Where: Village Town of Buscalan in Kalinga, Cordillera Administrative Region, Luzon, PH
Who: Mr & Mrs Wanderlust
When: November 2014
What: Get inked by the last traditional tattoo artist in the culture rich and ancient highlands of Kalinga.
The small village of Buscalan is tucked in the Cordillera Mountain Ranges shrouded in clouds of mist with a very nice breathtaking view of the rice terraces that their ancestors proudly made with their bare hands thousands of years ago. The village is a secluded community and can only be reached through small trails on steep mountain slopes and cliffs on the side.
Buscalan is the home of the Butbut Tribe, once known for its fierce headhunting warriors among the Cordillera groups of people. The Kalinga warriors were really good at combat, so they were effective at bringing back plenty of heads. In fact, Kalingas were such good warriors that even through the course of four hundred years of foreign occupation from Spain, the United States and Japan, Kalinga was one of few places in the Philippines that did not come under direct foreign rule or occupation. The last generation of these warriors fought during World War II as Japanese forces attempted to take over the mountains. Needless to say, those Japanese soldiers who were captured had their heads taken.
This practice has long been discontinued. Now, it has recently gained tourism favors because of its respected elder Apo Whang-od who holds the recognition as the oldest and last surviving traditional Kalinga tattoo artist.
1 hour local flight from Manila to Tugegarao Airport, that would get you to Tugegarao city that has buses or vans to Tabuk City which is around 56km, not sure though about travel time because this wasn't our option. But upon asking friends from area, they say it is just an hour or so jeepney ride from Tugegarao to Tabuk for around 100PHP.
1. Take Victory Liner bound for Tabuk from Kamias station in Quezon City. There are also stations in Pasay and Sampaloc. For schedule and fare matrix, please refer to their website or you may call +63 2 9207396. (We chose 8:30PM First class bus @ Sampaloc Terminal.)
2. Manila to Tabuk is approximately 466 kilometers or about 11 hours on the road (with a few stopovers in Nueva Vizcaya).
3. ETA in Bulanao, Tabuk is around 5:00AM. Get off in front of St. William’s Church and you will also not miss the White Carabao statue. Note that it is too early for the first trip to Tinglayan. You may want to use this time for early breakfast. (We also heard mass at the church - you know the saying, you get 1 wish for visiting a new church).
4. No fixed terminal for Tinglayan jeepneys and mini-buses but you can find them along the national highway, a few walks from the church. First trip normally leaves at 7:00 - 8:00AM. This takes about 2 hours on long zig-zag road. Prepare anti-dizziness tabs especially if you’re top-loading.
5. Look for the mini-bus or jeepney that goes to Bontoc. Make sure you drop off in Mar-u in Barangay Bugnay. Fare is about P120.
6. Mar-u, is exactly where the first part of the trail to what they call as Turning Point begins. The easier but longer trail is through that paved road about 5 kilometers uphill. Best to take this route going up. The marker is a wooden / bamboo gate. The shorter way is through the dugout steps on the sides of the mountain. This is about 2-kilometer steep climb. Ask the locals where to pass. Drivers know where Mar-u is. Best to take this route coming down.
7. From the turning point starts the long walk to Buscalan. This takes about 2-3 hours depending on your stamina and leg strength. Take a slow walk. Whang-od can see you from her village on the other side of the mountain. But for this part, you can have your local contact/guide help you rent a motorcycle ride up to the waiting shed for only 90PHP each which will cut down your hike by half.
8. From the 'waiting shed' vehicles and even motorcycles cannot pass through anymore, and will just have to hike by foot, with just enough space for you to walk, left side are rocks of the mountain, and right side is a good 200 feet cliff with the majestic view of their rice terraces. This hike still depending on your pace may take 1 hour or even less.
9. You will cross bridges without bars to hold to, so just look straight if you are afraid of heights. You should pass by waterfalls, which means you are 75% near the village. You can choose to have a swim break at the waterfalls with hot spring.
10. Finally you should pass by another waiting shed, you can catch your breath here after a long uphill walk, which means you are just a few steps away to a gate made to ward off pigs going out of the village. There you would see immediately the house of Apo Whang-Od, the village elder and the master of the Art of Batok. And for sure there would be friendly villagers that would give your warm welcome.
Via Bontoc: Ohayami Bus and Florida Bus P450 for 8-9 hrs. Both bus lines run nightly trips which leaves around 7 PM. Florida Bus offers From Banaue, hop on a jeepney bound to Bontoc P100. Then from Bontoc, another jeep 5 hour Bus or Jeep ride to Tinglayan, or Bugnay (wherever you are planning to meet your guide).
Before planning on this trip, we would like to note that: There are NO hotels or commercial establishments in the remote village of Buscalan. There are however inns to stay in the near village of Luplupa in Tinglayan. which is another 2-3 hour hike to the town.
Or you can simply live like the locals and culturally immerse yourself. This will make you realize more things in life. Trust us on this. Anyway, Home-stays are common and the locals like most Filipinos, always gives a welcoming feeling. Prices are around 250PHP - 500PHP or even higher depending on what was agreed upon like food inclusive etc..
> Don’t ever expect to sleep on a mattress.
> There is no cell phone signal in area. Prepare to be disconnected from the net but connected to nature.
> Your host family may prepare food taken from their backyard. Be ready to be served with farmland frogs, miskitu (tiny fish from the ricefield) or just bland mung beans. Or if you are not the adventurous type, you can bring your own food but be prepared to share with the family.
> There has been electricity but only for basic such as lights, so you can also charge phone, but useless as there is no signal.
> Whang-od’s house is also open to accommodate you. Grace, her future successor also offers her home for tourists.
> There is no need to panic on accommodations, there’s more room for everyone.
> Not every home has a private toilet and bath. There’s a communal bath near the basketball court or you may wish to take a dip in the waterfalls.
> If your host family does not have a toilet, you may request to use Charlie’s toilet or some other homes like Apo’s and Grace’s.
> Water is fresh running from the river, if you are not good with that, then we suggest you bring your own bottled water. But for the record, we have drank their water many times, it tastes natural flavor (probably from the minerals), but it didn't upset our stomach or anything.
1. Marvel at the mountain ranges of Cordillera, and ask yourself how our ancestors built the rice terraces, in a time where there were no machines, just bare hands. Most of the locals believe that their ancestors were really stronger compared to the physique of people now using the help of machine for most of the work.
2. Swim at the Falls - on the hike up to Buscalan you should first hear the sound of water, which would be a sign that you are near the falls. You can choose to have a break here after a long, tiring hike, a dip into the cool waterfalls would be refreshing, and by the way there is also a hot spring there.
3. Live like the locals - living like the locals may mean that if they ask you to pound rice, or maybe help them in their rice fields. Also their food, from Pinikpikan Manok (battered chicken specialty), to Adobong Palaka (marinated farm frogs), and also snails and beans.
4. Get traditional tattoo tapped into your skin by the Master - We were star strucked by Apo Whang-Od at first seeing the generation before having full tattoo on their skin as a mark of beauty. However being a little older, she may retire from tattooing soon, but there is hope as master's student and grand niece, Grace is also helping out with tattooing, learning and still mastering the traditional art..
Depending on the number of tourists and being known in the tattoo world, Apo Whang-Od has been attracting lots of visitors from all over the world. It is very much possible that there is a queue for the tattoo, but you can go around the village while on queue, but if it is before dark, expect to resume the queue the next day.
5. Give gifts to the locals - Giving gifts is not mandatory or expected, but is very much welcomed. Our big backpacks only contained clothes for 2 nights, the rest are gifts needed by locals, such as medicines, sanitary kits, matches (they need a lot in the mountains instead of making fire from sticks and stones). and some say candies for the kids, but we say something healthy such as cookies or biscuits that will not decay their teeth so much with too much sugar. If you read more below, you can find specific gifts needed by people. But be careful with giving as you may attract a lot of attention and have your supplies depleted, we suggest have your local friend / guide let you help distribute the gifts/supplies.
6. Support the local people's crafts - We can help the indigenous' people way of life better by buying souvenirs that have been crafted, made or harvested by them (see what I'm saying here green man?). We bought nose flute, Kalinga arabica coffee, knives, herbs, and most of all the permanent one forever etched onto our skin, that will tell this story.
> Honestly, you can trek to Buscalan even without a guide. As soon as you reach the turning point, you will only need to follow the trail. There is only 1 road that leads to the village. However for first timers, we suggest you get a guide, hiking is hard, but hiking while lost (or thinking you are lost) is harder. Also a guide will be your translator.
> You are expected to be respectful of their culture and traditions.
> Be ready to be challenged to live the Kalinga way. They sometimes bring you to the rice paddies to plant the stalks.
> Always keep the area peaceful. Please avoid noise and being disrespectful. Buscalan is not a party place. You might be sent immediately down even at the wee hours of the night.
> Apo Whang-od expects you to pay for your tattoo. As a courtesy, DO NOT ever ask for the price first. Always anticipate that price starts from P500 to P3000 depending on the size of your tattoo.
> Apo Whang-od expects that you have not drunk alcohol or taken drugs before you get inked. This is the standard. Herbal is okay and tolerated though.
> Bring your trash out of Buscalan, unless your host firmly says they will take care of your trash.
Transportation - Bus - Manila to Tabuk (1st class bus) - 750PHP each
Transportation - Bus - Tabuk City to Bugnay - 120 PHP each
Transportation - Motorcycle from Turning Point to waiting shed - 90 PHP each
Accommodation - Tinglayan / Bugnay Inn's - 500 - 1000 PHP per day
Accommodation - Local's house in Buscalan - 250 - 500 PHP per day
Food - Request for killing a smaller pig for and cooking for dinner - 4,500 PHP
Souvenir - Knife - depending on size 150 - 200 - 300PHP
Souvenir - Tattoo from Whang-Od - 500 - 3000PHP depending on size
Souvenir - Kalinga Coffee - 200 PHP per pack
Guide Fee - 1,000 PHP per day
The famous guide, Francis Pa-In his contact is 0915-769-0843. Francis is recommended as he speaks a butbut dialect which is local dialect, that is different from Sagada, Ifugao dialects where other guides are from. And also knows a lot of facts from history and culture. Francis wasn't our guide as he had another client on our date so he recommended his brother in law.
Romy Valde is Francis' brother in law and also serves as a guide, contact him at 0916-403-1208.
Things to Bring as gifts for locals:
It is better giving than receiving. And how better is it to give to our indigenous people from the village deprived of supply due to the gov't neglect and very hard logistics of getting supplies up the mountains.
Few days before our trip we bought dozen packs different necessities needed and requested by locals:
1. Paracetamol (biogesic) for fevers
2. Ibuprofen (Alaxan) - for muscle pains, rheuma, needed by elders
3. Cough and Colds medicine (we are no doctor but heard some asking for antibiotics)
4. Boxes of Matches (being in the mountains, it is a necessity instead of using stick and stones)
5. Biscuits. cookies, canned goods, or other food that is nutritious and healthy.
6. Clothes for kids, babies, and jackets for adults are most welcome.
7. Sanitary kits, such as toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, alcohol, etc.
8. School supplies, pencil, crayons, notebooks, or donate EDUCATIONAL books to school.
Candies for kids are not encouraged as they just litter the wrappers, and are not healthy, and too much sugar also damages their teeth.
And finally, if you just have to know what we gifts we gave:
We gave Apo Whang-Od supplies of medicine, matches, soft biscuits great for old people without teeth, a Queso de bola that can be shared for her whole family as a gift since it is nearing Christmas. A sweater, a warm beanie (bonnet like head gear) and finally a nice rare necklace from Jordan / Syria with precious stones. Looks like Whang-Od liked our gifts as she was teary eyed and smiling while immediately putting on the necklace.
We also gave Grace a perfume, kikay kit (make-up). As we hope that she liked it too.
And finally we left our host, with the rest of canned goods for his family, clothes for his kids, medicine supplies, and of course other healthy snacks such as biscuits and just a few candy for the kids as well.
It really feels good to help and at the same time enjoy the simple things in life. Makes you appreciate what you have even more. But the community needs help and this is where responsible, sustainable and purposive tourism comes in. We can all make a difference by giving back to the community that opened its once silent and elusive village to us lowlanders and city dwellers.
Krutak, Lars (2010). Kalinga Tattoo: Ancient and Contemporary Expressions of the Tribal. Aschaffenburg: Edition Reuss.
Krutak, Lars ; Discovery Network - (March 2009). Discovery: Tattoo Hunter - Kalinga, Philippines
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