By Jojo Mangahis / Pacific Times

One of the participating decorated kalesas in the recently held Viva Vigan Binatbatan Festival of the Arts . PIA PHOTO

Horse-drawn “kalesas” remain relevant to Vigan City as they help keep the air clean by not spewing pollutants the way modern motorized vehicles do.

As public safety officer Jennifer Racsa puts it, “this is the effect of the 161 kalesas in Vigan City’s air.”

Hailed as the major public and private vehicle in the 1940s to 1980s, the “kalesa” has now transformed into the tourists’ official carriage in this city.

Amidst the presence of motorized vehicles, the “kalesa” continues to move foreign and local visitors to different tourist spots around this UNESCO World Heritage site — Calle Crisologo and Crisologo Museum, Archbishop’s Palace, the Bantay church and bell tower, National Museum Ilocos Region Complex, Bulala pottery makers and abel Iloco weavers, Baluarte, Syquia Mansion Museum and the Saint Paul Cathedral among others.

Thus to honor these kalesas, the yearly Kalesa Parade of Viva Vigan Binatbatan Festival of the Arts is mounted.

The parade showcases sponsored kalesas competing as best dressed by utilizing various materials such as abel Iloco and indigenous materials such as corn husks, seeds and flowers, bamboo chicken coop, capiz, Vigan window frames, tiger grass brooms, buri fans, hats, and mats, or other recyclable materials.

Aesthetic is not the main criteria though as the kalesa design must also reflect the culture, religion, history and arts of Vigan and the way of life of its people.

For instance, in the recent festivity, one kalesa was elaborately designed with the façade of the Simbaan a Bassit or the Cemetery Chapel, the heart of the festival.

This church houses “Apo Lakay”, the Crucified Christ, who is acknowledged as the savior of the people during the 1882 epidemic that took the lives of 934 residents.