BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – When bikers pedal through the village of Carabalan in the southern Negros city of Himamaylan and make a stop on the sub-village of Bulod, they will be treated to food that goes back almost to antiquity.
Food that will showcase the heritage of a city that was once a logging center, a fishing and farming community that became sleepy and is now roused from slumber.
Filling, nutritious, the local version of the snack of champions, linupak nga saging is an offering of Carabalan village officials for the Tour this year.
Carabalan, after all, is the banana capital of Himamaylan City where saba, a type of cooking banana similar to the plantano in Mexico, thrives well in the elevated terrain.
It even has a festival to honor the herb and fruit.
Linupak nga saging is mashed cooked saba, traditionally made by pounding bananas in a wooden mortal and pestle then mixing it with fresh coconut meat and a generous slathering of margarine.
Usually Star brand, ‘puno sang baytamin (full of vitamins)’ as the commercial goes.
Alejandro Deoma, one of the Tour organizers, tells DNX it was the village chief of Himamaylan who actually offered to prepare linupak, now a delicacy but previously an energy source for peasants in upland villages who have to endure backbreaking work.
‘Kon pila lang malab-utan, sir indi lang kami makapasalig (We cannot feed everyone but we can prepare some),’ the special consultant to Tongson quotes the Carabalan chief as having told him.
This spirit of volunteerism, this sense of oneness is what has defined the Tour of the Fireflies Negros leg this year.
With Himamaylan City hosting it for the second time this year, Tongson says the ‘sense of community’ that has pervaded the once sleepy city once considered as just some dusty stopover on the way to fine beaches in the far south of the province has also animated people to do their share in making the 2021 Tour possible.
Alejandro points out that more people have become involved this year in organizing the Tour, from less than 200 in 2019 to close to a thousand this year.
He says that with a pandemic still raging, more people have to be involved for an activity of such a scale in a city of more than 100,000.
Indeed, Mayor Tongson says, the Tour this year is a testament to how ‘we should find our way through the new normal,’ through the changes forced on us by a virulent disease.
Alejandro explains the maverick mayor stressed during the preparations that those involved must be innovative and inventive.
‘Isagad gid (Push things to the limit) was what he told us,’ he adds.
In the end, as Himamaylan seeks to become the Fireflies capital of the Philippines, Mayor Tongson feels their hosting this year is part of showcasing what the city can offer, what Himamaylanons can do, and what the city government has become.
And that Himamaylan, after all, is not just some dusty stopover.