Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Pahiyas Experience

One of a kind! An interesting festival where the spectacle is not a parade! In fact, it is us the festival spectators who must go around, something like a house-to-house visit, to fully enjoy the colorful extravaganza. So non-walkers (aka maaarte), this is not for you!

We all know of course, the Pahiyas Festival is in Lucban, Quezon, some 160 kilometers from Metro Manila, and it happens every 15th of May. This is one of the most colorful festivals that had always been celebrated, even before the dawn of festival-tourism thing all over the country.

Going there
This is a tricky part of the experience. There is no easy commute to this town as it is a rural area with not so many people going to or coming from the far metropolis! The easiest way is to book a package with your favorite local travel and tours provider. You can just scan any local paper or browse thru the web and you’ll find many of them who offer the tour. In our case though, there were 22 of us, we thought directly hiring a coaster with driver (no tour guide) was better and cheaper. Most of the tours use small vans, cramming 10 to 12 people inside while the coach/coaster is good for 25 with real individual spacious seats and an aisle where you can even stand on, to take photos along the way or walk around to banter with companions!

There yet?
Lucban takes some 3 or so hours to reach even on your own private vehicle as it is not only far, the south super highway could also get jammed with vacationers very early mornings. We took off at 6AM from Quezon City and even decided to take the scenic and less traveled road via Antipolo towards Sta. Cruz and Cavinti in Laguna. Bright? Yes indeed! But the issue is entering the town of Lucban itself. Again, it is such a small town. You cannot park just anywhere as it will virtually close the street hehe. And with so many vehicles arriving into town… it becomes a mind-boggling event of waiting it out in your vehicle that one driver told us could sometimes reach an hour or more.

So, the ever reliable two little feet is necessary here. CadiLAKAD! Just tell your driver to park somewhere outside town and walk! That’s what we did! As we walked though, we noticed that the town’s officers and barangay personnel were perspiring it out to help ease traffic flow. They have designated routes, one-way here and one-way there. There are also designated parking areas temporarily set up for the occasion, as indeed, as I said above, this is one small rural place for the many vehicles, mostly vans, that come a droning into town!

How to view
It is customary for everyone, local or visitor to start at the church area. Yes, whether you intend to pray or not, since the church is the central part of this festival. Thus, everything to see emanates from or culminates at the church. You will easily see the streets with “adorned” houses as there are badneritas and they are all bursting with color, even from a distance. Not to mention the thousands of people who walk to or from them! There are even signages as to how you should move around, the best way to do it, that is.

What to view
The colorful, beautifully adorned houses of course! That’s what you went there for! Those colorful “leaves” and/or “flowers” called “kiping”. It’s edible, but don’t start gnawing and munching at the displays until they tell you to! Don’t ruin their show, okay?! It is a specialty (also safe to call it a delicacy) of the town. Kiping is a kind of thin cracker or wafer made from ground rice. Pahiyas is an after-harvest festival where the farmers originally considered this a thanksgiving to for the good harvest. They still do now, though most who decorate are not anymore farmers but white-collared employees or those who now depend on sustenance remitted by family members employed or living abroad!

Some folks fry their kiping before serving. But in this town, most of them grill it. That’s what you see being sold on the streets. Go ahead, try it. It tastes like… nothing hehe! I think the better way to enjoy this cracker is to pair it with something that has a stronger taste like syrups or even peanut butter and the likes. Kiping is some kind of a blander tasting cousin of the Indonesian keropok where the latter now even comes in various vegetarian and marine flavors. Kiping too can be compared to Tacos, though Tacos is not as thin and wide nor as colorful! Well, kiping is also probably a thicker cousin of the lumpia or dumpling wrapper. Again, just more colorful and in the shape and size of big wide leaves.

Be very observant and meticulous when viewing the displays. Some have them not only outside of their houses or out in the verandahs but also inside at their dining and living rooms! And yes, in all of them, you can enter to view and have your pictorials there. While it may not be necessary, since this is a fiesta anyway, it is still customary though to “ask permission” to enter a house – to which the owners will enthusiastically even guide you and family members or their local visitors will make way for you. All will beam with pride explaining to you how they made their kiping and answering any more of your questions.

There is an unwritten benchmark amongst the locals (actually, this is a general Filipino trait) that the success, relevance or usefulness of their displays is measured by the number of visitors who came to view! But ask anyone about this seemingly ridiculous matter and all you will hear is “they just want to celebrate their thanksgiving but happy too if they made us and a few visitors have fun”! That’s partly true – especially if no one ever came to even take a glance, which is statistically impossible anyway! But, as I said above, it will be more memorable for them if millions of us went to visit hehe! And they will forever beam with the bragging rights if it appears that their displays became the greatest hit to majority of the unexpected visitors!

Just FYI, this decorating thing has evolved into becoming a formal contest with prizes awarded by their local government. Still, who emerges as most joyful is the one whose house was viewed and visited by most visitors!

There is food everywhere. This is a fiesta in the first lace, right?! Generally, those who have kiping displays also have a plethora of food for their invited, uninvited and unexpected guests! Can you eat there?! Of course, you can! Whoever you are and wherever you came from! Here is another unwritten benchmark… the more prominent you are in the society, and/or the farther you live away from this place, and/or the weirder the language you speak other than Tagalog or English… the happier and prouder the hosts will be if you ate with them on this celebration. This is added to the memories they will forever tell at how happy they are to have made visitors happy! Bragging rights, remember?!

Just a hint on the food thing. This applies to Pahiyas and most other fiestas all over the country, so listen well!

Filipinos without previous invitation by the hosts, if invited pronto because they are around, would usually graciously say “no thanks” and pretend to be sincerely honest, sometimes even say “busog pa kami” (we are still full) EVEN IF they are actually really starving hehehe! Weirdly, this is considered good manners, even (proper breeding). BUT if you are one who has a lot of questions about the displays and decorations, you have to at least sip from the soft-drink or juice that suddenly appeared beside you. More properly, you should also take a pinch or two of the “kakanin“ (usually rice cakes/delicacies). Well, why not try a bit of everything?! Then during the conversation, declare which ones you like and exaggerate your amazement at how delicious it is! This becomes necessary since the hosts will feel insulted that you are talking to them amidst their painstakingly prepared fare and you wont even try a morsel!

Ah, we’ll have an article covering almost dedicatedly to fiesta fare and behaviours. Just wait for it. Anyway, back to the Pahiyas Festival…

What if you are just the passive visitor, happy to have taken your pictures and marveled at the displays from outside those homes? Where do you eat?!

There are many restaurants and branches of fastfood chains around. BUT there are just too many folks that even just to join a line will become more than a contest for you! Better if you made previous reservations at some of the restaurants. There are also a number of them and those resort-like establishment at the town’s fringes are quite an affair to remember! Well, if you decided to get overnight accommodations in this town, which is available anyway, the better it will be for you!

There you are on the Pahiyas Festival!

But here is one to muddle your excited brain… The next two towns (guess what) to Lucban are also celebrating their fiestas at the very same day! Weird but true! And don’t you wanna even take a peep?! You are already in the area, y’know?! Argh really the feast of St. Isidore, patron of the farmers hehehe!


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