Marinduque Day 1: Boac, Kabugsakan Falls and a bit of Gasan

CHECKING my summer schedule last March, I was pleased to discover that I would be having my first complete Holy Week vacation ever since my pre-call center days.  In planning what to do with a rare and luxurious 4 free days (Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday) I was torn between going out of town on one hand, and staying at home and rediscovering the beauty of my Catholic heritage through the Holy Week rites in my local parish on the other.

Eventually, the travel bug bit me hard enough to make me decide that I wanted to go out of town most of all.  At the same time however, I compromised by also deciding that wherever I decide to go, I’m going to be immersing myself in the local religious observations of the Holy Week, folk Catholicism notwithstanding.

It was at this point that I rediscovered Travel Factor (TF) – a tour frovider…este…provider that has apparently gained a good reputation among the beachbummer-mountaineer-photographer-backpacker crowd.  I first came across this group through a link provided by a friend last year.  Anyway, they had 4 tours scheduled for the April 1-4 period: (1) a day trip of Mt. Pinatubo; (2) a tour and trek of Sagada; (3) an exploratory trip to Palaui Island (Cagayan); and (4) a tour of Marinduque for photography enthusiasts.

Since Marinduque has the Moriones Festival, which just happens to be one of the most colorful manifestations of folk Catholicism in this country, (and because the other three tours were fast becoming filled up) I decided to reserve a slot for that trip and packed my bags for my next major trip since Batanes.

To make a long story short, soon I was in TF’s hired van with 12 other people on our way to the port of Lucena to catch a Ro-Ro going to Marinduque.  The Ro-Ro turned out to be packed and filled to the brim, and were it not for our reservation, we would have needed to jostle and elbow our way with hundreds of other tourists and Marinduqueños who were trying to get any possible ride going to Marinduque in time for the Holy Week.

We left Lucena at around 12:30 midnight and arrived some 3 hours later in Boac where, still dark, we checked into the low-budget A&A Beach Resort in Laylay.  Along the way, I managed to get myself acquainted with my trip mates – which wasn’t really hard to do because they were all so friendly to a TF virgin like myself.  (Hi Jesse, Poms, Boyet, Rico, Albert!)  Since breakfast was still a few hours off after we checked in, most of us took advantage of this and slept, while some (myself included) simply waited for the sun to go up.

(A Brief Digression:  In the course of texting people during the trip, I discovered that one of my friends, Kei (Somabes), was also in the same Ro-Ro as I was.  They didn’t have any place to stay yet upon arriving so I helped arrange for them to stay also in A&A Beach Resort.)

So we had breakfast, and the first destination was the Boac town plaza where various Morions were roaming the town and having themselves photographed.  “Morion” roughly translates to the English word “mask”, and the word eventually came to apply to those men (and lately, women and children) who don masks made of papier mache and/or wood during the Holy Week.  All Morions portray themselves to be Roman Centurions.

We’re Roman centurions…trust us.

The Moriones Festival itself is centered on the story of the Roman Centurion Longinus, who – tradition says – thrust a spear on the side of the crucified Christ.  He was blind in the left (or right?) eye, which promptly recovered its vision after it was splattered with Christ’s blood.  This resulted to his conversion to Christianity and his subsequent persecution by the other Centurions.  The festival traditionally reenacts his beheading during the night of Easter Sunday.

Marinduque’s version of Longinus

Being a history buff, it’s hard for me not to notice that Marinduqueños have a very scant idea of what a Roman Centurion is supposed to look like.  The most obvious historical inaccuracy is the presence of beards on the masks.  In the time of Jesus, beards have been out of fashion among Romans for hundreds of years.  Another is the various colors of the costumes.  While Roman soldiers only ever wore two colors (red and bronze) in their official outfit, the Moriones festival is a joyous cacophony of as many striking colors and gaudy patterns as can be imagined.  Hence, one would see “centurions” that look more like Vikings or Visigoths (and in one case, a Spartan) than civilized Romans.

I’ll hack you to death if you make one more comment about my Roman-ness

Anyway, the festival is apparently a magnet for photographers, both amateur and professional.  Second to the Morions, photographers are the single largest group to be seen in the yearly event (at least this year).  Thankfully, the Morions seem to be used to being photographed that they do not object to being asked to pose for pictures every minute.

Moriones “pageant”

We were hoping that there would be a procession or program of some sort that would feature the Morions but we found out that the play will occur in the evening.  And most of us just contented ourselves taking pictures of the town and watching a sort of “beauty pageant” for Morions.

As for me, I walked towards the Boac Cathedral hoping to find a more faith-based observation of the Holy Week.  I was pleased to find that despite the crowd and the noise in the town plaza, the Maundy Thursday religious services in the Cathedral was well-attended and tightly-packed.  I took some pictures of the church facade before going back to the town center for lunch with my group.  The red-brick facade looks nice but you can notice how it’s out of place in the overall appearance of the church.  That’s because it’s a relatively recent conceit probably undertaken to enhance its appearance for tourism purposes.

the Boac Cathedral

The cathedral is built on a hill overlooking the town.  I’m willing to bet there’s some intended symbolism at work here when the Spanish first planned the layout of Boac.  In many ways, Boac is a superior example of Spanish-era urban planning in the sense that the church is placed on a plane higher than the rest of the town (rather than just beside the town plaza, adjacent to the offices of local authorities.)  It’s a relic of the bygone days of when secularism was unheard of and the Church ruled both spiritual and temporal affairs.

Even with the crowd and all the confusion, it’s relatively easy to find each other in the Boac town center because it’s so small.  Just walk around for a few minutes and you’re bound to bump into somebody you know (that is, if you’re in a group of 10 or so people.)  So we went to this canteen right across the plaza that was packed with tourists like us and, through sheer will power, managed to get ourselves seated and eating.  I imagine that this canteen’s Holy Week profits are enough to keep it afloat until the next year’s Holy Week.

As you can see, even the smallest town has a Jose Rizal statue

We as a group went back to the Boac Cathedral for the customary group pictures after we had our lunch.  I was disappointed that church authorities locked the stairway leading to the church balcony (which they probably did after our travel mate, Fung (Yu), earlier on ascended it without warning.)  It then started to drizzle a bit when we were there.  Since we would be hiking to the Kabugsakan Falls later in the afternoon, I was really worried whether we would be hiking in the rain since I didn’t bring a jacket and I don’t think the bags that contain my photography equipment is adequately weatherproofed.  The clouds above looked ominous enough.

detail on the old bell displayed outside the church

Thankfully, the expected rain did not arrive and we were able to reach the falls after a long drive and hike with only our own perspiration dampening our clothes.  Here’s the thing, after the long arduous drive through very dusty and bumpy roads, as well as a tiring trek through very rough terrain in the mountains, the Kabugsakan Falls turned out to be very underwhelming,  See for yourself:

Kabugsakan Falls

And so, after once again taking customary pictures and after some others in our group taking a dip in the pool at the base of the falls, we then made the trek back towards our vehicle for the long drive back to A&A Beach Resort.  Along the way, we stopped by the town of Gasan to buy groceries and refreshments.  We didn’t stay long though because we were to return there the day after as per our itinerary.

There was still daylight when we got back to the resort.  Others went straight to their rooms to rest even before dinner, while I joined others in our group take pictures of the sunset in the nearby beach.  I tried my hand at some pretty advanced photography techniques with the help of Boyet (Villamin)’s strobist equipment.  Epic fail!  I did however pick up tips on how to properly set my camera to take sunset shots.

Boyet, Julius and Poms

Before we knew it, it was dark and dinner was served.  Not having slept properly since the night before, I slept soundly on my first night in Marinduque – competing against roommate Albert (Henoguin) in a snorefest that we’re both thankful we’re too dead tired to hear.  I dunno if Fung heard us though.

= = = = = = = = = =

This entry is part of the Marinduque I series dated April 1-4, 2010:

1. Marinduque Day 1: Boac, Kabugsakan Falls and a bit of Gasan
2. Marinduque Day 2 (morning): Morion Parade in Gasan, Via Crucis in Boac
3. Marinduque Day 2 (afternoon): Back to Gasan, Back to Boac….with a boy genius and a lot of blood in between
4. Marinduque Day 3: Tres Reyes, Gaspar Island, Buenavista, Torrijos, etc.
5. Marinduque Day 4: The long goodbye

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