Webmaster’s note: This is a guest article written by Jed Segovia, a buddy of mine from college. Thanks to Jed for sharing his own travel tales!

One day, I gave in to my craving to go on an extended vacation and to see some sun and surf. So, I decided to give myself a holiday for the week of Jan. 18 to 22 by going on a trip to Kalibo and Boracay for the Ati-atihan festival and for the beach scene. Having had enough of the working grind for a while, I accepted the invitation of friends Ryan and Jenny Maagma (the owners of mobile bar Sober Club) to tag along on their trip there.

Their flight for Jan. 18 was already fully booked though. So, I had to decide between a Php4,030-something PAL flight for the same day, or a Php3,999 Jan. 19 Cebu Pacific flight (both flights round trip). Not much difference in price, you think? Ah, but think of the cost. The difference was in whether you were willing to harass yourself by giving yourself an even shorter time to prepare for a more expensive flight, or willing to let a single day slide to save yourself a few pesos – and some anxiety. I opted for the latter flight.

The flight would take off from NAIA 3, and it was my first time there. That place is infamous for being the subject of so many white elephant and cheap materials charges, but thankfully the place seems to be operating just fine. If you haven’t been there yet, it’s a lot more modern-looking (and cleaner) than the old NAIA, with really high yawning ceilings that seem to swallow your entire periphery vision that put you in the proper airport mindset.

NAIA 3

NAIA 3

In the passenger waiting area they have souvenir and food shops – Island Souvenirs, Crocs, some coffee stands, a little Filipino cuisine. So while waiting for your flight there’s plenty to look around. My flight was in the morning, 9:00AM, which seems to be standard Cebu Pacific local flight hours.

NAIA 3

However, while sitting and reading a comic while waiting, I saw that my flight was delayed by an hour; Ryan and Jenny would later say theirs was delayed three hours. So I took consolation with the fact that I also saved myself the trouble of a 3-hour delayed flight. And as my companions went ahead by one day, I made arrangements to meet with family living in Kalibo, so that I could do some family catching-up before meeting up with friends.

NAIA 3

inside the plane

Part 1

The flight was from Manila to Roxas City, which took about one hour and forty-five minutes. From Roxas City Airport, my guide and I took an airport taxi going to a van terminal somewhere in the town.

taxi

taxi

Roxas City is one and a half hours away from Kalibo, so there are a lot of public vans to provide transport for travelers going that way. Van fare is Php100.00, but my aunt who lives in Roxas lightheartedly cautioned me that they charge more if you’re a Tagalog. I think I was able to get away with the Php100.00 because my guide was Ilonggo.

Road to Kalibo

Road to Kalibo

So to get to Kalibo you take a van, and we got off somewhere near the town’s Shell station. It was the height of the Ati-atihan festival and it was almost impossible for a vehicle bigger than a tricycle to penetrate the dense, wall-like roaming processions of fiesta revelers. It had also rained that day, so the streets were pretty much mud-splattered. We met with a friend of my aunt, who advised that we take a tricycle (“trike”, for short) going into town. So my guide and I got on the nearest trike and headed into town. The funny thing about their trikes is that they’re a bit bulkier than Metro Manila trikes; they have a tapered end that make them look more like sawed-off yachts on wheels, and their passenger areas are made from wooden planks. Also, they’re mostly painted in the festive-gastronomic colors of yellow and purple, which kind of reminded me of ube and bibingka.

trikes

Going into town was almost a trike-riders’ nightmare; dozens of trikes, sluggishly wheeling about in narrow muddy alleys, emitting noxious fumes that curled up into both commuters’ and passengers’ noses. I had to pull open my collar and duck in for a breath of fresh air more than once, as did my co-passengers. Also, the folks here also subscribe to the Filipino economical transport mindset of cram-all-you-can, so even though I and another were scrunched up tight in the passenger side, the driver still picked up another passenger and had him squeeze into the free area in front of our legs.

This went on for a good twenty minutes – our trike navigating the muddy, crowded Kalibo streets, dirt crunching and grinding slowly under its wheels, smoke blasting from its steady brumbrum-ing engines and into our respiratory systems.

After a while – and to my lungs’ relief – we got off near Marianing’s Superstore. Marianing’s is a four-storey supermarket, with the top-three making up the office, residence, and roofdeck, respectively, of my other aunt and her family who live in Kalibo. After being welcomed into the store’s side door and up the stairs, I was welcomed by my family – and a glorious shower room.

Part 2

After a good shower, a generous helping of homemade lunch, and hugs and greetings with my distant relatives – literally distant, anyway, since they live in Kalibo – my aunt, her friend and I decided to go down to the streets of Kalibo to see what festivities they had. They told me today, the last day of the festival, was still a great day to be here because the culminating event would be the Sadsad, a kilometers-long procession around the city of Kalibo following statues of the Santo Nino.

The origins of the Ati-atihan, as shared by my aunt, goes like this: in the days of the Spanish colonizers, they went about baptizing the pagan locals. However, the region wherein Kalibo was located was spared of the Christian indoctrination, leaving a few pagan rituals and practices to the natives. The Ati-atihan was once a pagan festival, but the colonizers appropriated it with Christian meaning, thereby making it into a feast for the Santo Nino. With that knowledge I mused at how it reinforced my perception of Christianity as loaned practices and icons stitched together from different religions to lend it meaning. In any case the Ati-atihan also kept its tribal roots, as many of the people in parade were dressed as tribesfolk, with spears and grass clothing, not to mention blackface to complete the look. The blackface is an old practice used to emulate the dark skin of the native peoples, called “Atis”.

After looking around for fiesta-related activities – such as my aunt having a marijuana leaf fake-tattooed on her shoulder – we came upon the ever-enlarging entourage of revelers gathering at the town square. All were flagging flags and banners bearing the names of Santo Nino and their sponsors, as well as carts loaded with flowers and images of the Santo Nino. Drums and xylophones were being played, loudly, and it infused the air with this fiesta-vibe that got all the way into people’s feet and shoulders, swaying as they did.

My aunt said the Sadsad would start soon, and it was the highlight of Ati-atihan, the one event they looked forward to every year. That was because it was like a huge, village-wide dance procession, a giant, bouncing mini-moshpit of people swaying and to the rhythm of drums and xylophones beating into the air. And not just that – people were encouraged to drink, and drink, and drink. My aunt said people were given permission to drink copious amounts of alcohol during the festival because the drunkenness kept people’s minds off the arduous length of the march. I’m not sure if she was joking or not, but it made sense to me.

In the past few years it would rain during the Sadsad, and my aunt recalled fondly how they would dance in the rain, making it even livelier. But this year it rained before the precession could start, leaving the streets mud-caked. The people didn’t seem to care – everyone was out trampling their feet to music. It also looked like half the town had either beer, rum, gin, or a bottle in their hands. And they were smoking too. I found it very tongue-in-cheek – but for some reason, very Pinoy – for there to be such images of festive riotry during a festival for a hallowed child-image.

At that point I was texting my companions to ask where I could meet up with them. I hadn’t gotten a reply yet, so I followed my aunt and her friends around. Eventually, we came upon a house where a guy in face-paint had two tubes of orange and yellow facepaint was hopping to the beat and painting streaks on willing people’s faces. And this group was loud – they were screaming festival slogans, and egging people to get their faces done. After gamely approaching to have my cheeks orange-and-yellowed, the guy greeted “Tsong!”, and then I noticed the lady standing right behind him. After a disturbing few seconds of recognition, I realized that it was Ryan and Jenny with their Sober Club entourage!

Talk about fate. My aunt and her companions asked the other people inside the house if they could use the washrooms – it happens, I guess, during festivals when strangers are more kindly and hospitable to each other, in the spirit of the fiesta. After finally bumping into my traveling companions I opted to stay with them through the whole Sadsad. And true to Sober Club form, Ryan was passing out shots of Tanduay to everyone, while the group cheered. “Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot!” – I took the shot – “YEAAAAH!!!!!”

Part 3.

The Sadsad itself started out really slow; imagine hundreds of people getting organized, at the same time trying to move to keep in time with the march, at the same time already so antsy from the drink and music that not only were some of them walking, some of them were bopping in step. And it was a really vibrant sight – people came in costumes, and it looked like a few groups were trying to outdo each other in the weirdness factor. There was one group with a transvestite, another group with a big-bellied guy all slathered in black paint, holding a gin bottle and waving the group sponsor flag, and another group – these guys I laughed at so hard – consisting of tambay-looking guys wearing bras, dresses, and floral hats, with one guy wearing a sign slung around his neck that read “MAKE SEX NOT WAR.” I laughed. This was a fiesta for the Santo Nino, mind. The whole thing had that obscene, over-the-top mardi gras vibe.

Eventually my gang joined a group of green-clad revelers and then we started marching in the Sadsad. And so we went about, marching, clapping and swaying to the beat of the drums and xylophones erupting from all sides of the march. Ryan was handing out shots to random strangers, who nonetheless took them with all smiles. Even a random photographer couldn’t escape the shot-egging of my group. And random strangers became friends, too – people chatted up people next to them, shared shots and beer with them, joined in on group photos even though they weren’t part of the group. It was a very infectious fiesta spirit inside the Sadsad; in it, no one was mindful of how they looked, dressed, or moved – it was all just plain good fun. There were guys dressed in emo garb, in gangsta garb (one guy wore shades with the lenses scrawled with “Harlem Boi”), and regular touristy people who looked both amused and bemused at the event they’d walked into. A photographer in our group totted a toy-looking camera, and on his face was painted the words LOMOGRAPHY on a pink background. You could hear the Ka-poom-ka-poom-ka-ding-a-ding-a-ding of musical instruments, first slow, then fast, driving people’s inner dance engines. A girl in our group started grinding, shouting, “Lower!”, and everyone followed suit. We bent our knees and started doing crazy pelvic sweeping movements and laughed at the fun and hilarity of it all.

We might well have circled half the town, because we were in the Sadsad for almost two hours. When we started moving, there was still a sun up; eventually dusk came until all that remained was a deep purplish night sky. Several times the procession stopped while a group in front of us fired fireworks into the sky. We all cheered and clapped and woaaah-ed, until we started gagging and ducking for air when the rocket smoke started washing all over everyone. Ryan was still passing out shots, and when the bottle had run out Jenny’s brother showed up with three more bottles. A few in our group were grinning and outright refusing to drink anymore, as they were stumbling with their heads down and faces in their hands. “Lower” girl’s head was already lolling off her neck like a brick-filled sock, and she walked with her arms slung over one guy’s shoulder and her rear sticking out, like a bedraggled sleepwalker. The one big destination was the town church, and when we arrived there was a big hubbub, with more fireworks firing into the sky.

When we got to what I think was half the town, some kind of commotion was happening somewhere near our group. Heads were turned and cocked, suddenly alert. People then started moving away from the epicenter of activity, turning heads as if in escape. Sure enough there was trouble over there, and people started moving to get out. “Away, away,” said Lower girl casually, and at that point we decided to finally move out of the Sadsad and into the streets. Looking back, I eventually say Harlem Boi being accosted by a baranggay tanod, but I wasn’t sure if he was the source of the trouble.

Walking back into the town, Ryan shrugged, “Ganyan talaga, bro, minsan nagbabanggaan, minsan may hindi nagkakasunod. Pero dapat diy iyan dibdibin, it’s typical.” Typical, of course; any combination of people, alcohol, and crowds is a potent mix for security issues and fisticuffs, but hey, it comes with the fun.

We proceeded to a nearby church to have ourselves blessed by the Santo Nino. This was done by having altar boys rub the base of tiny Santo Ninos on your upper body. I watched as my companions got their blessings first, and noticed that you had to turn a bit to the left after having been blessed up front, so your back would be rubbed as well. Also, I noticed they were chucking coins onto the floor. I didn’t ask what it was for; I guess it was part of the devotion, or maybe you had to pay the Santo Nino for his blessings otherwise it without work. So, following suit, I went up to the Sacristan, had myself rubbed, then chucked two pesos into what I saw was a tiny basket on the floor.

After getting our blessings we walked back to Ryan’s place, but not before having the whole town suddenly plunge into darkness all around us. Ryan called out for people to hold onto each other so as not to get lost, and there was a tense curiosity in everyone. The power could have gone out for any good reason, but we didn’t dwell on it and walked home. Then, heard – and saw – fireworks flaring up in the building behind us. We heard the whizzing and popping into the air, momentarily illuminating the roofs and streets. That’s when the power came back on, and one of us grunted with a smirk, “Kaya pala pinatay ang mga ilaw.” I’ll have to admit, it was a pretty cool stunt to kill the town lights just for a few seconds of fireworks.

Ryan and group went back to their place where a magnificent spread of food was waiting. There was stewed pata (pork leg), a local favorite called bakareta (like caldereta, except it was made of beef – and I had no idea idea that the “-reta” was actually a suffix for a certain dish, like “-silog” for “tapasilog” or “beefsilog”) and lots more. At that point though I had to go back to Marianing’s since I’m sure my family there would be looking for me. So I made my goodbyes and headed back to the homestead for dinner.

tita and me

Epilogue

The next morning Ryan’s group and I were all going to Boracay, and we decided to meet up outside the house they had dinner the previous night. But while waiting for them, I heard the tinny sound of drums coming up the street. And I saw a curious yet festive sight.

eaglemarch

It was a guy dressed like a festive eagle, like a sight straight out of children’s mythology books, and he was being followed by a procession of drum players. And I had no idea why. They weren’t asking for money, or handing out leaflets. They were just marching up the street.

drummers

eagleman

Was it a devotion to the Santo Nino? Was it an Ati-atihan follow-up? Was it an activity for a particular group scheduled for the day? I had no idea. But I nonetheless took photos of this really strange, almost surreal sight. It was the mystery of why they were doing it, and why the guy was dressed like an eagle that piqued my curiosity.

march

byebye

That sight, in a way, caps off the bizarre, colorful, and festive sights that I was able to catch during the Ati-atihan. In a way, it spoke of how the townspeople simply revel in the festivities, doing strange and wonderful things in the spirit of the event because it was fun, and I guess because it was a time when crazy things were a normal sight in an otherwise busy town.

Smiling at the photos, I packed my bags into the van, for the trip to Caticlan port.

bridge with house