I was told that people of Philippines know how to celebrate, but it wasn’t until I travelled to Bacolod in Negros Occidental that I understood the spirit of Filipino fiesta. It was my first time to experience such a fiesta, but certainly not going to be the last. The trip was absolutely worth.
Fiestas occur all year round the Philippines since the Spanish era. You can feel a similarity in the way it is being celebrated, with colourful bands and parades. Bacolod, known as the city of smiles, is famous for its food and abundance of sugar cane production. Then come October and the city turns into one big party place with people flooding into the town, local and foreigners, to celebrate one of the most famous festivals of Philippines –MassKara.
The history of MassKara Festival goes back to 1980 when the economic crisis affected Bacolod. Sugar cane, which is the main lively hood of Bacolod, hits an all-time low price due to the invention of corn syrup as a substitute, in the United States.
Things became worst when on April 22 of the same year, an inter-island vessel MV Don Juan collided with a tanker and sank in Tacloban city. About 700 lives were lost during that tragedy which included some of the prominent families in Bacolod.Struck by the double disaster, the government came up with an idea to give people something to smile at and that gave birth to MassKara.
The name MassKara Festival comes from the words Mass’ which means crowd or many, and Kara’ which translates to face, so MassKara means many faces. MassKara was a brainchild created by the Art Association of Bacolod (AAB) with an intention to create a street dance parade thus getting away from an unnecessary civic-military parade. It was also meant to hide the tears and sorrow brought about by the sugar crisis and the MV Don Juan sea mishap.
One of the liveliest and vibrant festivals of Philippines, the MassKara is not all about the colourful parade and catchy Latin music. It reflects the spirit and zeal of the people of Bacolod that no matter how bad things get, they are willing to fight back and emerge as winners.
What to do?
Big vibrant masks are the essence of this festival. Different Barangay groups work hard to have a stand out performance with eye catchy dresses and skillfully crafted masks.The fiesta spreads through three days that includes flamboyant parades, from different barangays, followed by electric MassKara on the final day, and not to forget the wide range of food to satisfy your taste buds.
Lacson Street is the main attraction, but if you want to get a better view and capture some stunning images it’s always good to be at the starting point. For 2015 MassKara, I preferred staying at Araneta ave( Better access to the parade )and eventually made my way forLacson Street by the evening. Carry a pair of comfortable footwear. The whole fiesta spreads over a stretch of few kilometres. The roads are jammed or block, during the fiesta. Best way to explore the place is to get a tricycle ride or use your feet.
Bacolod is home to the famous chicken Inasal. From Manokan country food stalls to Chicken Deli, one can spot a Charcoaled grilled chicken everywhere.Don’t forget to try out the pastries at Calea. Though I am not a big fan of sweets, being in Bacolod (the sugar cane capital) how can I miss it !
Bacolod may not be the topmost tourist location, but it is highly recommended to visit the town during MassKara. Please book the hotels well in advance. The place really runs out of hotels in no time, with most of the hotels located on Lacson Street. For those tourists who love to take rental scooters (I personally prefer them), there is absolutely no availability in Bacolod. Get a cab or a tricycle.
Vibrant colours, parades, costumes, food stalls– you name it, they have it.For any photography enthusiast and food lover, Mass Kara is a pure heaven!