Tuesday, June 2, 2009

PaHiYaS fEsTiVaL

The first time I learned about Pahiyas festival was when I was probably 13 years old; I was watching the Discovery Channel, the Lonely Planet TV show. The travellers were in Lucban, Quezon, 4 hrs south of Manila by bus. The festival amazed me and I remember thinking, “one day, I will be there!”

The Pahiyas Festival is on every 15th of May. It is a festival of the farmers thanking their patron saint San Isidro (but ritual actually started even before the Spaniards came). On May 15th the farmers would bring their harvests to the church and have the priest bless them, but since there were so many patrons the priest asked them to just lay it down in front of their houses and the he would just go around and bless it; little did they know that the priest actually sparked the creative fire inside each Filipino.

I was so excited to have been accepted to surf the couch of a local in Lucban! Mark Salvatus and his family were such gracious hosts which reflect so much the local culture of people from Quezon. Mark’s late grandfather was a local historian who was actually the person who coined the term “Pahiyas”! Amazing.

Noam, an Israeli friend of mine travelled with me to Quezon, we took the Sta. Cruz bus in the Araneta Center Terminal in Cubao at 7AM. It was a good bus with working air conditioning and comfy chairs. The travel took around 4 hours, with 1 bathroom break. After which we had to take a 45 minute jeep to go to Lucban.

When we arrived, we were so excited to see that the houses were just starting to decorate. Bamboo everywhere, hammering sounds here and there. You’d notice that some actually repainted their house to neon orange or green just so the house would go with their decoration. There is the of course, ever famous Kiping. It’s like our interpretation of the Mexican Taco only that it’s made from pulverized rice. They would use a giant leaf, kabal, as a mould and multicolorize them with food coloring. Everything I see was so pleasing to the eye. The colors spelled HAPPY. Everyone was smiling and ever happy.

It was such a great idea to go a day earlier before the event; this is how I really got into being a local. I helped out Mark’s house in decorating, but when we got to their house they obviously have already poured weeks of work into it, and yet there are still so much to do! Everything was so grand, so artistic, AMAZING. I haven’t stopped smiling since I got to Lucban.

This was actually my first time to attend a true-blue Filipino fiesta. I’ve heard people talk about it before, how it’s really festive and people will invite you to their houses to eat… it was as they said it will be. Coming from the city, I did not understand the idea of inviting strangers to your house to celebrate with you. It was just an idea I couldn’t grasp; but then, it’s true, it really is being done. Feast was in every home that day. One thing about the Philippines is that, there is no such thing as idle time. Time is classified only into 2:

1 – time to do something
2 – time to eat
Needless to say, I pigged out there.

Noam and I quickly left our bags in the house and started wandering around town. I loved the feeling of small towns. The center was the big church, and Mark lived just beside it, so I would never get lost. Even if I have the worst sense of direction in this world, I would just need to ask where the church is and I’m home.
Of course, being in Lucban, you have to try the Pancit Habhab. Habhab is the word for the way you eat the pansit: on a banana leaf on your palm without utensils what so ever, slurp it away!

It was time to help out, there was half a day left and my host family were still not done in the decorations! Noam and I helped install some tropical flowers; painted some wood panels; designed the panel with crushed corn; hang the rice grains onto the “chandeliers”; thread tomatoes into wires… nothing too complicated that we might mess up. It was 12:00MN and I was exhausted, but Mark’s family was still at it. They stayed up the whole night finishing the installation of the works of art into the fa├žade of their house.

The next morning, we were all awakened by the parade. There were 6 of us sharing a room, all but 2 were Couchsurfers. We were all feeling refreshed and as we went down to their living room… it was empty! Every single piece has been installed. No duck was to be found, no more leftover kipings, just furniture. I see zombies walking resembled Mark and his brothers, they haven’t slept at all! The dedication and commitment was incredible.

We went out and saw a sea of people taking photos in front of this masterpiece of a house. It was all so surreal. It’s finished! Some elements looked really familiar for it has been on the couch since we arrived; now it’s where it’s supposed to be. You will be overwhelmed by the details, how each bean was arranged accordingly. As they say, picture paints a thousand words.

(photo by EAZYtraveller)

I felt really proud to have been part of it, even though it was just for a few hours. I pretty much stayed indoors after I went around taking photos in other houses. Thankfully the sun was shining that day (it has been raining the day before). The streets were crowded, people gawking and posing, buying souvenirs; the ambiance was fascinating. We spent the day hanging out in the house, like a typical Filipino family, drinking rum and singing the karaoke.

It was 4PM I remember, another parade was passing thru in front of the house, and we all got up of our chairs and went out to see the festivities. We were catching prizes from the parading cars, waving at the Jollibee mascot; then the white Volkswagon beetle pulled over in front of the house, officials came to crown the Salvatus House a winner. Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We shouted! We won 1st runner up! Everyone was happy and laughing; enjoying the merriment (as though we weren’t doing that before they announced it) but it just affirmed it, their hard work validated.

I will never forget my experience in the Pahiyas, it is one of those experience that you’ll remember forever. I met different kinds of people, made new friends; It will be one of those places that I’d always recommend people to go. It was one of the more exciting things I’ve ever done so far this year.

Going to Lucban, Quezon
J.A.C. Liner Inc. - Cubao Araneta Center Station
Take the bus to Sta. Cruz / Lucena City – Go down Lucena Grand Terminal (4 hrs) – P218
Take a jeep and go down at Lucban (45 minutes) – P25


  1. Wonderful, wonderful! I miss watching 'Travellers' too :)

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