After attending most festivals in the country (Sinulog, Masskara, Dinagyang, Panagbenga, Kadayawan etc) I can say without fear of contradiction that the Rodeo Festival is the single most exciting, most action-packed festival in the Philippines. Which festival does one go to where sometimes the animals are in control of men?
I arrived on the morning when the most exciting of the rodeo events was going to happen – - the Cattle Drive. I liken it to a FUN RUN except that it is cattle that will be running from the city center to the Rodeo Arena about 2 kilometers away. Some have likened it to RUNNING OF THE BULLS, thinking of Pamplona, Spain.
It is the most exciting because of its unpredictability. Imagine some of the nearly 100 cattle going wayward. In the past, the promoters told me that there have been motorbikes parked on the roadside that were damaged. learning form the past, the organizers have sealed off intersections, barricading them with pick-up trucks or other material.
The organizers have cowboys mounted on horses to herd the flock. There are also cowhands (cowboys and cowgirls) stationed in many points to handle cattle that may stray.
UNPREDICTABILITY: STRAY CATTLE
Still, there were at least 3 that went astray. I captured two of them in sequences as I was moving around to cover the event.
The first was about a cow that strayed and went to a SMART loading station, moving on to the BEAUTIFICATION project signage. The cowboys handled the stray cow efficiently.
The second stray cattle I was able to photograph from a moving Red Cross van which I hitched on (I was at the bed).
Masbate is proud to have the only permanent structure in the country built purposely for rodeo. It has bull pens, sturdy metal fences to separate the players and the bull from the gallery, a platform for the organizers and the barkers (announcers are called barkers in rodeo shows), and a full stage from where distinguished visitors watch the games.
There are also paramedics from the Red Cross around the arena, ever alert if and when a player gets hurt, ready with their stretchers. A clinic is manned right in the complex. well done.
The National Rodeo Finals is participated in by professionals and Agriculture students from all over the country – - as far north as Benguet and as far down south as Buiodnon and Cagayan de Oro.
While there are regional competitions, Masbate is the default venue for the national finals. The National Rodeo Director, rancher Leo Gozum, also hails from Masbate.
The events are heart stopping, action packed, so unpredictable, and just so different from what one sees – - – the nearest thing to it is watching a Western-style movie. And oh, the organizers left no stone unturned – - – the music from the sound system is 100% Western-style. Imagine – - – bulls, cows, and cowboys on a dusty arena, with western-style music, with organizers also in full cowboy costume, with whips and lassoes, boots and checkered shirts, cowboy hats – - – the works. There were 2-person carambolas, lassoing, 4-person carambolas, bull-riding, bull whipping, load carrying etc.
AWARDING CEREMONIES OVER BONFIRE
The even ended with a cowboy-style bonfire in the awards ceremonies where trophies designed from bull bells were awarded to the winners. And the main fare was roast calves- - two of them.
RODEO SCHEDULE 2014: Mark your calendars !
I shall return next year. The rodeo schedule in 2014, as provided by National Rodeo Director Leo Gozum is “the national finals is April 8 to 12, 2014. Grand parade of the rodeo national finals April 8. Cattle Drive April 9. Three (3) major barn parties April 8, April 9, and April 12.”
How to get there:
PAL Express flies propeller planes daily to Masbate. Flights leave at 5:05 am, just in time to arrive in the morning to catch the Day 1 event. Zest Air flies at about the same schedule as PAL Express, with the 2 flights leaving just 5 minutes apart.