It’s February already, and this is the month of the awesome Panagbenga!
Now, I’ve mentioned this before that Philippines is the land of festivals, with some amazing events like Masskara, Sinulog and Ati Aklan. All of these require you to take a short flight or ferry out of Manila. But, in Baguio, the summer capital of Philippines, a month-long festival is celebrated every February. And if you happen to be there to witness it, you will know why I rate Panagbenga so high.
Some people will still remember the 1990 Luzon earthquake, which killed an estimated 1600 people. Baguio was one of the hardest hit cities in this earthquake, and was completely isolated from the rest of the Philippines for 48 hours after the earthquake. A few years after this devastating event, the city council decided to celebrate a festival which will not only be a tribute to the flowers of Baguio, but will also be a way to rise up from the effects of the earthquake. And thus was born, the Panagbenga.
The term ‘Panagbenga’ itself means “season of blooming”, so it is inevitable that this is going to be a grand flower festival. So, back in 2010, I took a weekend off to head to Baguio and check out this spectacle. Taking an overnight Victor liner bus from Pasay bus terminal, I reached Baguio by early morning, with a stop at Tarlac on the way.
The first sight that greeted me when the bus neared the Baguio vicinity, was the number of Pine trees, which justified Baguio’s nickname. City of Pines. It must have been the early morning time – I reached at 5.30 AM – but the absence of people was slightly disconcerting too. Is this festival as huge as I had thought?
Well, I would need to find out later, because I first had to checkin to a small motel which went by an hourly rate. (Oh boy, this will have to be a separate post some other time. The hourly-pay motels are fun in Philippines!) And then, I did the one thing that I could not do properly in the long bus ride. I went to sleep.
Well, not for long, because I had an eclectic street dancing parade to catch. I had no idea what to expect, but I dutifuly woke up in a couple of hours, and headed to Burnham Park, where the parade began.
The moment I stepped out of the hotel, the dimensions of this festival started to sink in. There were SO MANY PEOPLE!! Everywhere!! I had brought my camera along to take pictures, but how the hell was I going to take pictures, when I could not even get a clear view beyond the crowd??!! Damn, should have come earlier to secure a nice spot!
After a little walking, I reached the origin of the parade, where the participants where almost ready to start. And they cut the most rainbowesque image that I have ever come across. There were flowers everywhere on their body. Some had it in their hair, some in their ears, some in their hands. There were scepters and crowns and tiaras, all made of flowers. There were people from the mountainous regions of Kalinga, with badass tattoos, and spears and shields covered with, well, flowers. It was raining flowers all around! And from that point on, my camera wept a silent tear at being overused.
And after the whole dancing parade, I waited to also see the float parade. Now, this was not as exciting as the dancing, but was still grand. Corporations, colleges and even local political bodies came up with their own flower float. Each float was decked to the hilt with flowers, and they came in very creative forms. There was a starwars float, a fire-breathing dragon float, and a large-ball-of-something float. There was even a float with a celebrity/actor called Ding Dong (I kid you not!!), who almost caused a stampede among the nubile, young Filipino girls who went nuts and kept shouting “Ding Dong, Ding Dong”!
If you want to watch the next edition of the Panagbenga flower festival, check out this link for the schedule and details. The website is kind of limited, but still effective.
Follow my travels on Facebook for more updates and travel photography.