I was IMing with a friend this morning, telling her about what's been happening in Cebu the last few days. She said to me, "It sounds more like you are on vacation than on a work trip."
And that was before I told her about the Battle of Mactan festival last night.
You have to go back almost 500 years, to 1521, to find the origins of this particular festival. It was a time when the Philippines was still labeled "Here be dragons" on most European maps. Along came Magellan - yes, that Magellan - doing whatever it is that 16th century explorers did. Subjugate, colonize and proselytize, if the natives were welcoming. Rape and pillage if they weren't.
The indigenous people of Mactan Island, it turns out, were not the welcoming type. Their leader Datu Lapu-Lapu refused to bend the knee. Poor Magellan got a spear to the arm, a sword to the leg, and hacked to pieces before he could get to the raping and pillaging bit. His death is a point of Filipino pride that continues to express itself 500 years later in the form of a street festival that 20 of us found ourselves at last night.
We were already well into our cups after a successful party at the Shangri-La resort for all of the PokerStars qualifiers here in Cebu. The party ran out of beer, and trust me - PokerStars was not stingy about how much beer they provided.
Unwilling to surrender our buzz, 12 of us hopped a shuttle down to the festival while another 8 walked. We joked, laughed and otherwise felt great as we joined Filipinos milling around by the thousands, lazily ambling up and down the lone street through that part of Mactan Island, to the consternation of motorists that found their passage blocked. Vendors behind wooden carts laden with heaps of freshly picked mangoes or buckets of cold beer hawked their products to anyone that passed by. Multi-colored flags and tiny white lights winked at us from overhead, strung from utility pole to utility pole for a mile in both directions. Too many pretty girls bared just the right amount of skin for a warm spring night, giving many a guy a broken neck.
At the center of the festival was a garden area that had been fenced off for a concert. The entry fee of 30 pesos ($US 0.75) was to be paid to a wisp of a Filipina sitting in a small kiosk off to one side, behind the kind of barred window that you might see in banks in old western movies. She spoke no English, but pointing and finger-counting and a few banknotes should have sufficed to gain our entry to the concert.
When the power went out to the whole island, however, stopping the concert mid-song and plunging the entire festival into darkness, the Filipina had a difficult time seeing how many fingers I was holding up.
The reaction of the festival-goers to the blackout was notable only for its complete lack of existence. They continued milling about, chatting with each other, eating their mangoes and drinking their rapidly warming beer. The concert stopped admitting people - no power meant no amplification - but other than that it was business as normal. Who's going to let a little thing like lack of power stop a party that's five centuries old?
We waited fifteen minutes to see if the power would come back and the concert would resume. When it did not, we opted to walk a mile up the road back to the Shangri-La. Along the way, we passed four Filipino guys squatting in a yard by the side of the road, using a piece of cardboard for a flat surface and playing a game of cards that looked suspiciously like Big Deuce by the light of a mobile phone.
I'd like to say this is the part of the story where I, a white guy with European roots, found myself in a Big Deuce game at midnight during a blackout at a Filipino street festival celebrating the killing of one of Europe's greatest explorers. Unfortunately, none of the card players spoke English and none was willing to give up his seat at the table. Or his squat at the cardboard. So instead I hiked the last half-mile back to the Shangri-La.
But given the events of the evening, by the time I got back to the Shangri-La, I decided that Magellan had it all wrong. That Datu Lapu-Lapu was an ok guy.