2010 Masskara Festival in Bacolod

The Philippines is filled with festivals year round long. Each has its own unique theme and provides different kinds of experience. Masskara festival is one of the most popular festivals and is held every month of October for three weeks in Bacolod, the "city of smiles".

I'll make my life easier by quoting Wikipedia on this one:

"The MassKara Festival is a week(3)-long festival held each year in Bacolod City, the capital of Negros Occidental province in the Philippines every third weekend of October nearest October 19, the city's Charter. The festival first began in 1980 during a period of crisis. The province relied on sugar cane as its primary agricultural crop, and the price of sugar was at an all-time low due to the introduction of sugar substitutes like high fructose corn syrup in the United States. It was also a time of tragedy; on April 22 of that year, the inter-island vessel Anniversary. Don Juan carrying many Negrenses, including those belonging to prominent families in Bacolod City, collided with the tanker Tacloban City and sank. An estimated 700 lives were lost in the tragedy. In the midst of these tragic events, the city's artists, local government and civic groups decided to hold a festival of smiles, because the city at that time was also known as the City of Smiles. They reasoned that a festival was also a good opportunity to pull the residents out of the pervasive gloomy atmosphere"...

So, there it was The Masskara Festival was conceived out of the procession of tragedies and economic downturn. Just like the Eraserheads' song "pag may problema ka magsuot ng maskara", indeed, wearing a mask brings a different outlook in life and makes you withstand everything with just having a positive attitude and a go-forth bravado and 30 years later the smiles took over despair and sadness in the city of Bacolod.

Bacolod is so much different from Manila, it's pace of life does not resonate with the consumerism centered lifestyle in Manila. It's more relaxed with every little things you need are just around you and roads that will lead you to other places are just a bus and ferry boat ride away. Probably the main reason why travelers also visit this part of the Philippines. It is part of that center of a movement where people could come and go or stay and still carry that momentum of living a quality life based not on material things but rather on close personal relationships.

I arrived at Bacolod on a rainy Friday afternoon, I was pretty sure that time that typhoon Juan was intent on crashing the Masskara street party. I headed straight to Kareen's place upon arriving. Kareen is an avid backpacker who've been in Europe and many parts of Asia. She used to stay at friends whom she meet while on the road and also people from couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is like the facebook for travelers, where people could talk about hosting other travelers or surfing at people's places for a short time.

This has been a wonderful idea to bring people from other parts of the world to meet new people and of course to cheapen the cost of traveling which I believe and is now starting to see, that it is not anymore limited to the rich people.

Kareen was also hosting another backpacker from New Zealand (but is now based in Melbourne), Michelle. Just like Kareen, Michelle has ventured solo (meeting new/old friends along the way aside from gaining a gazillion of wonderful experiences) across Asia and Europe and is now on her 4th week in the Philippines. (she came to Bacolod by way of Dumaguete). The next day Obi, a German backpacker arrived from some place in Iloilo, he too had a vast experience in traveling many countries and just by listening to their backpacking stories, I can't help but just to be inspired by what they've been doing with their life. They are indeed "living" the most of their life.

We went to Lacson street to watch the Electric Masskara parade on Friday night. There were street party along the long road where people drinking beers on the sidewalk, eating Bacolod chicken inasal, bands performing on makeshift stages and crowds walking along. It was a festive atmosphere and I was glad to have came to experience Masskara for the first time.

Saturday, we went on a walking foodtrip in downtown Bacolod, then waited for another Masskara street parade over Red Horse and an order of juicy lechon. Saturday night, we had dinner at the "Manokan Country" and had a great chicken inasal. The crowd was huge, with merrymaking, drinking and eating happening all around you. Many bands performing on different stages along the town place all the way through Lacson street. People celebrating life it was just awesome.

I met new friends by way of Kareen, from Michelle, to a bunch of German backpackers and NGO workers based in Bacolod to those who've been living there, Joyjoy, April, Devine, John, Eric, Max, Obi and more and I also met up with old friends like Dee (who is based there) and Sheila who I bumped into in the street party.

Over-all it was a great experience for me. I'd love to come back to Bacolod soon on a longer stay so I could climb nearby Mt. Kanlaon and do more walking foodtrip and afterward either take the bus to Dumaguete or a ferry to Iloilo. Possibilities are endless when you're on the road.

We also went to Mambukal, the Ruins, and passed by Silay on the way to the airport. I'll write about the Masskara sidetrip on another blog entry.