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Magayon Festival returns as May time tradition in Albay

The annual Magayon Festival, a month-long revelry featuring Albay’s rich culture and arts, culinary fare, native industries and natural wonders in the countryside, is back as a May time tradition in the province.

Governor Al Francis Bichara said the festival, now on its 17th year, was really originally scheduled in May until it was moved to April during the term of former Governor Joey Salceda.

“Albayanos working in other parts of the country, usually go home to attend their respective fiestas in their towns and barangays in May,” said Bichara.

He said “balikbayans,” who usually head back to Albay to celebrate their town fiestas, will have the chance to reunite with their families and townmates during the festival season, which opened on Monday.

“It will be a merry reunion with their loved ones,” Bichara said.

Highlighted during the festivities is the retelling of the legend of Mayon Volcano, which is referred to as a beautiful maiden or “Daragang Magayon” in local folklore, various versions of which have been popularized by Bicolano historian Professor Merito B. Espinas of the Bicol University here.

Mt. Mayon that towers at 2,462 meters above sea level has a nearly perfect shaped cone that is said to rival the beauty of Japan’s Mt. Fiji.

One of country’s most active volcanoes, Mayon is also one of the most popular tourist spots, drawing visitors from other parts of the country and even abroad.

A sightseeing tour of Mayon Volcano during the Magayon festival run has also been helping boost tourism and economic activities of those in the transport, restaurant, resort and hotel business in the province.

The Magayon festival is also a much-awaited event because of the sili-eating contest at the Peñaranda Park in Old Albay District here, which toasts the Bicolanos’ penchant for eating food served with the hot and spicy chili, popularly known as "sili" or “lada” in the dialect.

The contest also sealed the reputation of Iriberto Gonzales who was named the “sili king” of the Bicol region during the Magayon Festival in 2000.

Gonzales’ feat of chewing 350 pieces of raw sili within a three-minute period had landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Guinness records researcher Rasila Kuntawala confirmed Gonzales’ feat in their database and handed a certificate of confirmation to Gonzales through the Provincial Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office.

A native of Barangay (village) Quirangay in Camalig town, Gonzales was 28 years old when he joined the contest in 2000.

At that time the only other Filipino personalities who had been listed in the Guinness records were the former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, who held a record for owning the most number of shoes in the world, and Paeng Nepomuceno for having the most number of World Cup titles in bowling.

Versions of the sili-eating contest in later editions of the Magayon Festival allowed the intake of water and banana in between mouthfuls of “Bicol Express,” a dish consisting of pork cooked in coconut milk but spiced with lots of sili. (PNA)

Rhaydz B. Barcia