Quiapo is that one place we love and hate to be in at the same time.
The same things fascinate and frustrate, coming together with such impact everywhere else seems devoid of character.
The same dark, dank alleyways reeking of pee are home to food carts selling fried chicken and samalamig. Vendors of porn DVDs and abortion pills compete for a fraction of everyone’s money right in front an imposing Catholic structure with an image of Jesus Christ believed to be miraculous.
Call it anything—a maze, a mess, a mishmash of everything delightful and despicable. But there is one day—perhaps the only time each year—when this corner of Manila becomes just one thing: a finish line.
But it isn’t a finish line everybody scrambles to get to first, but rather a point they all have to reach, no matter what, no matter how long it takes.
This year, it took 18 hours to reach this finish line. That’s eighteen hours of bare feet, sweat, and wrestling with a crowd that was religious and rowdy. Yes, again, at the same time.
A Cebuana dressed as Reyna Juana dances around the streets of Cebu City during the Sinulog 2012 Carousel Parade.
Every January, the Philippines celebrates the Feast of the Sto. Nino (The Child Jesus) with processions and parades. Sinulog in Cebu province in the Visayas holds one of the biggest, capped off by a large-scale religious procession on the Saturday of the Sinulog Weekend and by a whole-day carousel parade the following day. Street parties follow the revelry and last until the wee hours of the morning.
This year, the Sinulog procession will be on the 19th, and the carousel parade on the 20th. Other festivals happening this January include the Feast of the Black Nazarene in Manila (January 9), Dinagyang in Iloilo City (January 26 & 27), and Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Aklan (January 19 and 20).
Last year, we made it our mission to see as many festivals around the country as we can. Thankfully, we were able to get on a couple of trips, even if it meant squeezing our pockets dry (and this has been the story of our lives ever since).
We saw this for the first time in 2011 during the Dinagyang: flocks of men standing in front of stacks of speakers, staring as if in a trance, and doing absolutely nothing else. You couldn’t help but notice since the speakers were giving off such loud sounds you just had to cover your ears, but these men–with some just an inch away from these black boxes–were unblinkingly staring at them.
This year, crowd estimates of the Sinulog 2012 festivities reached 3.5 million–a consistent high in festival attendance in the entire country. It’s no wonder Cebu draws so many people during the second weekend of January for the Sinulog–if there’s one place in the Philippines that knows how to play host to a big event, it’s gotta be Cebu.
There are mainly two sides to the celebrations: the merrymaking part which Sinulog has become very known for, and the religious side, through which the festival traces its roots.
We spent three of the six days we were in Cebu walking along the city streets during festival weekend. And once again we were reminded why we love going to local festivals–everyone’s in a merry mood, everyone’s extra generous and kind, and all the best the place has to offer is laid down before you in heavy abundance.
But Sinulog’s other side amazed us just as much–the devotion of the people to the Sto. Niño, the festival’s central figure. The number of people who joined the procession reminded us of the Black Nazarene crowd in Manila, although not as, uh, aggressive.
During the procession, which happens on the Saturday afternoon of the Sinulog weekend, people bring along their Sto. Niño statues and hoist them up.
Elsewhere in the city, particularly around the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, thick crowds gather for the hourly masses (the crowd had been too big we were able to pass through the church gates on our last day after two earlier attempts). We were not even able to enter the church itself because there were just too many people.
We managed to enter the church gates on our second attempt, two days after our first one.
Second and fourth photos from top left, clockwise show people praying around Magellan’s Cross, believed to be where the Portuguese explorer placed a cross, a Catholic symbol, to mark the Christianization of the locals. The place was boarded up when we went there so people threw coins and unlit candles through the gate voids instead.
Balloon vendors add color to the crowds at the basilica. There were more balloon vendors here than anywhere else we ever saw.
If you’re planning to join the next Sinulog Festival and would want to check out its religious part, remember the following:
1. The Sto. Nino procession takes place every Saturday afternoon of the Sinulog weekend.
2. Osmena Boulevard is the most recommended place to take photos as it’s the widest area and may be less prone to overcrowding.
3. The Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino is accessible via the Sto. Nino jeepneys. You can drop off in front of the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, a beautiful whitewashed structure, before walking three minutes to the Basilica. Magellan’s Cross is beside the Basilica too.