Bull Riding and a Mountain Roast

With cerulean blue waters, coral-sand beaches, and lush mountain retreats, the Philippines has much to recommend it as a travel and retirement destination. And if you’re in the mood to celebrate, head to the Philippines this January. Here, in the city of Iloilo on Panay Island, you’ll be greeted with Dinanyang, a Thanksgiving-like celebration that commemorates the arrival of the island’s first settlers, centuries ago. These days, it’s a feast of tribal dancing that helps people embrace a collective euphoria, free themselves from the everyday, and welcome the year to come. In homage to the area’s tribes, locals adorn their faces with stripes of yellow paint and loincloths of green, orange, yellow, and red, before performing wonderfully choreographed dances through the streets of the city.

Christchurch, New Zealand, is a great city to visit at this time of year. It’s summer, with temperatures peaking in the comfortable mid-70s F. Perfect weather for busking. For over 20 years now, buskers (from acrobats to comedians, from hula-hoopers to burlesque dancers) have descended on the city in January for the World Buskers Festival. It’s a celebration of street performance, and more than 60 buskers of all stripes, from all over the world will gather to entertain. Add this diversion to a trip that might include exploring the city’s colorful Botanic Gardens, many art exhibitions, and sampling the renowned wines of the surrounding Canterbury region.

A burning mountain is usually a cause for panic rather than celebration. Not the case near the city of Nara, Japan, on January 21. That’s when the annual Yamayaki (“mountain roast”) takes place. Following a rip-roaring fireworks display, the grass on the slopes of Mount Wakakusa is set ablaze. By the end of the night, the burning 1,122-foot-tall mountain can be seen across the city. The origins of this bizarre ritual are unknown, but there are a few rumors. One holds that the locals were tired of having their crops raided by the wild boars living on the mountain’s slopes, and so they set it ablaze to drive them out. Another claims that it was started to settle a border dispute. In any case, Yamayaki today is used to show peace between Japan’s two main religions, Shintoism and Buddhism. A cross-denominational, torch-lit parade is led to the base of the mountain on the afternoon, before the fireworks, burning, and partying commence.

A tinder-dry Japanese mountain may be easy to burn in January. But the snow-capped peaks of the French Alps offer a study in contrasts. These mountains play host to one of the world’s longest dogsled races. La Grande Odyssée Savoie Mont Blanc, from January 7 to 18, sees teams of dogs travel over 460 miles through the departments of Savoie and Haute-Savoie, on the border with Italy and Switzerland. But don’t worry—you don’t need a sled and a team of huskies to enjoy this event. There’ll be fireworks to welcome the dogs (and their human cargo) at every stop along the way. You can enjoy campfires and mulled wine in the French Alps, and try your hand at igloo-building and driving your own sled (if you think you can handle it). All the while, you’ll be enjoying magnificent mountain views.

If you’re in the mood for something warmer this January, make your way to Costa Rica’s capital, San José, for Fiestas Zapote, the country’s biggest rodeo event. The fiercest bulls from across the country are brought to the city for one of Costa Rica’s biggest annual events. It takes place in the city’s Zapote district. And while experienced bull-riders will show off their prowess, you’re more than welcome to try your hand at it, too—if you’re brave enough.


Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. Delivered straight to your door each month, we delve into the details you need to take action. We share our contacts. We lay out the pluses and minuses. And we keep you up-to-date on the latest developments with the best havens abroad, including…7 Great Retirement Towns You’ve Never Heard of…

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