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Masskara festival is among the best festivals you can witness in the Philippines.
Very colourful, festive, well organised, safe, with good food and a
youthful feel. The masks constantly
remind one of Venice - except that the spirit of people is more like "Venice meets Mardi Gras" - less cultural (after all, the festival is barely a few decades old) and more fun loving.
How to get there -
Take a flight to Bacolod Silay airport. From the airport, your hotel (like Sylvia Manor) can pick you up.
taime taken = within 30 minutes. The airport is small, but has trikes and taxis available. You end up passing sugarcane fields nearly throughout the road journey.
Bacolod is a students city - hence it is easy to get around on a small budget. More details below.
The parade occurs south of the Public plaza.
Night time festivities occur towards Lacson street.
The better palces to stay are in / around the Bacolod Plaza. (Example : Sylvia manor) - these are around 5-10 minutes walkign distance from teh parade route and the plaza where most day time festivities occur.
There are many pension houses all aroudn teh city, starting from Sylvia manor, goign north, right upto lacson street - Do note that palces near Lacson street tend to be noisy at night durign teh festival.
Sylvia manor costs 2500 pesos per night with breakfast.
Pension houses start at 1000 pesos.
Advice : During Masskara, book your hotel, since hotels are usually busy at this time. Plus, sometimes there are sports meets of local colleges durign which pension houses get full!
Does location matter?
Not really - all places are closeby - you can either walk upto them or take a pedicab. If you stay at Sylvia manor, or near the Public plaza, you still must take a pedicab for the festivities at Lacson street. Similarly, if you stay near 13th street, you still must take a pedicab to see the parade.
The festival is held in October every year. the most important dates for a tourist are the dates of the grand parade towards the end. Stay here on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The dates are given on the Official Masskara website http://www.themasskarafestival.com
The Parade -
The grand masskara parade takes place over 2 days - saturday and sunday. It is well organised teams of schools and barangays don festive colourful masks and costumes, and dance on the road. Large boom boxes placed all along the road ensure that your feet keep tapping, your hips keep shaking and your ear drums burst (be careful when choosing your place to stand!)
The official festival website (http://www.themasskarafestival.com/) posts details of this with the schedule dates.
The parade starts at around 2:30 pm (if you are standing at Lopues ) and lasts upto 6 pm. Then everyone moves to the Public plaza (has benches, but is small and uncovered, so if you are lucky, you get standing place) where each group does their dance. At the public plaza, the dances go on from evening upto around 9 pm.
This is followed on saturday night by the Electric Massara.
What is Electric Masskara?
Electric Masskara...is parade of floats with LOTS of lights - with music and dancing. It proceeds in front of the catehdral - starting in the west and going towards the east.
Stand in front of San Sebastian cathedral to watch it - it is fascinating, with pulsating music and beautifully lit up floats and people. The music often resembles tribal music (with the unusual steel oil drum converted into a set of percussion drums!)
Both - the parade and this grand finale dance are worth watching - just remember...
Some advice -
a) There are no seating spaces along the road - one may need to sat on the sill of a shop (no use sitting on the pavement as you cannot see anything!) and on day 2, or one could borrow a chair! Suggestion - buy a folding chair and use it.
b) Bring a lot of water, a hat, and umbrella / rain coat. It rained on both the days! Water is available for sale from vendors.
c) Buy a mask for yourself on day 1, buy your souvenir t-shirt from SM (there are a few good souvenir shops there) - the masskara t-shirts are real classy, the masks are beautiful and cheap (sold right next to San Sebastian cathedral... for 60 pesos before the festival and 100 pesos during the festival) - they make excellent souvenirs.
Buy them, wear them all through the festival - it adds to the spirit!
WHERE TO STAND / PARADE ROUTE -
1) The parade starts from the south and proceeds northwards
2) It starts near the Negros Occdental High school, proceeds along Araneta avenue - upto Bacolod Public Plaza
3) The best place to stand is near Loques at Araneta avenue - this is also where the judges sit (so each group stops here, takes a pause and then does their dance routine)
4) Closer you are to the public plaza, more the crowd
5) For the electric masskara, stand in front of San Sebastian cathedral. (There are lot sof small shops that come up here during the festival which are excellent for bargain buys)
ARE THERE MANY FOREIGNERS?
Surprisingly, No! There are hardly any foreigners during the festival. So grab this opportunity right now, this year, before this turns foreign-touristy!
IS IT CROWDED?
Yes, it gets very crowded - but with mostly Filipinos. Lots of families and groups of friends. Security is excellent (despite such a lot of drinking).
Sunday - There was the masskara parade for a second time in the afternoon - same time, the dancers reached Loques at 3 pm, which means your morning is free to explore places closeby - like Silay - which has excellent ancestral houses turned into museums.
In the evening, the space around Araneta avenue (between Loques and the public plaza) - is blocked to traffic and converted into a fair - with loud music (not many people dancing), and lots of shops. The area near the public plaza and public market has lots of food stalls (Filipino local food)
Take a pedicab to Lacson street - where another fair is put up. This extends from 13th street right upto 21st street. It had all kinds of wierd and festive stuff... there was a beautiful parade of puppets (giant puppets of Manny Pacqiao and Mister Bean!), free face tattoos, pet and take your photo with a python for 20 pesos, take your photo with Masskara dancers for a tip, stages erected all aroudn with singers (terrible!) and some (very little) dancing.
There are lot sof eateries here too - all quiet economical.
Can onlookers participate in the street dancing?
Sorry to say - Not really. The parades are well organised - The only time onlookers can dance is when the parades get over and one follows at the end, trotting.... So this is no Brazil Carnival, or Mardi Gras. Ok - there was an open air disco near the public plaza, but seemed to consist only of a drunk at 8 pm, and a jam packed crowd at midnight!TRAVEL -
Pedicab.... For short distances, pedicab (cycle powered trikes) are best - they seat 2 comfortably and are good for short distances (example : Sylvia manor to Lacson street). Pedicabs are allowed to go on lanes which are off limits for taxis.
Taxi... good for longer distances / they are all aircon.
Jeepney ... The jeepneys in Bacolod city work on a circle route - they start near the public market, proceed southwards, around the school campus, and then north - right upto the North point bus terminus.Food -
The best places to eat include - the restaurant in Sylvia Manor, and the food court at SM. SM bacolod city has an excellent variety of food at the food court, and it is actually tasty! very tasty!