Monday, February 3, 2014

El Nido: Parading soot-faced in Barutuan, chilling out in Nacpan and hiking to Bulalacao falls

El Nido Barutuan Festival Taberna Girl in Costume by the Window
Literally, a window to the beauty and simplicity of the rural life
The sun shone late again on that Sunday, the day we were set to venture further inland to Barutuan and join the festival, an hour or so drive from El Nido town.  I had only a bit of sleep as I was working online until around 3-3:30pm but I was eager to venture beyond the town, away from the sea and into the rice fields.

January is the month of festivals honoring the Santo Niño (child Jesus) everywhere in the Philippines.  The Barutuan festival is a way of the newer generations to keep in touch with their Aklanon roots.  Admittedly, I'm not really into fiesta shoots as  love wide open spaces away from crowds.  Given a chance though, I also relish looking behind the scenes and observing the rural life.

The charm of festivities like the Barutuan festival is the utter lack of commercialism of the much grander, more popular festivals as well as the rawness of its participants' intentions.  Out here, IMO, people do not pose for the camera, they just keep going on about their business.  The folks are friendly, not pushy.  Curious of the pig head being roasted on a pit on the corner of the big school, I asked the first manong I saw, "nasaan na po yung katawan" ("where's the rest of it")?   Already inebriated at 9am, he gave me a funny answer then invited me to a meal later.  Mercifully, I was able to create a shooting diversion before he can offer me a swig of Emperador brandy.
El Nido Barutuan Festival Girl with Leafy Crown
Organic costumes anyone?
Part of the small town charm is being able to look unhampered behind the scenes of the preparation, seeing slices of festival life I don't see that often anymore at a time when dancers often mimic the afternoon variety show polish and aplomb, trading rawness for showbiz glitz, sweetness for sassiness.  I mean, I can't help but feel for the little kids dressed up as Santo Niños, visibly uncomfortable sitting in a sea of flowers and dressed in finery under the midday sun, trying their best to smile under the circumstances.  I squirm as I watched the kids and tweens getting a facepainting courtesy of the kawali (cooking pan) soot and dabs of house paint (wondering how on earth will they take these off except with thinner or kerosene).  I can't help but feel the honesty of innocent smiles especially of the shy but friendly little kids.

Early on, we found ourselves in the midst of the prep of the team from perennial winner, Taberna.  The costumes are noticeably fancier, the moves a notch polished than the other three teams.  The other teams do impress me with their creativity especially the team with the kuhol and kasoy (snail and cashew) costumes.  While resources may be limited, it goes to show that creativity and resourcefulness do come in spades.
El Nido Barutuan Festival Face Painting Session
Facepainting with house paint
After a round of halo-halo from the roadside and three hours, the parade got going (a friendly warning of hepatitis outbreak kept us from sampling the barbecue grilling all over the grounds).  We weren't spared an impromptu facepainting of soot ourselves from the eager Taberna participants, jokingly telling ourselves it made our faces smoother and moisturized anyway.  We didn't get to see the performances in the plaza as we had to go to Nacpan for a belated lunch, hearing later that Taberna again emerged as winners.

Playing with the dogs, eating kamayan-style, chilling out in Nacpan.  It turned grey and windy by the time our van negotiated the deep ruts of the dirt road leading to Nacpan beach some 30 minutes drive away.  The overcast and later rainy conditions could not hide the beauty of this twin cove and the tremendous waves that tempted us to body surf.  Washing my hands in the sea, I found the sand powdery, nevermind the nikniks (sand flies).

Lunch was wonderful seafood (mussels, fresh fish) served fresh from the grill and worth the rather long wait.  The rainy weather and papag (bamboo table and seating) were not really conducive to shooting, hence my lack of images of the cove.  The squall also kept us from going up the viewpoint for a bird's eye view of the twin cove (something to come back for in the near future, God willing) but playing with the dogs, having instant coffee (who cares if it's instant), and chitchatting with the friendly owner of the open-air eatery by the beach were enough for me to go by. 
El Nido Bulalacao Falls 7
Beautiful Bulalacao falls
Night trekking to Bulalacao.  By 4:30pm, we were deliberating whether to gamble and catch the sunset near El Nido town or proceed as planned to Bulalacao falls, some 15-20 minutes drive away from Nacpan.  Headlamp and repellent at the ready, we opted for the latter.  It was also a nice diversion from the beach and karsts, going through streams and the forest.  It was tempting to climb up the upper cascades which was another three hours of hiking away, limatiks (tiny leeches) aside, but with the fading light and limited time, we had to be content with gazing at the third tier.  

Funny but heading back to the main road, we saw a rather glorious sunset peeking above the trees.  It was dark when we got back, the unmistakable redolence of grass and forest soil wafting in the early evening air.  It's been a long time since I've found myself on a forest trail at night but I didn't really mind.

El Nido Corong Corong Night PalmsNext on Lagalog:  
The Charm of Tranquil Corong-Corong
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