October signals an important month for Bacolod City in Negros Occidental, Philippines, because it is marks the beginning of the highly anticipated MassKara Festival season.
Drawing thousands of tourists every year, the “City of Smiles” goes out to the streets in colorful costumes, beautiful headdresses, and fancy masks to dance in revelry, celebrate local culture and creativity, and enjoy a fine good time with friends and strangers alike.
MassKara Festival lasts for a month and tourists wishing to take part have plenty of activities to look forward to, including a masked streetdance competition, musical events, food fairs, and a beauty pageant. First-timers would do well to remember the following tips to fully enjoy the grand occasion:
- Book hotel rooms in advance as every accommodation from the biggest hotels to the smallest inn is sure to be jam-packed. If you are up for an adventure, stay an extra day or two and go see nearby tourist spots including Guimaras, Mambukal, Mt. Kanlaon, Iloilo, or the stunning beaches in Southern Negros.
- Wear light clothing. You may bring an umbrella or a hat so you are prepared in case it rains on your parade. A touch of sun block would also be a very good idea.
- Rain is a possibility but scorching heat is even more likely, so always bring a bottle of water. You would need it amid all the adrenaline-pumping activities and it will sure come in handy when crowds start to flock the food stalls lining the festival strip.
- Check the schedule of activities leading up to the main highlights so you don’t miss anything interesting. Must-see events include the Giant Puppets Parade and Competition, Electric MassKara, and the popular MassKara Streetdance Contest.
- The MassKara streetdance contest usually starts at 2PM. It is the perfect opportunity for photo enthusiasts and if you are one, you should get there at least an hour early. The moments prior to the start of the competition are sure to satisfy your photojournalistic inclinations.
- For access to some exciting streetdance action, the front of Bacolod City Hall offers an excellent vantage point because it is one of the main judging areas. Great viewing spots also include the front of Rizal Elementary School (Araneta-Libertad Street) or in front of Lopue’s (Araneta-San Sebastian Street) – as long as you beat everyone to it.
- Don’t waste your nights and mornings! Tour “The Ruins” before you head to the MassKara Streetdance in the afternoon. Nearby Silay City has much to offer in terms of dining with restaurants like Palmas del Mar Bacolod or El Ideal Bakery. At night, the stretch along Lacson Street comes alive as one big party place where revelers roam to sample the best Ilonggo food and dance to the beat of music by live bands.
- Bacolod offers a wide array of local delicacies and gastronomic delights. Take your pick from the special chicken inasal of Manukan Country, sweet kakanin from Quan’s, pastries and cakes from Calea and Felicia’s, aromatic coffee from Kuppa, and so much more.
One of the most interesting facts about MassKara is that such an upbeat and colorful celebration came about during a time of huge crisis for what is known as the country’s “sugar bowl.” Back in the 80s, prices for sugar-cane, the province’s main agricultural product, were at an all time low, striking a huge blow to the provincial economy. Making matters even worse was a tragic event that claimed the lives of many: the sinking of the “Don Juan” passenger ship took everyone’s morale down to the bottom of the ocean with it.
But Filipinos have proven their resiliency as a people time and again and that period was no exception. In a unified effort to bring smiles to the faces of its people once again, Bacolod conceived the idea of MassKara and the history of a beautiful and very important tradition thus began. Be prepared to be greeted by the smiles of the Ilonggo – with or without their vibrantly colored masks.