FINDING APO WHANG OD
Buscalan is a remote village located in the mountains of Kalinga. It has caught the attention of travelers who want to experience Philippine culture. The village is known to be the home of the last Mambabatok (Tattoo Artist) of the Butbut tribe. Apo Whang Od is the last of her tribe to have practiced their tattooing culture and continued it up to this day.
Going to the village was a challenge, as there was no established transportation going there. We went to Bontoc first to catch the jeepney that transport not just people but also goods to the villages in Kalinga. These jeepneys are bigger than the usual ones since they accommodate large numbers of passengers and goods. Since transportation is limited, it is common for it to be fully filled, top loads are allowed even if it is dangerous. Despite the risk, we didn’t waste the opportunity to ride on top as we could have a better view of the surroundings. To our surprise, the road in Kalinga is well paved with some rocks that you have to watch out for that have fallen from the slopes of the mountains.
THE ROAD TO BUSCALAN
Everywhere we look our amazement keeps on rising as wonders and experiences continuously presenting around us, from mountain ranges to valleys and rivers. We even saw a storm form above us and after a few more minutes it started to rain. Remember that we were at the top of the jeepney? We were soaked and cold! The driver hurriedly covered us with a huge tarpaulin and stayed there for a while. It was hard to move and we were starting to feel uncomfortable. Fortunately, we stopped at a village where some of the goods were dropped. We went down off the jeepney and took cover at a house nearby. Luckily, we were offered free coffee to compensate for the cold. It was a challenging experience but also fun and memorable.
As soon as the rain stopped, we returned to the top of the jeepney. Our trip is finally coming to an end as our vehicle advances going up the mountains where Buscalan is located. And to our surprise, a gift from Mother Nature started to show in front of us — two bright and huge rainbows. We were wet and cold but that view made us more grateful for that experience. It planted happiness and warmth in our hearts.
There are no roads going directly to Buscalan so we have to trek from the drop-off point going there. Locals started to gather around us as they presented themselves as guides for our stay in the village. We got a teenage girl named Leslie and she led us to our homestay. There are no hotels in the village instead, local families offer their homes to tourists (with unlimited coffee ;p).
It was late when we arrived at the village, darkness started to crawl at the horizon. Apo Whang Od was not feeling well that afternoon so we decided to have the tattoo the next day. That night, we met two French travelers and we happily shared stories and drinks with them. Before going to sleep, we looked outside our window and saw the sea of stars on top of us, it was quite a view.
APO WHANG OD
The next day we were finally getting our tattoo but Apo Whang Od’s hands were still not feeling well that morning. Despite not being tattooed by her, we still had a photo taken with her. Instead of having our tattoo with Apo, our foster family introduced us to their daughter, Chelsea, who was taught by Whang Od herself. She and the other younger generations of their village are starting to bring back their tattooing culture.
At first, I had mixed feelings if I should get a tattoo or not but eventually, I gave in to my friends’ words. Chelsea started making the ink made from charcoal/ash and brought out the needles, huge thorns from a tree. My friends chose the Prayer and Standing Eagle. I chose the “Arrow Head” symbol which means movement or direction. It is a reminder for me to take action, to move forward despite challenges. It was painful but we were also proud to have a part of our Filipino culture as part of ourselves.
IF YOU WANT TO SEE MORE DESTINATIONS IN THE CORDILLERA, YOU CAN CHECK OUT MY CORDILLERAS TRAVEL GUIDE!
TRAVEL GUIDE & TIPS
HOW TO GET THERE:
- From Banaue, ride a van going to Bontoc, Mountain Province. Upon arriving in Bontoc, you can ask the driver to drop you off near Bontoc Public Market
- From the market, you can walk to the Mountain Province State Polytechnic College. The jeepney going to Buscalan is located beside the school.
- The jeepney will travel around Kalinga to drop off goods and passengers along the way. The tourists are then dropped off near the village. It is the jeepney’s last destination before it will go back to Bontoc.
- From the drop-off, local guides will lead you to the village. An hour and a half of trekking.
- There are no hotels/inns in Buscalan. Instead, local families offer their homes to tourists for a reasonable amount. By the way, included in the payment is their unlimited homegrown brewed coffee. Not bad eh? 😀
- When riding the jeepney, always be mindful and careful, there are parts of the trip when you may lose your balance. Hold tight to the railings.
- Apo Whang Od is 100+ years old, so having your tattoo may take some time especially when she is not feeling well. Other members of their tribe are now also doing tattooing. You can wait for Apo or have it from them
- It can be so cold at night so bring jackets to keep you warm.
- Payment for the tattoo comes with different prices depending on the size and what symbol you want.
- They sell homegrown grounded coffee just ask them if you’re interested in buying.
- Food can be bought in the village and have your foster family cook for you for a small amount of fee.