Mudpack Festival: a frolic in the rain

The Inbox

By Alex C. Delos Santos,VERA Files

 "Here comes the rain again, falling on my head like a memory…"

 This 80's song by Eurythmix could very well be the anthem of the recent Mudpack Festival at Mambukal Resort in Murcia, Negros Occidental. "There must be rain," says festival director Rudy Reveche, "for mud comes with the rain. That's why the festival is scheduled in June, when the rains come."

But there was a time when too much rain came that the festival was postponed. It was in 2008 when typhoon Frank ravaged the whole country, it was impossible to be festive even at the sanctuary of Mambukal Resort that sits at the foot of majestic Mt. Kanlaon, the highest peak in the Visayas.

Conceived to promote the government-owned resort, the Mudpack Festival turns into art and joy the varicolored mud that can be found from the grounds of Mambukal. There are white, brown, reddish, and yellow muds. With some inventiveness, local artists in Negros came up with blue this year, with mud-smothered dancers looking like characters from Avatar.

In last June 18 and 19 festival, the main event was a tribal dance contest, with 10 to 15 dancers per group interpreting this year's theme, "Grow a tree….Nurture hope," to the beat of percussive tribal music. Costumed only in tights and mud, the dancers wallowed in the mud to the delight of the audience who were themselves rain-drenched.

There were side events like the Miss Mambukal pageant, body painting competition, drum-beating contest, installation and performance art contest, and poster-making contest for children that contributed to hammer in the festival's message. In Miss Mambukal competition for example, the candidates compete in flora and fauna costumes, which not only challenged the imagination of local designers, but also the daring of the contestants. In the question and answer portion, they were shown pictures of various aspects of the environment, and they were asked to give their two-cents worth of opinions on them.

 The evening was capped with a band concert in the grassy yet muddy park surrounded by trees and the rushing river below. The party went madder as the rains fell harder, and the festival-goers danced in willing abandon well into the morning.

Mudpack Festival is as hedonistic as it is spiritual.

While officially on its 15th year, the Mudpack Festival started much earlier. Reveche recalled that it started around 1986, when local artists would gather at the resort to unwind after being out in the streets for rallies and protests. They would have their little competitions, and somebody came up with sculptures out of Mambukal's mud.

They credit ritualist Louie Dormido as the founder of the Mudpack Festival, having initiated and seen it through its birth years. Dormido made a comeback this year as he performed the invocation during the opening ceremony.

Resort manager Ellen Vasquez happily reported that the resort was fully-booked during the weekend, with reservations made many months ago. Those who came but could not get accommodations just had to book for next year.

Mambukal Resort is one of the province's major tourist destinations outside of Bacolod City. The 30-minute drive from the Negros capital passes through Murcia town and acres of sugarcane plantations, and provides a full view of Mt. Kanlaon. It is one of the three entry points to the Mt. Kanlaon National Park, and is more preferred by the amateur trekkers for its friendlier slopes and wonderful flora.

Interestingly, Mambukal Resort is situated in Murcia town but is geographically distinct as it has her own charter, with the governor as the mayor. The charter was created through a Republic Act issued before the war, as the resort used to be a summer refuge of the provincial officials.

 One of the remaining pre-war structures is the bath house, now known as Ishiwata Hall, named after the Japanese architect who designed it. It is a small but elegant hall that could be used for parties and intimate gatherings.

 Cottages and lodges had been renovated to accommodate the increasing number of guests. Rates range from 900 to 1,500 PHP. For the more adventurous, there is a camping ground, where guests to the Mudpack Festival can pitch their tents. This has become the more popular mode of accommodation for the festival's followers. One tent even had a placard that welcomes boarders.

Given its unique timing and interesting artistic temper, the Mudpack Festival is expected to gain more followers in the next years. If there are sun-worshippers, there are those who would prefer a literal rain dance, and every drop of rain shall fall like memory.

 (VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")