Loud music. Beat of the drums. Dancing men and women. The flowing skirts and graceful arm moves. It’s everything you would imagine in a festival. Maybe even more.
I’m not a very people person. I hate malls whenever there’s too many people. I hate tourists spots whenever there’s too many people. But in this case, there was just something different.
Maybe it was the music. Or the amount of people out in the streets despite the blazing heat of the sun.
As I stood in the middle of Fuente Osmeña, crowded by the hundreds, maybe thousands of people in the area, I couldn’t help feeling proud. Deep beyond my hatred of crowds and psycho screams for celebrities, it was obvious the amount of dedication these people had for Sto. Niño. Sure, this festival may have a dash of politics and possibly spoonfuls of entertainment and overexposed celebrities, but there were still moments when it was just about the dedication to their beloved patron.
We started Sinulog a bit too late. After parking at Ayala at around 11am, we started our walk to the streets under the heat of the sun. Almost everyone was wearing huge hats to cover themselves from the sun. As if that was enough. I made the mistake of wearing black to the street festival, blindedly knowing that I would be stranded under the sun in the midst of hundreds of people. And yet, because the shirt said “Keep Calm and Pit Senyor,” I still chose to wear it. Simple, but definitely a statement. I felt like a rockstar as I walked down the crowded streets of Cebu City.
It was my first time to experience Sinulog and my second time to participate in a festival. I didn’t know what to expect. But despite the heat, the number of people and the sweat trickling down my face and back, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of pride-turned-enjoyment.
In the first leg of the street dance, we watched around the sides of the streets. Limited by a long straw rope and my very advantageous height (hint of sarcasm right here) because I didn’t get to secure a photographer’s pass, we could only stretch out our cameras in between people to capture the moment.
It was amazing to see how much work these people put into one festival. The costumes. The movements. The music. The props. How much did they spend on these? Most important, how much time did they spend on these? Honestly, in high school I couldn’t care less about those dances that we practiced for Linggo ng Wika or even Foundation Day. Why did I have to spend time making those props and spending for them?
And yet, here in Cebu, hundreds of people would go through the same routine, getting bigger and better, more time, more money every year. And for what? For their beloved patron, of course.
Was I in the right position to judge what they do? No. Do I understand it? Maybe not. But do I admire it?
Do I admire their dedication to their work? Their love for the activity that they would spend hours, days just practicing the dance? Their hope and competitiveness to beat out numerous other teams? Their initiative to spend money just to make it to Cebu and perform? Their creativity and drive to do everything they can to achieve what they want?
For the first few hours of my Sinulog experience, we walked along the streets towards Fuenta Osmeña where the main turn of the event would happen. It was pretty far, but I barely noticed it, even under the sun. By the last block getting into the circle, the sidewalks had become too crowded that Doi of the Travelling Feet and I decided to try our luck at walking inside the rope. No one told us off so we walked on, in the middle of the streets, along the street dancers. Before we reached the circle, I noticed the dancers sitting down on the streets. For a split of a second, I didn’t realize why.
It was lunch time and apparently, the dancers are people too and they need to be fed, thus, the styros from Jolibee. And to think they had to pay for that too, right?
The streets were still pretty much free by that time. We headed for shelter, somewhere we could cool off for a bit and eat lunch. But because McDonalds was packed and more, we met up with Dylan of the Wandering Dylan and headed to Robinsons Mall to eat at Savory along with Ate Heiz of Journeying Pinay. Okay, so it wasn’t local-ly, but it didn’t really matter. I had a big afternoon in front of me and food was essential.
Because we enjoyed talking for awhile, by the time we got back to Fuente Osmeña, the place was seriously packed. People everywhere. The first frontlines to the rope limiting the main street was already filled. Lucky for Dylan who towered some feet over Doi and I, he could see what was going on beyond us. He lead us around the place and he and Doi tried to find a way for us to shortcut into the main street that will eventually lead us to Abellana. While we snaked our way around Sampaguita Suites, got enamored by what looked like a CS party (very enjoyable one) with great music and paint, and almost got hit and squashed by a van and trampled over by people, we finally admitted defeat.
There were just too many people in the circle to make any moves.
So there we stood amidst the sea of people. And then Dylan, the tall 6 foot something, was either a sweetheart or just some kind of masochist, offered to hitch me up on his shoulder.
While something very, very deep in my conscience told me not to, I wasn’t about to let that sea of people drown me out on my first Sinulog experience. No way.
So yes, Dylan, I used you. But for that, I owe you a Warm Brownie Cup!
Anyway, that’s how it was for about half an hour or so. At least I got to watch the show.
And then, the celebrities arrived.
You see, I’m not the celebrity worshipping type. I honestly don’t watch teleseryes and I certainly don’t have a local favorite celebrity (possibly because I barely know any of them). Once the crowd started getting hyped about the celebrities, we moved away from the rope, in hopes of not getting trampled by die-hard fans of Kim Chiu, Xian Lim, Enrique somebody and somebody somebody.
However, because people tend to follow the celebrities, once the float left, everyone followed, giving us an opening to the center that will lead us to the other side. We fought relentlessly to get to the other side, almost losing each other along the way. Good thing the “other side” was slightly less chaotic than our side at the circle. We found ourselves threading through thin crowds of people until we got to Crown Regency where we bought Christian Sangoyo’s Sinulog tumbler. We waited for the celebrity float to pass before we could slip into the other side of the street where we had a better view of the street dancing. We also met up with Lisa Mirasol of Pinay Travelista, who wasn’t very shy about dancing on the streets. Not at all.
I had to use Dylan for a few more dances too, especially when the crowd would thicken when the dancers come in. But eventually, the habit kicked in and the music started to feel like home.
When the smile of the queen dancer brightened up every group. When she held up the Sto. Niño in appreciation.
In every gorgeous prop and costume someone must have taken hours, even days to prepare. In the beautiful dresses that moved with grace. In the beat of the drums and the chant of “Viva! Pit Senyor!”
It was simply beautiful.
While the heat had definitely turned me thirty shades darker and possibly looking like a cat dragged out into the streets, it was definitely an awesome experience. Sure, I didn’t even get to learn how to dance like the queen nor did I break out into Glee-style dancing out in the streets. Heck, I didn’t even get to Sinulog party all night or smile at the fireworks released into the darkness of the clear, cold, but magnificent skies! But it’s one experience I’ll never forget.
Thank you to Doi of the Travelling Feet for taking me in when I didn’t have a home (ano daw?), Dylan of Wandering Dylan for the hitch on your shoulders, Hendri Go of East West for the rockstar shirt and of course to South East Asian Airlines for a smooth flight home.