Meeting Apo Whang Od and My First Kalinga Tattoo


  1. Page 1 – Morning in Tabuk City
  2. Page 2 – Top Loading Kalinga Style
  3. Page 3 – The Hike to Buscalan Village and its Utter Danger
  4. Page 4 – The Butbut Tribe and the last Mambabatok of Kalinga
  5. Page 5 – A New Morning, A New Life

Top Load Jeep

Around 0630H, we saw a number of vans parked near the police station. One driver, a short dark man in his mid 30s, approached us and asked if we are heading to Buscalan. “Opo” I replied, a formal form of the word ‘yes’ in Filipino.

Waiting for a top load jeep in Kalinga

The driver told us that their vans will leave around 0830H because they were waiting for incoming passengers. Randy and I were a little bit adventurous that morning. We assessed their vans and it wasn’t equipped for top loading. Their time of departure were also unfit for our schedule. We refused his offer politely and waited for a top load jeep to arrive.

At 0700H, we saw a huge jeep arriving. This jeep is larger than in the jeeps in Manila. It is monstrous and we saw a group of men sitting on top of the jeep. They call this “top loading” and it is a common form of transportation in the North. Though this type of transportation seemed to be normal for them, it will be a one-of-a-kind adventure for us. The passengers who stay inside the vehicle are designated only for the women and the elders, it is also a form of respect.

With our adrenaline rushing, we climbed on the steel bar of the jeep, secured our bags, and positioned ourselves with hands firmly gripped on any available handle. I was anxious at first, but since I have this desire to know the people of Kalinga and immerse in their way of life even for a day, I would do it. Then, when everyone was settled, the jeep started to accelerate.

Top loading in Kalinga

The wind was cold and the morning sun painted the whole city of Tabuk. The view was simply majestic. I felt more alive than ever. I can’t even describe the emotions I felt. It was my first time to ride a top load jeep and the experience was overwhelming.

Top load jeep ride in Kalinga

The view was breathtaking on top while traversing the whole Mount Province-Tabuk-Enrile-Cagayan Road. I saw nothing but endless mountains, green forests, clear rivers and blue skies extending in the horizon. The sound of birds resonating was heartfelt and the silence of each towns visited from Bolanao, Lubuagan and Bangad reflects their simplistic lifestyle.

Mountain range of Cordillera, view from top load jeep

Seeing green rice fields in Kalinga while top loading

Rice fields in Kalinga, Philippines

A top load Jeep in Kalinga

Top loading in Kalinga

View of Chico River while riding a top load jeep

Town of Pasil in Kalinga

Scenes and views while riding a top load jeep in Kalinga

top load jeep ride in kalinga 1

The top load ride was a mixture of both fear and excitement but in this beautiful moment I felt infinite.

We saw a handful of rice terraces carved and engineered diligently for thousand of years. There were also trees swaying with the wind and the Chico river on the side flowing oppositely in peace. The top load ride was a mixture of both fear and excitement but in this beautiful moment I felt infinite. Overwhelmed by the scenic view, I didn’t realize that I was in tears. Sounds dramatic, but this is how I appreciate things. I closed my eyes, expressed gratitude and prayed on how great, how wide and how wonderful are His creations.

Together with the people of Kalinga

The people of Kalinga are also welcoming and accommodating. One passenger, seated beside me, asked about the who and why I am in Kalinga. We shared stories together while braving the whole ride and enjoying the incredible mountain range of Cordillera. “Grabe kuya, ang ganda dito sa inyo.” (Your place is so beautiful here, kuya), I said. “Oo nga eh!” (Yes it is!) He replied with a grin.

On the Other Hand

The top load jeep from Tabuk City going to Tinglayan was an arduous 5-hour ride. The experience were both amazing and painstaking. The sit was uncomfortable and the heat of the sun was scorching.

Gripping any handle during our top load ride
Gripping any handle available for safety during the top load ride.

I kept on shifting the weight of my hips to ease pressure and I felt my hands were becoming weak and numb due to prolonged grip. I kept on distracting myself from discomfort with the spectacular views and towering mountains. On the other hand, the locals were silent, they were already accustomed to this kind of transportation. Some were even sleeping peacefully on top of the jeep not minding the danger of the path we were taking.

The perilous highway going to Tinglayan

Deep canyons from the mountain range of Cordillera

The Mount Province-Tabuk-Enrile-Cagayan Road is a perilous highway unfit for the faint of heart. It traces the mountain edges of Cordillera parallel to the long Chico River. The highway is tortuous and placed on a cliff and most areas were prone to landslides. Concrete guard rails were present but there were sections of the road wherein the path is unpaved and without any guard rails. One wrong move and your vehicle will dive into the canyon causing terrible accident.

Tinglayan Top Load Jeep

With danger looming around, it seems like the locals were brushing it off. After almost 5 long hours of top load ride, we finally arrived in Barangay Bugnay in Tinglayan.

Next Page: The Hike to Buscalan Village and its Utter Danger