Getting inked - the Buscalan way!

Whang-Od 2015
Whang-Od with WeTravelFearlessly
It was April 2015 when the team decided to visit the famous Buscalan village in Kalinga. Home to the butbut tribe and the world famous Apo Whang-Od (or Fang-Od), the last mambabatok.

Here's a quick bibliography of our legend:

Whang-Od (Whang-od Oggay) was born on February 17, 1917. Considered as the last mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist) from the Butbut tribe of Buscalan, Kalinga, and the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines. She's been the tattoo artist of the headhunters and warriors of old. She lost her boyfriend at age 25 during the Japanese occupation. She was never married and has no children. Before, "Batok" [the traditional hand-tapped Filipino tattoo] is primarily given to headhunters as a symbol of honor for protecting villages or for killing enemies. Given that headhunting and tribe wars are just stories of the past, this sacred art of tattooing now became part of Buscalan's various attractions.

We were totally clueless about this trip, our sources limited, dependent largely on online blogs, Facebook friends and online documentaries. The journey itself holds many hazards and is time-consuming but the destination is definitely worth it. Below is our itinerary, along with the do's and don'ts.


Day 1

It was one hell of a trip! We thought that Manila-Baguio-Banaue-Bontoc-Tinglayan will be the fastest, but we were wrong. We arrived in Baguio and things got more interesting because lo and behold, we got lost. We asked some cab drivers and thankfully we were pointed to the right direction. We traversed the never ending road of Banaue in the middle of the night and it became really dangerous since it's foggy, dark and rainy. It felt like we were inside a horror movie.

4:00PM - 7:00AM: We left Manila around 4:00PM. The team is composed of one active and experienced traveler, one is in hibernation, and 3 novices carrying with them only their wits and courage.
The magnificent rice terraces
The magnificent rice terraces
The way to Buscalan, Tinglayan
The way to Buscalan, Tinglayan
One of the bridges going to Tinglayan
The way to Buscalan, Tinglayan is not well developed
The team reached Tinglayan around 7:00AM thinking it's the jump-off point going to Buscalan but then we realized that we missed the jump-off point about a few kilometers back. We then just decided to rest and eat breakfast in the Sleeping Beauty Inn.
The Sleeping Beauty Inn, Tinglayan, Kalinga
The Sleeping Beauty Inn
7:00AM - 8:00AM: I took a nap while the others prepare and socialize with the locals. Three of my friends decided to explore the town and was able to befriend the former mayor of Tinglayan, Mr. Fernando Abay.
Picture taking with Mr. Fernando Abay
Former Tinglayan Mayor, Fernando Abay (Middle) 
We were expecting our tour guide Francis Pa-in (one of the famous Buscalan local tour guide) to meet us but we've been waiting for a couple of hours now and still no message or sign of him.

Anyway, we've learned that the Sleeping Beauty Inn got its name after the famous Sleeping Beauty mountain (locals call it Mount Mating-oy Dinayao). The mountain is called as such because the silhouette of the northern ridge resembles a sleeping woman.
On the way to Tinglayan village proper, you will see a spot where you can see Mount Mating-oy Dinayao in its full glory
On the way to Tinglayan village proper, you will see a spot where you can see Mount Mating-oy Dinayao in its full glory
A view of Mount Mating-oy Dinayao
Mount Mating-oy Dinayao
The team also visited the famous Chico river (locals called it the River of Life) at the back of the inn. They were able to see a portion of this 174.67 km river stretching from the Cordillera Mountains before combining to the Cagayan River system.
A part of Chico River
The Chico River
After a little nap and couple of wandering around, the team was interviewed by the local ABS-CBN crew, I guess they are making headlines regarding the tourist flocking to the north.
ABS-CBN crew covering the tour to Kalinga
Funny because we are really not expecting that the team will be interviewed

We've decided to skip the waiting game and asked Mr. Abay's help. He then told us to meet his old friend, Kosme, who is residing near the trail going to Buscalan. We bid farewell to this awesome guy and headed to our destination as instructed.

8:00AM - 9:00AM: We went immediately to Kosme's house near the jump-off to Buscalan Village. The terrain was very muddy and wet since it rained earlier in the morning. We arrived at his place and he willingly offered us to safeguard our car. Then, off we went to the village.
A Toyota Innova parked just before the jump-off to Buscalan
ZEP266 outside Mang Kosme's house
Traveling to Kalinga with my wife
Couples on their way to the jump-off point
9:00AM - 11:30AM: Tour guide-less, we still pushed through the jump-off point and started this tiring journey up the village. At first, it was an easy breezy-almost-flat terrain, except for the narrow walkways and cliffs which add up to the thrill.
Starting point going to Buscalan
The beginning of the end 
The way up to Kalinga
One of the makeshift bridge, it can only fit one person and the worst? Below those bridges is a long drop
After a pretty "okay" start, some of the novices are starting to get tired. The sun was on its highest - exhaustion coupled with shortness of breath due to the high altitude and dehydration took over us.
The climb is a mix of descending and ascending stairs
After a small descend steps, it's time for the ascend
One of our mistake - climbing when the sun as at its highest and carrying heavy packs. The climb usually takes only an hour or less as locals would say but we did it for 2 hours.

Almost on top, a young lad named Kenneth helped us with our stuff and rested in a small hut just before the village entrance. When we arrived, we quickly found ourselves in a beautiful, rustic and peaceful village. Finally, the famous village of Buscalan.

11:30AM - 7:00PM: Kenneth offered us his home located in the rear most part of the village alongside some of the rice paddies. It's a comfy 2-story hut. It was lunchtime when we arrived but some of us have decided to rest and recover. It was really cold and serene, great for resting our travel-weary bodies.

It was foggy and rainy that time which was a good signal to just mingle and relax. We can't help but be astonished by Kenneth's artwork drawn all over their house.
Weed art in Buscalan
Definitely, welcome to heaven!
Cloudy weather in Buscalan, Kalinga
It was really cloudy with a chance of rain that time
Weed art in Buscalan, Kalinga
Some of Kenneth's artwork
The locals of Buscalan loves music
Guitar session with the locals
They love all things about Marijuana
It's good for you, go green!
The Buscalan natives are very hospitable
They are so kind enough that they will cook rice for you
After resting for a while, we're presented with canned goods for lunch, which during that time felt like eating in a fine dine-in, class-a chow because we were really hungry!

After our hearty lunch, we went to Apo Whang-Od and see if we can get tattooed that day but were told that the queue is really long and Apo Whang-Od can only stay up until 4:00PM. So, we have decided to just wander around town.

We met a pretty foreigner and offered her to stay in our hut. We called her "Titikaka" coined by some members of our team. Kenneth told us that he will prepare tinola for dinner. While prepping up for the night, we decided to drink and enjoy with our new found friends, getting pumped up about the tattoo session waiting the next day.

DAY 2

5:30AM - 11:00AM: Tattoo day! Since most of us were tired from the previous day, one of our team members decided to wake up early to visit Apo Whang-Od's hut. He gave his signature Superman shirt to her as a remembrance and was offered breakfast and coffee by the legend herself.
Apo Whang-Od wakes up early to prepare for a long day ahead
Apo Whang-Od early in the morning
Whang-Od is very kind that she will invite you for breakfast
His signature Superman T-shirt
Since we don't have a tour guide, we've learned that there is a queue/schedule per batch assigned by the guides themselves. Good thing Kenneth was able to hook us up and queued us just in time.
There are published books that you can read to learn Buscalan's history
You'll get to read some historical facts about their tribe
Only Buscalan warriors can wear unique batoks
Some batok can only be tattooed to their warrior

Whang-Od will forever live in her granddaughters'
Apo Whang-Od and her granddaughter Elyang Wigan going hand-in-hand with the Crab tattoo (it means Traveler)
One of the two granddaughters of Whang-Od who also practice the art of batok
Grace Palicas (one of Apo Whang-Od's granddaughter)
Though one of our member was not tattooed, she was greeted and entertained by Apo Whang-Od, they even got a nice picture together!
Princess Jeveney Teofisto and Whang-Od
She's very kind and would love some pictures with the tourists
Andrei and Pricess Teofisto with Whang-Od
We are very lucky to have her in this picture
Immediately after our batok initiation, we pack our stuff up. We decided to take some pictures together for this epic time of our life.
Buscalan beauties
Last day in Buscalan
Buscalan, Kalinga - WeTravelFearlessly
Great experience, great company!
11:30AM - 12:30NN: We decided to head down as fast as we could for fear of getting caught up in the rain. We got down easily with some resting between points.

12:30NN - 3:00AM: The long way home began but this time we took a much easier route via Cervantes road.

(PRO-TIP: Make sure you stock-up snacks/food and water as this route has only 1 stopover where you can eat)
Don't travel without food! Long drive ahead!
Last meal was lunch, it's already past 10PM where we had our dinner somewhere in Ilocos Sur
We arrived in Manila around 3:00AM, via TPLEX>SCTEX>NLEX. It's a straightforward route and it will cut your travel time by 2-3 hours.

It was a very tiring adventure but it was the most memorable. Up until now, I still can't believe that I've been to Buscalan and met Apo Whang-Od face to face. Can't wait to go back very soon, so long Buscalan!
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