Sinulog 2020, Part 1: Sutukil Before Sundown

Much as the first two instances barely count, this was going to be my third Sinulog. My qualms regarding the previous two stem from the fact that they were work-related. In both instances, I didn’t really have ample time to do anything outside of my tasks, let alone relish the festivities. In other words, I wasn’t there to party.

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The first was back in 2012, six months into my TV5 tenure. I was sent to do social media coverage for a whole-day roadshow, which started with a press conference and ended with a bang. Literally. Halfway through the culminating program in Fuente Osmeña Circle, a fuse exploded. It caused a power outage within the vicinity, thereby abruptly ending the show. “Anticlimactic” was the adjective which came to mind. And that was reinforced by the fact that I had to fly home an hour later. Total time in city: 12 hours.

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My second non-experience was just as frenetic, but thankfully, permitted more clothing changes. During my Miss Universe stint, I was sent to cover the press presentation held at the Jpark Island Resort and Waterpark. It was the second major ancillary event and the only out-of-town affair to feature all 86 candidates. The team was stationed in Lapu Lapu City for the most part. Thus, we were far away from any semblance of revelry. The real highlight of that visit was how we overcame logistical challenges posed by the citywide signal shutdown. It surprises me to this day. Total time, not counting airport delay: 36 hours.

Come to think of it, three out of my five visits to Cebu had been under hectic circumstances. That includes the time I attended a friend’s wedding, but my schedule hindered me from staying longer. It was my shortest visit yet: seven hours. This sixth go-round was bound to even the tally.

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Sinulog is fundamentally a dance ritual. Choreography of which is said to have been inspired by river currents, known locally as sulog (hence, the festival’s name). The dance itself traces back to the pre-colonial period, but it was only in 1980 when a group of teachers conceptualized the first parade. Since then, Sinulog has become the island’s premier festival, attracting roughly three million participants and spectators every year in honor of the Sto. Niño, a representation of the Christ Child, and also the country’s oldest Catholic relic. Point being, it’s something Cebuanos take very seriously. That much was made clear when we arrived that Friday noon.

The primary purpose of this trip was to accompany Mom and her high school friend, Tita Beth, who’s visiting from Ontario. It was only the third day of what she’d planned to be a three-month visit. Cebu was the first out of her several scheduled excursions.

Drumbeats and whistles pulsated throughout the hall as we approached baggage claim. It created an air of festive urgency in the recently renovated Mactan International Airport. Outside, three comely ladies, dressed near-identically in juggernaut royal blue ternos and celestial headdresses, twirled to the loud, hypnotic beats. The one with the largest train covered the most floor area, hands clutching the ever-ubiquitous statue, and waving it to the enthusiastic crowd. It was a prelude to the weekend to come.

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Soon, the drumming faded but the applause lingered. The lead dancer knelt to the ground, still cradling the figure. It was the end of their impromptu number. In a matter of minutes, ambience reverted to normal.

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It was the shortest distance I ever travelled from airport to hotel. No shuttles, no cabs. All we did was cross the street. Strange, but it did offer a unique element of accessibility. There’s a reason hotels like the Waterfront exist. You’d be a fool to miss your flight out. And at that point, we were fortunate to even find a vacancy.

Inside, percussion-driven tracks blasted through the lobby stereos on perpetual loop. No doubt, they were getting into the festival spirit. And it’s impressive how the staff managed to keep their compulsory Pit Señors at an audible level. At the entryway stood a replica of the structure in which Magellan’s Cross is housed. In lieu of the cross, though, was a  Sto. Niño buried waist-deep in anthuriums.

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Upon check-in, we only had time to deposit our bags in our room. Our host was about to pick us up.

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Every time I’m in Cebu with my mother, the Yap family would always be our hosts. And as far as I remember, this was my shortest interval in between encounters. I last saw them early this month: in Tagaytay, a week before Taal erupted.

The patriarch, Tito Nelson, was one of my parents’ law school colleagues and is currently a councilor in Lapu Lapu City. He arrived a little past four.

Tito Nelson took us once again to Fredz Sutukil, one of the several nook-and-cranny restaurants hidden among the souvenir stalls that surround Mactan Shrine. The name sutukil is actually a play on three Visayan cooking terminologies: sugba, which means to grill; tuwa, which means to stew; and kilaw; which means to soak raw seafood in vinegar. As the amalgamation suggests, any sutukil joint will you choose among the three cooking styles. As always, it was a fitting welcome meal.

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Not much has changed since our last visit. Save for the tide being slightly higher and the Magellan Bay mangroves being quarter-submerged, it almost felt like déjà vu – down to every last detail of their kitschy mermaid-themed mural.

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And just like before, we were there during off-peak hours. There was no trace of other customers and the only semblance of activity was from a group of children frolicking by the distant shore, making the most of the remaining sunlight. Upon spotting me, one splashed towards my direction for spare change.

Before I knew it, it was time to dig in:

 

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Soon, the sky switched to a deep orange hue. It made me realize that those hefty servings of lapu-lapu and grilled squid constituted early dinner, and not late lunch. Sunset beckoned, and further north the Punta Engano peninsula we went.

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The 300-room Dusit Thani Mactan is the first from the Dusit Thani franchise to open in the island. It’s relatively new and has only operated for nine months, as of this writing. It was where Tito Nelson’s wife, Anna, rendezvoused with us after dinner. And, it was also where we caught a glorious view of the sunset.

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After a round of photographs and quick chatter, we wrapped up. The following day was something to look forward to. After what felt like ages, I was finally going to get some Vitamin Sea.

 

 

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