MY FRIENDS and I didn't mind leaving early for Bago City to celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist and its 435th Founding Day last June 24. Dear friend Francis Lagradilla of the Bago City Tourism Office had Facebook-ed me the day before: The church schedule for the procession of St. John the Baptist will take off from the church at 6:30 a.m., going to Bantayan Park and fluvial procession will follow around 7 a.m. due to high tide time. Please come early before 8 a.m. Thank you.

So, my colleagues in the tourism industry Maricar Dabao, E Azuelo and I joined many others who made a beeline to Bantayan Park to witness the parade on water of 24 gaily decorated pump boats. Bantayan Park is a boulevard that is a long stretch and rip-raped river bank that has become a hang-out for relaxing for the Bagonhons owing to the quiet atmosphere. At dawn, it is host to people who love jogging and morning exercises; in the evening, for those who enjoy stargazing and simply enjoying the cool breeze and sound of water splashing against the sea wall.

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Bantayan Park is also the site of the annual Agro-Industrial Cultural Educational Fair, which is held for a week every February during its City Charter Celebration. This one is quite a fun experience and the last time I was there, it was very well-attended. Each of the 24 barangays of the city has a pavilion to represent their local government unit and also to display their products. I enjoyed shopping for fruits, eggs lain by native chickens, duck eggs, aged vinegar, and root crops. I could have bought more but I ran out of money. (blush)

Back to the fluvial procession, we three plus photographer par excellence Ronnie Baldonado were the judges who had to consider the top three boats that symbolized best the theme of the feast which was to honor San Juan. The tourism office was very hospitable and had assigned one personnel to accompany each of us as we walked to and fro the boulevard to view the boats. There was a lot of creativity in action (we delighted in the neat and orderly rendition of one barangay that made use of carton egg trays) and mucho show of the bayanihan spirit. Drumbeat punctuated the air and a boat or two had pretty "mermaids" to add interest to their decorations.

The celebration dubbed Biray sa Bantayan 2010 was sponsored by the City Government of Bago and Purok SUNFLOWER, Barangay Poblacion (Bantayan Park is part of Purok Sunflower.) It started with a procession of the image of Bago City's Patron Saint St. John the Baptist from the ancient Roman Catholic Church to Bantayan Park. This was followed by the blessing of the river cruise raft M/V St. John the Baptist. The Fluvial Procession which was organized very well by the Tourism Affairs Office came next. At the same time, the Philippine Independent Church had their own procession of the image of St. John through the major city streets.

Many events took place on this day, so, the celebration had a pretty full schedule. It even included a mass wedding, a Sikad sa Bantayan Mountain Bike Challenge, banca race, Basic LIfe Support Demonstration, Water Safety Exhibition and Aqua Rescue Competition.

Gracing the grand affair were the following very important personalities: City Mayor Ramon D. Torres, Vice Mayor Nicholas M. Yulo, Members of the Sangguniang Panlungsod, Barangay Captains of the 24 Barangays, Senior Tourism Operations Officer Ms. Rosseni G. Mina, Cultural Officer Designate & Curator Mr. Clem del Castillo, Senior Tourism Operations Officer Ms. Ana Freida C. Mayores, Senior Tourism Officer Barbara M. Sevilla, Senior Tourism Officer Simone Gonzaga and Tourism Staff Ms. Arlene C. Palco.

Aside from the Agro-Industrial Fair and the Feast of St. John the Baptist, Bantayan Park also hosts the Water Sports Exhibition and Competition every August. For lovers of rock band music, Friday Night is the night for live bands. Nearby is the newly opened Wellness Center aptly called Paradise. Prices for massage and other services are quite competitive. Visitors can also hie off to Balay Kalan-an for coffee, a Filipino breakfast (which we had) and lunch. See, Bago City has enough amenities for a long stay.

The highlight of the day it seemed was the hour-long river cruise which had us float on the calm waters of Bago River. What a blast we had!!! Now, this is something to experience. Jaded city lovers will have their eyes opened to a different view of Negros Occidental. I can't wait to do it again. Sadya gid ya. And we enjoyed observing how the boatmen maneuvered flatboats they use to carry sand and gravel that they quarry from the river. A boatman uses a long pole, sticks it into the bottom of the river and moves the boat by walking from one end of the boat to the other. In effect, operating the boat requires total body movement and not just the arms. This surely beats going to the gym! Firm up while you earn!!

I'd like to thank the Bago City Officials for this esteemed invitation. Thank you, everyone, you made your city proud.