It will be mad. Chaotic. Crowded, loud, and hot. These were always the first words that would come to mind when I think about street festivals; when I think about Ati-Atihan. I’m quite the chill person, always favoring quiet than loud, crowded places, so why I signed up for a trip to one of the biggest festivals in the Philippines, I’ll never know. To be honest even when I had already agreed on going, I still wasn’t that keen on the idea. But you know what I was keen on? Adventure. I have an insatiable thirst for adventure. So I decided to look at this as exactly that, and with half a heart hopped on a plane to Kalibo, Aklan.
And with that, the adventure began.
First morning in Kalibo. We had woken up early to catch the street dancers preparing for the parade. The air was crisp. Christmas feels still lingered in that January morning. And though the weather was chilly, the streets were definitely heating up. Pavements reverberated with the rising sounds of drums beating and the shuffling of feet of dancers both young and old warming up for the awaited spectacle.
The roads were slowly filling with people. The dancers were already in queue. Colorful, extravagant, (and by the looks of some, heavy) costumes were resting on the sidewalk, waiting to be put on. Kids were practicing their steps. Teenagers were huddled in corners, taking turns to paint on each others’ faces. Would you like some too? They asked. I politely declined but my friend jumped right in. A minute later her face was bright with happy, neon colors. We say our thanks and catch up with the others.
I was loving it. It was only the first morning and I was already reveling in the decision of going. After all, travel—let alone to Philippine’s oldest and most popular festival—is a deed I think no one has ever regretted. That’s the beauty of travel; of putting yourself in the face of adventure and new experiences. There will always be more to learn. There will always be more to see.
When the parade finally started, spectators had already flooded the streets. Lined on either side of the road, authorities struggled to keep the people at bay. But how could we stay away? There was something so enigmatic about the gorgeous display of costumes. And the soulful rhythm of the beating of drums only heightened the excitement all the more. I felt like an infant recognizing colors and faces for the first time. I wanted to see everything. Be part of it all.
During evenings everyone would gather at the town square for drinks and merriment. The place would always be packed. Front and center is a big stage, where big bands would play. It was a deluge of beer, food, and music, topped off by people’s excited spirits that won’t seem to die down. No. Not here. Not during Ati-Atihan. I could say that for the duration of this festival the nights were reserved for parties like this one, but that would be playing it down. Because during this week-long celebration, it’s one big party day in and day out. It literally doesn’t stop.
My favorite thing about Ati-Atihan would be the sadsad, though. The street dancing. This happened every day from 2pm to 9pm for one week. People and groups who wish to celebrate something, express thanks, give praises, or simply to have fun would roam the streets in clusters with their costumes or coordinated shirts followed by a band with their upbeat music. Families. Companies. Friends. A group of fathers dressed in dresses, their little kids tailing along. Tourists joining locals, locals waving along to strangers to join the ranks. Men walking along with their big ass waterguns, squirting shots into friends’ parched mouths. Devotees with their Sto. Niño statues raised in the air, and yelling praises. “Viva Sto. Niño!” Leaders would call out through microphones. And in chorus the rest would reply: “Viva!”
I first watched all these from a tower over it all. I thought I would get a good glimpse from there. But eventually I realized that was all I was getting, being so far above. A glimpse. So in a rush I climbed down the narrow metal staircase also filled with people trying to get a good view, then I dived. I dived into the gleeful ruckus of it all.
Kalibo was awash in bountiful colors, as the people were, too. Everything was bright and gleaming. In the end, I was proven to be right about Kalibo’s Ati-Atihan Festival all along. It is mad. Chaotic. Crowded, loud, and hot.
But as I have discovered, and I hope you will too, all those can be a very good thing.
Special thanks to Philippines AirAsia, 2016 Ati-Atihan Festival’s Official Airline Partner. AirAsia flies to Kalibo daily. For affordable flights and ticket promos, visit www.airasia.com and facebook.com/AirAsiaPhilippines.
What is Ati-Atihan anyway? Know more about the festival here:
5 Awesome Things You’ll Miss if You’re Not Going to Ati-Atihan in Kalibo