Thinking of going to Marinduque this Holy Week season? Think again. This island famous for its Moriones Festival gets its most number of visitors during this season. But if you’re brave enough to join the throng of people who are willing to wait at Lucena port to get on a boat to Marinduque, willing to sleep at make-shift lodging places and fall in line for food at the few restaurants opened during the holidays, then you will be rewarded with the spectacle of colors of the Philippines’ most popular Lenten festival.
We did it a few years back, and we spent most of our time waiting, particularly in getting in to Marinduque. But it was fun!
When our group of motley travelers drove to Lucena on a Holy Tuesday night, we thought everything was going to be fine. Traffic was still light when we left Manila. We figured that if we could reach the port before midnight we could catch the early Ro-Ro boat Marinduque. I was wrong.
When we reached Dalahican Port, cars were already filling up to the gate. When we asked the officer how long these cars were waiting, he told us since that morning. He wrote a number on my car’s tire and told us to queue in line and wait for our number to be called.
And we waited. Midnight came and we didn’t hear our number being called. We waited and waited. The sun finally came up, and our line hardly moved. We continued waiting. By early morning, the ship crew member came to our line asking if any SUV is willing to drive down from the platform to fill the last remaining space on the boat as the regular passenger cars could not be able to manage the high clearance. We immediately raised our hands.
We arrived in Boac almost at noontime. We were all tired but were all eager to experience the Moriones Festival. It is said that each town in Marinduque has its own unique ways of celebrating this festival. So, we did not want to miss the chance of seeing it all.
All over the island, there are masked men who roam the streets from Holy Monday to Easter Sunday. These “mask” or “Morion” is worn as part of the medieval Roman armor that covers the face. These masked and costume peninents (or ‘Moriones’), who are mostly farmers and fishermen on ordinary days, march around town searching for a man named Longinus.
The Moriones actually reenacts the story of this Longinus, the Roman centurion who was blind in one eye. According to legend, Longinus pierced the side of the crucified Jesus Christ. The blood of Jesus that spurted forth touched his blind eye and fully restored his sight. The miracle converted Longinus to Christianity but earned the ire of his fellow centurions. The reenactment reaches its climax when Longinus is found and then beheaded.
How to get there
Drive south from Manila via South Luzon Expressway, exit at Santo Tomas in Batangas, and continue drive to San Pablo in Laguna, and Tiaong, Candeleria and Sariaya and up to Lucena, all in Quezon province. From there, proceed to Dalahican Port where there are regular Montenegro and Starhorse Ro-Ro boats (three-hour trip) to Balanacan Port in Mogpog or Cawit in Boac, Marinduque.
A more convenient way to travel to Marinduque is to take the so-called “door-to-door” service of JAC Liner (available at Cubao and Buendia terminals). For less than P1,000, a designated JAC bus takes passengers direct from Manila to Boac.
An alternative way is to take any bus going to Dalahican, then take any ferry going to Balanacan or Cawit (in Boac), and from there take a jeepney to Boac.
What to see, what to do
Holy Week in Marinduque is a mix of the religious, commercial, solemn and frivolous. The center of the whole activity is the Moriones Festival and it attracts thousands of visitors, from the religious to the curious.
The Moriones Festival starts on Holy Monday with a Holy Mass at the Morion Arena in Boac. This is followed by a Community Parade of Costumes where the people of Boac walk the streets in Morion-inspired costumes of biblical characters, turning the town of Boac into a mini-Jerusalem.
By Monday afternoon, masked men and women garbed in costumes of Roman soldiers start roaming the streets of all the towns of Marinduque searching for Longinus, a Roman centurion who was blind in one eye. So, it is best to do a circumferential drive of the whole Marinduque and see how each and every town celebrates the Moriones Festival.
In between, visitors can check out the exhibits at the Boac Museum or visit many of the ancestral houses lining up the streets of Boac. Those who wish to cool down can visit the nearby Malbog Sulfur Springs or the White Beach of Poctoy. Those who prefer to explore the island can climb Mount Malindig or go spelunking at Bathala and the many caves of Santa Cruz. Visitors can also hire a boat from Buyabod Pier, and visit the Palad Sandbar and the beautiful Maniwaya Island.
Where to stay, what to eat
Finding a place to stay during Holy Week in Marinduque is not easy. Popular hotels in Boac like Tahanansa Isok, Boac Hotel and Happy Bunny are likely to be booked already, but it is still worth calling them to check if they have vacancies. It is also possible to look for lodging places in Poctoy or one can bring a tent and camp at the beach. Another alternative is to check Airbnb, as there are now a few private houses offering home stay.
For dining, those doing home stay will have the advantage of trying the island’s home-cooked meals, particularly freshly-cooked seafood. Marinduque is also famous for its pansit miki, a local concoction made from freshly-made noodles, vegetables and seafood like shrimps and squids.
Marinduque is called the “heart of the Philippines” not only because it is located at the center of the archipelago, but also because of the warmth of its people.