by Nen Camara
If there’s one thing that Filipinos love with a passion, it’s a good party, and the ultimate party is their town’s annual fiesta, a spectacular, all-out celebration of an event deemed worthy of excess.
That event could be the town patron saint’s ‘birthday’, the celebration of harvest, flower season, a historical anniversary or even the victory of a mythical hero. Whatever the reason for the celebration, the result is the same — street dancing in a rainbow of colors, abundant food and drink, and thousands of locals and tourists milling together as though long-lost friends amidst throbbing music and revelry. It’s an experience one won’t easily forget.
Getting to one of the major island festivals may require some cost in the form of plane ticket, hotel or some other accommodation, and pocket money. And considering the effort and possible time off from work to get to the festival, it makes sense then to ensure your maximum enjoyment of the festival.
Here are 10 tips to follow:
1. Be Accommodation-Ready
Don’t underestimate the popularity of festivals, even a small local fiesta. Book your accommodation far in advance.
Book long in advance as popular festivals attract thousands or tens of thousands of visitors. Depending on the popularity of the festival, hotels, resorts, inns, and bed and breakfast accommodation are fully booked up to 3-6 months before the fiesta dates. Consider not only the availability of rooms, but the availability of ‘good’ rooms.
If you are staying for more than a few days, you will enjoy your stay more if your room overlooked an attractive side of the town rather than the rubbish bins of the hotel.
Also consider the location. It would be great to book into a hotel close to the parade route and the action. There are many advantages to this.
– You will only need to walk a short distance to see the festival parade and join the other activities.
– You will be able to go up to your room if you want some peace and quiet during the day.
– You’ll be able to take quick showers.
– Having an airconditioned room handy will be great if the temperature rises.
However, be aware that some celebrations go on through the night. If you have no plans to sleep, that won’t be a problem. However, if you do want to get some sleep, a hotel further away from the festival center will be much better for your peace and quiet.
If you choose a hotel away from the festival center, then consider these possible scenarios. You face walking several kilometers to get to the festival grounds. It will be too far to walk back and forth during the day, so you will need to hang around the festival grounds the whole day, even if nothing was happening. If you get dirty or too hot, you will not have the convenience of going back to your room to freshen up. If you find yourself in this situation, then Tips Number 2 and 3 below becomes very important.
2. Be Geared-Up (or Down)
Gear up simply and light.
Bring only what you need, and those are:
A good quality water-proof (in case of rain) backpack, with secret pockets to keep your important identification and papers, and room for car keys, if needed.
– A flat money belt for your cash, but wear this inside your clothes, not outside like a fanny pack.
– Your cellphone, with the phone numbers of your friends with you at the festival, as well as your tour guide’s
– A fan (abanico) – yes, even for the males, so you won’t keep asking to borrow your girlfriend’s fan
– Extra clothes – an extra pair of shorts or loose pants (preferably cotton); an extra shirt (preferably cotton); extra underwear (yes, I did say).
– A cotton bandanna or cotton scarf – if it gets too hot, you can wet this and tie this around your neck
– A strong but lightweight piece of cloth, for sitting on the grass if you need to
– Hat — useful in any weather; one that you can roll up in a pocket of your backpack is the best
– Small umbrella — it may not rain, but you never know. If you don’t want to bring an umbrella, bring a plastic poncho
– Flipflops, in case of rain
– Spare plastic bags to protect your gadgets with or to put things you buy in
– Your best camera and an extra sd card for extra memory
– Sanitized wet wipes and tissues
– A small emergency kit. Don’t depend on your tour operator. They may carry a big emergency kit in the van, but it is good for you to be prepared for anything.
– Your medications – your prescription medicines if any, headache pills, tummy upset pills
What you don’t want to bring.
For obvious reasons, do not bring your credit cards, and do not wear expensive jewelry.
3. Be Clothes-wise
Dress up for either hot and humid, or rainy and humid.
So choose the type of material and color of your clothes. Don’t wear anything that will clearly show when and where you’re sweating, for instance. Choose light colors which will deflect light and heat, or bold prints which will disguise sweat marks. And sweat you will, especially if you get the urge to join the street dances.
Don’t worry, you won’t be the only one feeling hot.
The main goal, you must remember, is to still look good for your selfies.
And talking about your clothes and selfies — youngsters, don’t give in to the urge to reveal the type of lace adorning your underwear, revealing too much skin, or wear high heeled anything, even if they are boots. In a crowd of hundreds and hundreds of people, it is better not to attract the wrong type of attention.
We have said above, do not wear expensive jewelry. However, festivals are all about colorful accessories. So join in the spirit by wearing splashes of color with bright beads and native-inspired styles.
4. Be Feet-Smart
Wear closed, comfortable shoes — the most comfortable you own
Expect also to walk several kilometers through the town, as most streets will be closed to traffic. Wear closed, comfortable shoes — the most comfortable you own.
Closed shoes are protective shoes. You will be walking an extremely long distance and you need shoes that won’t hurt any part of your feet. You need protection from getting your toes stomped on, from stepping on broken glass or sharp stones, and the possibility of tripping or stumbling on some uneven terrain. So as we have mentioned, no high heels, even if they were boots, no dainty sandals, flip flops, or even flats that come off easily.
But bring a pair of tsinelas (flip flops) in a plastic bag, for meandering about in the peaceful and quiet times.
5. Be Cool
Take the effort to prevent heat stroke.
Here’s a tip: bring a cotton bandanna or big, soft cotton scarf. During the hottest times of the day, thoroughly wet your scarf with water and a little light cologne, and with it, wipe your face and exposed neck, arms and legs. You will instantly feel much cooler and smell fresher. Then wetting the bandanna again, roll it into a rope and tie it around your neck, a dripping wet, entirely useful and attractive accessory.
6. Be Secure.
You’ll be rubbing elbows with several thousand people. Unfortunately as with other big crowds, pickpockets will be in active attendance.
That is why your backpack must be of good quality, strong material, and zippers not exposed. The best thing to do is to leave valuables at the hotel, or better still, at home.
7. Be Camera-ready
Make sure your camera is fully charged, with new batteries, several portable power sources, and an extra memory card. Some people have been known to take thousands of photos during these events. The color, the culture, the magnitude of some of these festivals are breathtaking.
Festivals are wildly colorful events with countless things to shoot (with your camera) — the dancers, the floats, costumes, side shows, the street dancing, the musicians, street food and their vendors — all the things that makes a festival what it is. It is an event you will want to capture and remember with pride you were a part of.
If you want the best photos, arrive at the grand parade or street dancing venue very early, at the time when the contingents are preparing themselves. The grand parade is a long walk about 3-5 kilometres long. Go to the starting point, and start taking photos even before the parade starts, if you are allowed. Some of the best photos of the contingents and dancers are taken at this time.
8. Be Hydrated
Have more than one bottle of water in your backpack
Before you leave home or your hotel room, drink lots of water and then go to the toilet. Then pack a bottle of water in an outer pocket of your backpack, and have an extra bottle inside your pack. There are street vendors selling water at the festival grounds, but you will be doing a lot of walking, and there’s no guarantee there will be a water vendor around when you are about to have a heat stroke.
9. Be Toilet-trained
Take note of where all the portable toilets are.
There may or may not be any porta toilets around. If there are, and as the day wears on, long lines of people will attach to each one, so go and relieve yourself at any time you notice a porta toilet is free or if the lines are shorter. Tip: the lines are shortest at the farthest toilets. And another tip: Bring Your Own Toilet Paper Roll.
If there are no portable toilets, then find out where there are toilets in restaurants, cafes, hotels, anywhere. Visit them whenever you get the chance and don’t expect a five-star affair, and in some cases, a one-star. And then that tip again: Bring Your Own Toilet Paper Roll.
10. And last but not the least–
Leave your worries for tomorrow and live for the moment!
Enjoy the fiesta, Kabayan!