2010 Masskara Festival in Bacolod


The Philippines is revelled with festivals all-year long. With each having its own unique theme providing different kinds of experiences. One of the most popular is Masskara festival, which is held every month of October for three weeks in the "city of smiles" Bacolod City.

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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"...

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Conceived from a series of tragedies and economid downturns, Masskara Festival became a rallying point for the locals to rebound, rejoice and get back on their feet. Typifying the Eraserheads' song "pag may problema ka magsuot ng maskara", wearing a mask, indeed brings forth a different outlook in life, helping one withstand everything by having a positive attitude and a go-forth bravado. 30 years later, the smiles took over despair in the city of Bacolod.

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Bacolod is so much different from Manila, its pace of life does follow the consumerism-centered lifestyle in Manila. The vibe here is more relaxed and almost every thing you need are just around and exotic places are just a bus and ferry boat ride away. This is why travelers love visiting this part of the Philippines. It serves as an ideal base in the Visayas, where you can easily come and go to different locations, or stay and enjoy a quality life based not on material things but rather on close personal relationships.

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I arrived at Bacolod on a rainy Friday afternoon, I was pretty sure 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 to Europe and many parts of Asia. She used to stay at friends who she met while on the road and also people from couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is like the facebook for travelers, where people host other travelers or couch surfs at people's places for a short time.

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Couchsurfing's is a wonderful concept intent on bringing people from other parts of the world to connect and at the same time, cheapen the cost of traveling. 

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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 Iloilo, he too had a vast experience in traveling to many countries and by just by listening to their backpacking stories, I can't help but be inspired by what they've been doing. They are indeed "living" the most of their lives.

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We went to Lacson street to watch the Electric Masskara parade on Friday night. There was a crowded street party spanning the long road and on the sidewalks, people sat drinking beers and eating Bacolod chicken inasal. Rock bands performing on makeshift stages added invited some to partake in a wild mosh-pit. It was a festive atmosphere and I was glad to have came to experience Masskara for the first time.

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On Saturday, we went on a walking foodtrip in downtown Bacolod. As we waited for another Masskara street parade, I bonded with my Couchsurfing host and fellow guest over bottles of Red Horse and a plate of juicy lechon. Saturday night, we had dinner at the "Manokan Country" and had a sumptous chicken inasal meal. 

Lacson street was once again packed with Masskara merrymakers that night. With new friends in tow like Kareen and Michelle, we met a bunch of German backpackers and NGO workers based in Bacolod like, Joyjoy, April, Devine, John, Eric, Max, Obi. I also met up with old friends like Dee (who is based there) and Sheila who I bumped into in the street party.

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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.

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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.

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