Monday, March 27, 2017

Kalinga's Hidden Gem

March - I can feel the heat of Summer, so my mind starts to wander to places I could spend my little vacation to.
Me and my friend talked about getting to Cagbalete, Quezon for the holy week's long weekend. But I had a changed of mind as the days go near. I told her that I want to go to Kalinga instead because I beaches are probably full of people during summer and I don't like being on the beach on peak seasons. But just like what happen on typical trip plans, someone is gonna cancel.

But I wanted to go to Kalinga badly. So, since I was decided to push through the trip I started researching for travel blogs that share cheap itinerary for Kalinga. After getting the details on how to get there and talking to the tour guide I got from one of the blogs, I am so determined to reach my first destination for 2016.

One thing made me worry about this trip is that if the bus line will operate during Good Friday because some bus lines don't. Luckily, when I called them they confirmed. So I went to the bus station a week before my travel date to get a ticket. I got my ticket from Victory Liner in Sampaloc going to Tabuk, Kalinga. I booked for the first class bus for 820 PHP because it will be the first one to depart.

So, I confirmed with my tour guide Oliver Luis (that's his name) that I'll be arriving in Kalinga on Saturday morning. You may contact Oliver here- 0939 774 1477.

I have a week to prepare. I did a little grocery shopping for the things I needed to bring before getting there 'coz according to the blogs I've read it would be better if you have your own food while you're there as there is not much restaurant or eatery in Buscalan Village and it can be a little expensive when you buy food from the place.

Here is what I have for food for my entire stay in Buscalan: 2 liters of water, 3 ready to eat corned beef in tetra pack, 1 can of tuna, instant noodles and soft breads (mamon) lots of it. I also brought a pack of candy to be given to the kids there because on of the blogs says that kids in Buscalan really like candies and a pack of soft breads (mamon) to be given to Apo Whang-Od.

Most of the accommodations in Buscalan are homestays. My guide was the one who arranged my accommodation too. My accommodation is for 250 PHP/day and it is with free rice and coffee. Buscalan coffee is good by the way!

The bus left at the station at exactly 7:00 PM. I was asleep most of the time while on the bus. We reached Tabuk around 4:00 A.M. Unfortunately, there are no vans or jeepneys yet to ride on that will pass to Bugnay- the drop off going to Buscalan Village. So everyone who will go to Buscalan waited until around past 7:00 AM for the vans and jeepneys routed to Bontoc.

The trip from Tabuk to Bugnay takes about 3 hours because there will be some stop overs if you need to use a restroom. Jeepney's may take a little longer cause there are times that there are passengers to drop off somewhere along the route or pick up passengers.

While getting near to Bugnay I lost signal on my cellphone (cellphone signal specially globe are lost while on this location). I got a little worried when my signal went off because I don't know how I'll be able to meet my guide without texting him. So when I got off at Bugnay I went to a small waiting shed where some locals are resting. While approaching the shed they already asked me who is my guide and I tell them that it is Oliver and they call him from a far.

After meeting Oliver, we rode the motorcycle to half of the trail going up to Buscalan village. The ride is a little scary so you may want to take extra courage with you. :)
We rode another one before we start walking towards the village. Each motorcycle ride is 50 PHP.

We reached the village by past noon. I went directly first to the house where I'll be staying,my guide told me that the owner was his cousin. So I rested for a while there before going around the village and seeing Whang Od.

Rice paddies on top of the mountain.

I wanted to have my tattoo that day but I heard there was already too many people lined up to get one from her and knowing her age I think it will be best if I won't add up to the list that day and make her more tired from tattooing all these people.

So I just went to her house to take a peek of her because this was my most awaited time. To see the legendary Whang Od in person. I saw her doing a tattoo while in a squat/seating like position. I was amazed by this old lady.

After visiting her home, I went back to the house where I'll be staying, took a shower and then prepare for dinner. I also share some of my food with the family that I am staying with. After, eating dinner, I call it a day and sleep to get up early the next day so I'll be one of the first in line to get a tattoo from Whang Od. My guide said that she starts tattooing at around 7:00 or 8:00 AM.

So I got up at around 5:30 A.M. washed my face and prepared my things as I planned to go back to Manila once I got tattooed by her. My guide woke up by 6:00 A.M. and I had a cup of coffee while waiting for him to accompany me to Whang Od.

We went to Whang Od's house by 6:30 A.M. and we saw her sitting in front of her house with a cup of coffee. She was being surrounded by the other elders on the village. My guide says that they are having a meeting and they are asking for her assistance for the upcoming graduation at their village's school.

My guide told me that the elders were officials on their village and they are asking for monetary assistance from Whang Od. I am not sure if this is true because I don't really understand their dialect. But I told him if only I knew I could have done something to contribute for the event before I got there.

At around 7:00 AM she is already preparing to her things for tattooing. Unfortunately, even if we were there so early I wasn't the first in line. There were two guys who she tattooed first. The first one was from the middle east, I forgot what exactly his nationality is. He got the tribe's symbol for sun.
By the way, nowadays, they already have a board or the guides will show you a notebook where the symbols were drawn and their meaning. You can choose what symbol you would like to have for your tattoo.

The next guy had the symbol for travelers tattooed and he is a Filipino, so while we were waiting for our turns, me and the other by standers get to know each other and chit chat when Whang Od asked the guide to tell us be quiet cause her head hurts with too much noise while she is tattooing.

We said sorry and hush. After she tattooed the first two guys, we were asked to go to the Grace's location where she will tattoo for the rest of us. If you get to watch her interviews or red articles and seen pictorials of her which mostly set in the Nipa Hut on the mountain cliff, that is where we are going.

When we got there, there were other visitors who are already waiting for Whang Od and to get a tattoo from her. Unlike earlier, we only have one foreigner in the group, now most of the guys waiting were from foreign land. I even heard one of them is from Yugoslavia. I even met one of the funny actors here in PH. One of the guides told us that Whang Od is just feeding her pigs.

TRIVIA: Pot belly pigs are common in their village. It's like their common pet and chickens too.
Ate Ana told me (the mom of my host family) told me that they cook pigs if the birthday celebrant is a boy and chicken if it is a girl.
Whang Od's pig is the largest that I have seen in the village.

Whang Od's House, Kalinga Cofee and the Pot Bellies.
The order in the queue of people who will get a tattoo is based on the guides. So, me and my guide are on third. Next in line were the Esguerra Family. Kuya Levi (Dad) was the first one to get the tattoo. He opt to have Alibata which is the old Filipino alphabet. Then the next one is Ate Lala (Mom) she had the signature of Whang Od which is the three dots and then their daughter Seanne also got Whang Od's signature as her first ever tattoo.

I was the next one after them. I also choose one of the tribe's symbol for a traveler as my tattoo. I placed it the lower part of my nape. I felt a little nervous because I don't know how painful it will be. I know it will be different from a tattoo with a machine. As many of us know, she uses thorn as the needle and she taps it to the skin.

I played a game in my cellphone while I'm having my tattoo so I won't concentrate much on the pain. I asked my guide to take a photo using my GoPro camera during the tattoo session.

Apo Whang Od starts to drew the stencil of the symbol that I choose then she starts to hammer the thorns along the lines and it went on for about 10 or 15 minutes I think (that's how fast she is!). After finishing the tattoo she puts a coconut oil on it. The guides are joking about it being the preserved sperms of Apo's exes so that the tattoo will multiply.

After the tattoo session I took a picture with her and the guides also gave me the thorn she used to do my tattoo. I was planning to rush down to Tabuk to catch the afternoon trip back to Manila when Ate Lala offered me a ride with them as they are also heading back home (she also had a traveler symbol tattoo done by Grace, Apo Whang Od's grand daughter because she liked mine).

They are the most generous people I have ever met. Their the kindest. They shared their dinner with me, allow me to take a shower at their house and even drop me off on the nearest way to my house.
I thank the universe for making me and Esguerra Family met. :)

I got home around 2 am which gave me more time to rest before heading back to the hustle and bustle of life and enough time to share the story of my trip to my relatives. :)

Tattoo Session with The Legendary Apo Whang Od.

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