Filtered By: Lifestyle

After Baguio's Panagbenga, it's Session Road in Bloom

One of the colorful floats in the annual flower festival parade on the last weekend of February. Photo by SHERWIN BALLESTEROS
The famous empanada of Ilocos side by side with the batchoy of Iloilo, woven bags and wooden carvings from Palawan and the Cordilleras—even if you're from Baguio City, Session Road in Bloom's offerings will make you feel just like any other tourist. For one whole week every year, Baguio's best-known thoroughfare is transformed into a sloping fair ground with close to a hundred stalls snaking down the 450-meter two-way road in the summer capital's central business district. Aptly called Session Road in Bloom, it caps the festivities of Baguio's annual Flower Festival or Panagbenga, a celebration of abundant harvest in the country's biggest producer of cut flowers. This year, the festival was held from Feb. 26 to March 4 The culinary and colorful delights in Session in Bloom—as most locals choose to call it—are as diverse as the city’s current cultural mix, as strange and novel to a resident as the chilly air of Baguio is to anyone who lives in the lowlands. It is, in recent years, also been as much about the food as it is about anything else—a welcome respite from all the walking that tourists usually have to endure in this hilly city to see its sights. The scent of fried longganisa from Baguio or Vigan lingers in the still-chilly March air, mingling with the sweet aroma of freshly steamed yellow corn on the cob and the smoky smell of beef for shawarma. At times, the scent of rainwater trickling down the gravel road punctuates the afternoon air, as drizzles have become regular this time of the year. Aside from the predictable street fare of foot-long sausages and burgers—which have been the staple alongside shawarma—an assortment of provincial delicacies has sprouted in the stalls. This is a welcome treat for after-office revelers, students, and tourists on extended vacations to longer journeys by foot in the city of pedestrians.
Gold-painted metal done in intricate patterns are made into mirror frames and lamps, among others. Photo by NIKKA CORSINO
As much a treat for the palate as it is for the eyes is the famed Ilocos empanada, prepared and deep-fried for everyone to see with its fire-orange wrap, egg, and Vigan longganisa. Perhaps the best companion for the empanada is the sinanglao, a stew made of pork intestines usually served in any of the Ilocos strip's well-known food destinations, including the Dap-ayan in Laoag, Ilocos Norte and Vigan in Ilocos Sur. Ilonggo fare also came in the form of batchoy, beef or pork stock with intestines, chicharon, and pancit miki or bihon, as well as the Visayan chicken inasal. Balut from Pateros and native cakes from Cainta are also available, as are puto bumbong and chocolate bars with pili nuts and laing all the way from Bicol.
Wooden and bamboo lamps with marble accents create colorful illusions and patterns. Photo by NIKKA CORSINO
Stalls selling handicrafts also dotted the fair: woven bags and wooden carvings from Asin town in Benguet province; frames, intricate bowls, lamps, and vases made from metal and wood; mother of pearl jewelry and carved wooden masks from Palawan. Artist Derek Pelenia from Palawan showed us several of his artworks for sale - elaborate illustrations of Tagbanua rituals that look like etched artwork but are actually carved out of black marine plywood and colored to finish. Session in Bloom—usually held during the first week of March—follows Panagbenga's two highlights—the consecutive weekend parades that never fail to attract tourists by the millions.
Artist Derek Pelenia of Palawan prefers marine plywood as the base for his elaborate carvings for its versatility and durability. His works sell for about P2,000 to P5,000. Photo by NIKKA CORSINO
Designed for only 25,000 residents, however, Baguio City gets full to bursting on the last weekend of February with about a million spectators lining the city streets to see the parade of dancers and 20 or so gigantic floats made of flowers. Since 2010 had been an election year, with countless candidates using the festival for their political campaigns, this year's parades were decidedly less cluttered, more colorful, and more focused. The Street Dancing Parade, held on a Saturday morning as always, featured what appeared to me as the most colorful set of costumes and props so far. I had spotted headdresses seemingly influenced by the Masskara Festival, and male and female street dancers alike donning tattoos typical of Cordillera tribes.
This year's dancers had a touch of the Ati-Atihan of Visayas. Photo by SHERWIN BALLESTEROS
This year also had more upbeat routines, courtesy of a remixed version of the Panagbenga hymn; intriguingly, the new tune drew flak because the song's original composer, who had allowed the remix, reportedly disliked the outcome. Despite the controversy, this year's parades were generally better than last year's ill-disguised election sorties. The floats—22 of them—ranged from a gigantic bunny to a pair of giant strawberries to a reptile-like bird with flapping wings, with the occasional celebrity driving the crowd to a frenzy just like in recent years. Although a better crowd control policy is yet to be implemented so everyone can witness the parades as well as anybody can, Baguio City's Panagbenga will always be worth a visit. The city becomes livelier than it is the whole year, and everyone seems to be in a cheery mode, never mind if you get calloused feet along the way. The strawberry-flavored taho, after all, is found nowhere else. - YA, GMA News