I was fortunate enough to spend 9 months in San Fernando on Palawan Island in the Philippines. San Fernando is about an hour North East of El Nido and the cliché’s ‘off the beaten track’ and ‘a private paradise’ describes this area perfectly. There is one upmarket resort, a nature lodge and a hand full of locally owned warungs (basic accommodation) and restaurants scattered between the two fishing villages San Fernando and Sibaltan.
While I was living there I became friends with many local people who took me in and became my family. They taught me about their culture and traditions, some very basic Tagalog, and inspired me to once again look at love through the rose-coloured lenses that only 90’s love songs can provide.
I was staying in a place where only the most adventurist of westerners wondered and on many occasions I was the only blond-hair, blue-eyed lady in the room… or dancing under the full moon. I was invited into homes to enjoy amazing local food, attended a wedding filled with local tradition mixed with Catholic rituals, and had a local’s experience of the fiesta’s.
These fiestas was the highlight of village life and everyone attended. The invite usually started with the guys –giddy with excitement- inviting me to ‘the last fiesta’. It was always ‘the last fiesta’… of the month or the season or something… It usually runs for 3-4 days with one main evening.
It is usually a dusty affair with kids and dog running around while the grown-ups shop at the Ukai-ukai’s (surplus stores), watch the basketball games, play some gambling games, and have a few drinks. I have seen everything on sale at these events from homemade ice-cream and candy floss to clothing, shoes, home ware and even solar panels.
I joined my Filipino friends to a festival in Sibaltan where they were hosting a part of the Miss Palawan competition. We were all in high spirits as we watched the beautiful ladies sparkling in their formal wear and dancing in their traditional outfits. Sibaltan is still very much undiscovered, so much so that this evening I found myself in a sea of festive Filipinos and only catching a glimpse of 3 other westerners out of the corner of my eye. As I was standing in the crowd, looking at these beautiful women on stage two teenage girls in front of me tried to sneak a picture of me… only their attempt at being subtle was betrayed by the camera’s flash.
After the festivities I went to the home of one of my good friends where we had some home-cooked Filipino food and drinks. Although these people has very little they find absolute pride in their homes and I was honoured to be welcomed with open arms. Filipino hospitality is generous and honest and they showed me unconditional love and acceptance.
The next evening we went to San Fernando, a village about 20 minutes away. We drove Filipino-style in a convoy of scooters each carrying two or three people, enveloped in the dark velvet of night with stars sparkling above. In San Fernando we did some shopping at the stalls – I bought hot-pink nail polish- and watched the men play fair games that I couldn’t understand. The main event of the evening was a show put on by resorts and hotels from El Nido and a basketball game where everyone including the dogs crowded around to cheer on their team.
Festivals are a part of the Filipino life where people come together and have fun, people who spend the whole day working in their rice fields, or fishing, or putting everything that they have into serving the guests at one of the few resorts around.
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Written by: Jaunita Pienaar
Jay has traveled and lived extensively in Asia and Africa. Part gypsy, part nomad, part mermaid she aspires each day to satisfy her wanderlust in any way possible.