Couchsurfing in Philippines at the Ati Atihan Festival
I wouldn’t have visited Kalibo during the Ati Atihan Festival if I hadn’t a place to stay. It’s arguably the biggest event in the Philippines with all the accompanying hassle, then there’s either there’s no place to stay or prices are tripled. I was confused about which week Ati Atihan was when I sent a Couchsurfing request to the most active member in the community, a girl named Jamaica who lives in a suburb 10km down the coast called New Washington.
She said she would “save a piece of floor” for me. It meant a mattress on the ground, which was fine. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes ravaged me and the street noise made it hard to sleep, but you know me, I’m a fighter, an adrenalin junkie, I fly on burning planes, so I persevered.
Jamaica wasn’t turning anyone down, it seemed. I think she had 13 or 14 people the last night I was there. (My Couchsurfing host in Recife, Brazil, another give-you-the-shirt-off-her-back type, told me she had 37 guests during Carnival.) I met a gentle Bulgarian couple, an Italian girl working in Burma, several Filipinos, along with this bunch:
I know that most people have a Couchsurfing visit and it doesn’t stick with them, but I had another of those moments where I realized that traveling by yourself for too long makes you dumb. You need to interact with your peers, even if my peers are half my age and look at me funny that I imagine myself as their equal.
I remember reading about a guy who walked around America for years and he said the important thing was to be around people once in a while so he could recalibrate himself. I would take that further and say that you need to be around others to see how they do things and learn what their perspective is. Traveling alone for too long is to be in a vacuum, a bubble, and you become distant without it becoming apparent. (I am so DEEP—and I blog for free! It’s just not right.)
The main difference between the Ati Atihan Festival and the other wannabes, I was told, is audience participation. All the other festivals are mostly watching a parade go by. In Kalibo you are allowed and expected to join and everyone mixes in and dances around with slowly marching bands. My photos don’t do the festival justice and my internet connection won’t let me upload any video, which I might add here later.
Every band had two and only two instruments: a hand-held xylophone thing that I am sure has a name, and a drum, many variations of drums, all pulsating, all still in my head days later as I type this. There didn’t seem to be many variations of songs, I heard “Top of the world” by the Carpenters(!) over and over, but after a while they all gelled into one long, almost hypnotic trance.
Bands would disappear down side streets, loop around, reappear in the main square and when they passed each other, sometimes one band would stop playing just long enough to get in sync and then they’d play the same song, the crowd roaring in approval.
I was struck by how many girls young enough to need two hands to hold a big bottle of beer being passed around were dancing with abandon, no one hassling them, free as can be. Even boys in their early teens dancing together weren’t uncool. Everyone was just having an unself-conscious good time.
Lots of bottles of alcohol were proffered. Each bottle probably had 500 lips on it by the time it was offered to us, and the more hardcore ones imbibed. I’m not hardcore.
It was noticeable how little trouble there was despite the huge numbers of people which is testament to the good nature of Filipinos. Some nationalities, when they start drinking, they want to fight. When Filipinos drink, they want to sing and dance. I did see one guy running through the crowd with a lot of blood on the back of his neck and two guys hotly pursuing him. He might have been knifed, so maybe there was one potential stabbing and a genocide or two, but that’s it!
The police have really nothing to do. A Canadian guy who joined us told me he asked to use the police station’s bathroom and he was invited in, offered part of their buffet, they wanted photos, etc. They, like everyone else, would smile or give a thumbs up or shout to be heard over the music, “Are you enjoy!”
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You know you’re in the hip locale when there’s at least one German tourist there. It could be some remote valley in Uzbekistan, or a village in Paraguay, but if there’s a German, you’re set.
Make no mistake, there are ALWAYS Germans running around. That’s why I have a great affinity for them