Fiesta with Berta & Andrew: Paraw Regatta Festival
Hello! We had very matahum days in Iloilo during our stay, the sun was shining, the skies were blue and so was the sea. It was the perfect time for the beach! But what was better about our vacation in Iloilo was that we were there just in time for a very colourful beach festival: the Paraw Regatta!
But what is the Paraw Regatta, you ask? What happens in the beach that is connected to tradition, is very suspenseful and boasts a unique Filipino craft?
First off, the Paraw Regatta is a boat racing festival in the Iloilo Strait that happens every the third week of February. It is considered the biggest sailing event in the country and the oldest traditional crafts event in Asia. The boat or paraw that is featured in the festival is a type of native Visayan outrigger sailboat. The paraw is an important part of the Ilonggo culture as it served as transportation and a mode of livelihood.
We were told by a friendly local municipal officer that the paraw race was started in 1973 as a way to preserve this colourful historical craft. It is also a time to celebrate the artisans and boat makers who have inherited the art of making a paraw from their elders and who continue to represent this valuable piece of Ilonggo culture.
The Paraw Regatta Festival takes place at the Villa beach that faces the Panay strait. The Villa beach is in the district of Arevalo, west of downtown Iloilo City. Villa beach is also home to two of the most famous restaurants in Iloilo City: Tatoy’s Manukan and Breakthrough.
The festival activites have grown through the years to include side events like a beauty contest, sports tournaments, body painting and dance performances. Some of these events are held in other venues like the Villa Grandstand, a university cultural centre, Joe III Garden, Tatoy’s and the malls SM City and Robinson’s Place.
The main event of the Paraw Regatta is the paraw race that is reserved on Sunday. In the race, the participants must race a distance of 30 kilometres up the coast of Panay island and down the coast of Guimaras, a nearby island province, returning to Villa beach. Ordinary paraw are used in the race, this means no motors. The paraw are sailed purely by the power of wind.
The paraw is surprisingly very swift at sea. An Ilonggo we met at the beach who raced in previous years said that the design of the boat allows it to glide as fast as the wind could carry its sail. During the day of the race, we also got to see other events called pintawo or body painting and the pinta layag or the judging of the best and most colourful sails.
We had to wake up very early so that we could attend the 6am pintawo and pinta layag events. But it was all worth it because the creativity and the colours of the sails of the boats and the models were dazzling.
The favourite themes of the pintawo are the paraw, peace and nature. The painted sails of those who participate in the pinta layag meanwhile play with the theme of nationalism. The sails look like canvass for paintings the way the artists behind them treated the sails with utmost care and attention to detail.
Our personal choices didn’t win the competition rounds. But when we talked to them they said losing was fine since they did it all for tradition… getting a prize to showcase their creativity was simply the icing on the cake.
Seeing all the boats at the starting line was a sight to behold! Each boat was simple, but the colourful sails made it look like we were walking through a museum gallery seeing very big works of art.
The race itself started after 9:30 in the morning, just when the heat from the sun was starting to pick up. Everyone cheered when the participants started to wade into the sea with their paraw. It was actually very chill because the speed all depends on the ability of the seafarers to control the wind.
There was a point when we couldn’t see the boats anymore, that was when the suspense really began since we couldn’t tell if our bet would make it first. It’s really difficult to say if your boat would make it first because we weren’t so sure about the race course. But finally seeing our favourite sails come into view from the beach was exhilarating… even though it lagged behind ten or so other boats!
Finally, after the events and the race, there was the Villa beach to enjoy. Because of the festival, there were plenty of people who stayed behind to enjoy the beach. Villa beach is a long stretch of gray sand with plenty of seafood restaurants lining the beachfront.
Villa beach has a panoramic view of the very blue waters of the Panay strait. We enjoyed drinking beer, chilling out and watching the sun set and the people have fun as much as swimming in the waters. The view of the beach when dusk came was a great cap off to our festive day!
When it was totally dark we headed on to Breakthrough restaurant and each had a serving of the very tasty crab fat (aligue) rice and some oysters (talaba). Our supper was the perfect ending to that day.
Now that we’re back in Manila, we’re dreaming of aligue rice, la paz batchoy and butterscotch, the warm sands of Villa beach, the energy of Dinagyang and the quiet splendor of the churches of Iloilo. We’re missing them all, but we’re also excited to discover what other provinces have to offer by way of sights and sounds.
See you in our next adventure!