigan made it to the elite list as one of the New Seven Wonder Cities of the World.
Interestingly, apart from its preserved Spanish architecture which catapulted it to fame, Vigan has another tourism goldmine these days in Baluarte, a 100-hectare paradise owned and maintained by former Ilocos Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson. The interactive wildlife sanctuary has created a strong buzz among local and foreign tourists in recent years and continues to pack in guests and visitors at present as a proof of its popularity.
“To be honest, what inspired me to put up Baluarte is my hunting hobby. Initially, I didn’t think of establishing a zoo until I realized that my collection has grown huge. I thought that it would be great to use it as a means to facilitate education apart, of course, from conserving and protecting endangered species. The rest, they say is history.
“Now, I’m happy that it’s fast becoming the ultimate zoo destination considering its interactive nature. I want the people of Ilocos, especially the young ones, to see or witness all the exotic animals I brought home from my hunting expeditions so that they no longer need to go to Manila or even in other countries for said purpose. They’ll see it all here…for free,” says Singson.
Nowadays, the premiere fortress is not without flocks of people who want to experience its enticing offerings.
“First, there’s the Safari Gallery where they can see all the preserved wild animals that are products of my hunting sojourns in different parts of the globe like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia, Sweden and New Zealand to name a few. Some of these animals which I shipped to the Philippines are elephant, crocodile, buffalo, rhino, deer, lion, zebra, hippopotamus and bear that now serve as main attractions. As I’ve said earlier, there’s no entrance fee. Everyone will learn a lot about these wild animals as they go around the gallery and can take pictures of them as well.
“Then, we have a free animal show that runs four times daily. In each batch, my Baluarte staff provides fun and fascinating trivia and leads our trained animals to perform certain skills. They also pick volunteers from among the audience who are game enough to have a feel of some bizarre animals. After the show, the guests can take photos with the animals like my favourite tiger which people often see in my pictorials.
“Meanwhile, for guests who opt to stay for a few days, the Mansion House can accommodate them. It’s a lovely spot actually, considering that it’s settled on top of the hill and has a delightful view of the entire city and the China Sea. It’s a mixture of grandiosity and nature with all the surrounding fruit-bearing trees (like the white, pink and burgundy macopa, duhat and elongated carabao mangoes) and calming sea breeze.”
The former governor, now councilor in nearby Narvacan, is proud of the vast array of animals that thrive in Baluarte.
“Actually, they’re almost complete. We have zebras, cats, boars, peacocks (like the Rare White), lizards (like the Green Iguana and Eastern Barde Dragon), sugar glider, wallabies, camels, miniature horses, exotic birds (like the Crested Serpent Eagle, San Conor and Blue Nape Parrot), the Binturong or bearcat and snakes (like the Albino Burmese Phyton). Some are still arriving in the coming days and I assure that it will be worth the wait.”
Definitely, Baluarte is getting more exciting over the years since it was first built.
“Oh yes! When I finished my term as Ilocos Sur Governor, I had more time to travel and hunt so, more animals were added in here. They surely provide more excitement and fanfare to the place.”
Luis “Chavit” Singson is determined to further develop the renowned wildlife sanctuary.
“I’ve always been very vocal in saying that I want Baluarte to become the ultimate fauna spot in the country. This is also one way to give back to the people since they were instrumental in my success. I want those who cannot afford to fly to other countries to experience it first-hand here and to reiterate, free of charge.”
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