An hour past noon, we arrived at a five-storey full-service Marlim Mansion Hotel, a bit archaic but one of the biggest hotels located at downtown Balibago, Angeles City, for lunch. We were greeted by a robust Peter and a young John, both hospitable staff of Director Tiotuico of DOT Region III. After almost an hour of luncheon meal and rest, we proceeded to the new Nayong Pilipino—one of the side trips for our festival escapade, the Giant Lantern Festival of which the program would start at twilight.
Side Trips: Consuelo de Bobo?
Nayong Pilipino sa Clark is a theme park depicting the history of the Philippines through architecture and cultural shows. It is subdivided into pre-colonial and colonial periods. The pre-colonial subdivide features the houses of different ethnic communities. Since it is impossible to cover all the communities in just half an hour, we decided to focus on Ifugao village with matching lady tour guide sharing with us some facts about ifugao houses of which the shape of the roof identifies the tribe it belongs to. I heard her saying, “rat gard.” I thought it was an Ifugao word. I was mistaken but bothered not to ask for a clarification. “Rat guard,” she said while pointing to a thick disk-shaped wooded provision attached to every column of four that supports the house that stands four to five feet above the ground, “serves as protection against rats trying to climb to the house.” Although, crude as they may appear, these houses can amaze even the likes of Palafox at such precision with no power tools and such sturdiness without a single metal nail or bolt. Every house is like a puzzle whose pieces fit together. In this village of four different tribe houses, there is also a souvenir shop of Ifugao products, of course. I decided to buy a key chain worth 15 pesos to benefit the Ifugaos neither that I need it nor that I love collecting that sort of things. It is my pledge that my travel should benefit the destination in exchange for some pollutants that I may, without knowing it, bring to it and leave behind. For lack of time, I just took photos of some houses in other “villages” and in the colonial subdivide.
Just a few minutes after three-o’clock habit, we found ourselves reminiscing war-time stories at Clark Museum. It features a rare collection of artifacts of the American period—before and after World War II—exhibition of paintings and dioramas of historic events during the period and of Filipino customs.
From the museum, we went to Puregold Duty Free for some “stateside” chocolates and cookies, which cost me, Aleli and Boyet a thousand and a half pesos each—worth the price though for once-in-a- blue-moon duty-free shopping. This ended our side trip in Clark—definitely not just a consuelo de bobo, though.
The Biggest Giant Lantern Festival: Truly Spectacular!
The City of San Fernando staged anew its spectacular Giant Lantern Festival, the biggest ever with each of the participating lanterns measuring 20 feet in diameter compared to last year’s 18 feet. The lantern festival, the only of its kind in the world, earned the city the title of “the Christmas capital of the Philippines.” Locally dubbed as Ligligan Parul, it was held this year on December 18 at Robinsons Starmills.
The festival is actually an annual competition of giant lanterns usually with nine competing barangays on a Saturday before the Christmas Eve. Since 1958 the lanterns have been redefined and named as parul sampernandu; however, it finds its roots in what was then Pampanga’s capital—Bacolor—where a simpler lantern activity was yearly held until the provincial capital was transferred to San Fernando in 1904. The predecessor of the modern-day Giant Lantern Festival was actually a religious activity which we know today as “lubenas.” The lanterns measured just two feet in diameter, a far cry from the 20 feet that we see today. These were created in each barrio out of bamboo and other locally available materials. During the nine-day novena before Christmas which is done during simbang bengi (midnight mass) from December 16 to 24, these paruls were brought around each barrio in procession. Before the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, the lanterns, together with the images of the patron saints of the barrios, were brought to the town church (retrieved and updated from http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Giant_Lantern_Festival). As the lanterns grow in size from a mere two feet in its early years to 20 feet in diameter this year, the lantern festival also has found its own identity apart from being a mere part of a religious activity into a carnival with its own worth and crowd draw.
Preceded by a number of folkdances and musical performances, the contest, starting at around eight o’clock, took almost two hours to conclude. It was composed of individual presentations in the first round with seven minutes for each entry, triad face-off in the second round with seven minutes for every group of entries, and simultaneous demonstration of all the nine entries in the last round also for seven minutes.
Two hours of way-out-of-this world spectacular experience is worth the trip from Manila of two hours. With side trips in Nayong Pilipino, Clark Museum, and a shopping spree in a duty-free grocery store, a Saturday night with this kind of event is more than enough to give you a dose of an experiencia de gran turismo. Side trips are not just a consuelo de bobo. They are actually an important ingredient in the overall experience—to give you a sense of fullness, a value for the time, effort and money spent. A destination must be as spectacular as that festival to be worth a trip of several hours. Or better yet, when planning a trip for a destination, consider some side trips to complete the equation.