Balikbayans arrive for Sinulog festival
The Sinulog beat, leis and smiles greeted Philippine Airlines passengers on a flight from California as they went down the escalator past 9 a.m. yesterday in the Mactan Cebu International Airport.
Leandro Lupa, a retired US Navy serviceman, said he looked forward to his first experience of Cebu and the Sinulog.
“I’m alone in this vacation and I plan to enjoy. After a very long time of not being able to come home, I decided to see Cebu first before I head home to Cavite next week,” said the 79-year-old balikbayan.
Lupa said he plans to join the religious foot procession in honor of the Sto. Niño and witness the parade on Sunday.
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama led the rondalla welcome at the airport, an annual ritual of the Balik Cebu committee and the Department of Tourism for the past 12 years.
“I hope this continues every year because that way we can encourage more to come,” said Rama.
About 80 US-based Filipinos arrived in two flights, said Milagros Pacaña, whose Los Angeles-based travel agency coordinates every year with the Balik Cebu committee led by Tetta Baad.
Tonight, a dinner for 400 guests, mostly balikbayans, is being hosted in Ayala Terraces, with a live band, Sinulog dancing, the first official appearance of Miss Cebu 2013 with her court, and later the Handumanan cultural show.
A Balik Cebu welcome booth opened a week earlier in the Ayala mall, with brochures and tickets for the fiesta dinner and seats in a blue-coded section reserved for balikbayans in the Sinulog grandstand.
Statistics of balikbayans are hard to pinpoint as Filipinos abroad started coming to Cebu for the Christmas holidays, with some extending to the Sinulog in January.
Peak arrivals starts three days before the Fiesta of the Sto. Niño and Sinulog mardi gras, which falls on Sunday.
Three-year-old Caio Tiro was the youngest balikbayan on the PAL flight yesterday. He came with his grandmother Nedda Calvo, 63, and his parents.
Calvo who owns a caregiver agency in Los Angeles said the family has been coming home for the Sinulog for the past five years.
She said she plans to bring Caio to Oslob town to swim with the whalesharks.
“We try to enjoy the festivities with the rest of our family here in Cebu,” said Calvo, who stays in a condo unit in Club Ultima.
First-time visitors Nelly Papas and her Polish partner Wesley Dudzimska booked a group package, eager to watch the Sinulog and tour the Chocolate Hills in Bohol province.
“We’ve heard about the Sinulog from many friends who told us it’s really fun so we decided to come,” said Papas.
She said they witnessed a celebration of the Holy Infant of Prague in the Czech Republic but was told that Cebu’s was grander.
“We will try and compare the experience. We just arrived and already we feel the very warm welcome. It’s definitely a good start,” said Papas, who plans to join the solemn foot procession and other activities.
Pushing a cart filled with baggage that includes “pasalubong”for his friends in Cebu, retired US Navy Rolando Santos, 70, has been coming to Cebu for six years and all for the Sinulog.
“I don’t mind doing the same thing over and over because I enjoy it. I have a friend here Joe Son who was a journalist in San Diego who always hosts my stay,” said Santos.
He said he plans to join the Suroy-Suroy sa Sugbo countryside tour. He said it never fails to amaze him each time he joins the trip, this time one bound for south Cebu for a relaxing encounter with sight
Unlike past years, balikbayans didn’t come in a single large group, but traveled individually, many of them skipping travel agencies.
Most of them already know what to do, explained Alice Queblatin, Tourism Congress vice president for travel and tours sector in the Visayas.
“Some came as early as January 14 for the nine-day Masses as ‘panata’ (a vow),” she explained.
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