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Hot-Aw sa Albay

Sunday, 6 May 2012

I've lost count of how many times I've been to Albay, but my most recent trip was particularly special.

As soon as I got off on the tarmac, I was overwhelmed by majestic Mayon. I've never seen her like that--naked, cloudless, jaw-droppingly beautiful!

Yes, I know about the local belief that when you can no longer see Mayon's peak,
you've seen other 'more interesting' things :)
I was in the province for a sustainability workshop on health, but our Albayanon partners were such gracious hosts, we managed to squeeze in some local activities.

We ate at DJC so that we could have their famous halo-halo for dessert. My colleagues and our partners must have mentioned this more than a dozen times during our breaks that I had very high expectations already.  Good thing it lived up to the good reviews.  At P75, this summer chiller is definitely a yummy steal!

I think Beyonce is the perfect endorser for this dessert.
Why? :D

"It's like I've been awakened
Every (diet) rule I (am now) breakin'
It's the risk that I'm takin'
I ain't never gonna shut you out //
I can feel your halo (halo) halo,
I can see your halo, halo, halo..."

Fine, ako na ang corny, haha. 

My biggest high definitely came in the afternoon, when I got first dibs on the dish used for the Albay Hat-aw "chili viand-eating festival."

It's impossible to talk about siling labuyo, the Philippines' ultimate red, hot, chili pepper of choice, without thinking about Albayanons or Bicolanos in general. Their ability and fondness in consuming these little spice devils have become household knowledge throughout the country. It was fun to discover that they have kept this tradition alive through the said contest.

If I remember correctly, the chili-eating competition is already on its 15th year (talk about staying power!). It's one of the highlights of the Magayon Festival, a month-long celebration of all things bright and beautiful in Albay.

It was originally handled by the Department of Agriculture, and contestants used to be given pure chili to eat during the competition's earlier years. Back then, some people would pass out, overwhelmed by the spice. The LGU, recognizing the need to make this as safe and enjoyable for everyone, decided to hand the reigns to the Provincial Health Office (PHO).

Since then, slight modifications were made. Male and female categories were set.  Careful screening of participants is implemented prior to the contest, with select PHO staff conducting physical exams to check medical history and overall health.  Instead of pure chili, the PHO now makes use of chili-laden viands such as Laing and Bicol Express.

When I heard that as a treat, the PHO would allow me to taste these viands (if I wanted to), I stared into the full pot.  Bicol Express, the viand of  my choice, really looked like it had a lot of chili.  It even smelled of chili. Naturally, it must taste a lot like chili!  Basta, maanghang/maharang!

I was hesitant because even some PHO staff refused to give it a go. I like spicy food myself, but only in moderation.

Warning: I look absolutely hideous in this video (we had a packed consultation/facilitation meeting all day--haggard! haha, excuses), but hopefully, it will give you a better understanding of what I tried.


Insane right?

The actual competition was personally, a little painful, amusing and scary to watch. I swear, some contestants looked like they were turning blue (the sili was just too hot!) but they didn't seem to mind.  I'm so glad emergency staff were standing by!

I also met the three-time female winner of the competition, her royal 'hotness,' The Sili Queen!

The lady in white is a hall of famer.  She's the undisputed sili-eating champion! :)

While watching,  I gorged on fishballs, kik(yum!), and cotton candy. I miss fiestas where one could just get lost in a crowd, celebrate traditions and be with great company.

We also passed by the public plaza for some pasalubong shopping. Aside from the province's famous pili, my workmate bought bayongs (colorful native bags) while I got this statement accessory from one of the booths.

*insert Paris hilton voice here* that's hot, haha =p

To top the experience off, we had a successful activity the following day.  The Albayanon participants were not very dedicated and welcoming.  They were such a happy bunch, I couldn't help but fall in love!

For me, Mayon province is not just a tourist attraction but a traveler's destination. :)


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