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 itinerary. 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 any jeeps in Manila. It was 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. Although 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. 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 number 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 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 ride 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 the 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 are prone to landslides. Concrete guard rails are present; but, there are sections of the road wherein the path is unpaved and without any guard rails. One wrong move and your vehicle will dive into the ravine causing a 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


16 thoughts on “Meeting Apo Whang Od and My First Kalinga Tattoo

  1. Such an interesting read. Philippines indeed seems to have a lot to offer. I am not into getting tattoos but I have friends who are crazy about it. I think I should pass on this piece of information to them


    1. Yes please! Share this story with them, I know they will like this a lot since it’s an interesting type of tattoo.


  2. Wow!! This is always in my list. Though part of my is hesitant with getting a traditional tattoo…but still looks cool.


    1. I was also hesitant at first but I gave in anyway. 🙂


  3. I’m really interested in meeting Apo Whang Od. She’s been all over the media. Even famous people go there to get a tattoo. I hope that tour guides won’t exploit her. It’s sad when the beautiful culture gets commercialized.


    1. Don’t worry Karla, most of the tour guides originate from Buscalan itself and they are committed in preserving their culture and tradition like what most people in the north do. Go and visit her, you’ll surely have a wonderful adventure in Buscalan 🙂


  4. Quite a read that was. I have been reading some amazing posts about the Philippines. I m not a great fan of tattoos but I definitely love any form of art. So, it was a revelation for me to know about the legendary tattoo artist Apo Whang Od. I would definitely love to visit her once- not to get tattooed ( they are not for me 🙂 ) but to witness her revered art.


    1. Yep, you can visit their village and watch her do the tattoos. It was an interesting watch too, you’ll get to know about their culture and way of life.


  5. Wow this is a really interesting post. I had no idea about these tattoo artists. She seems so fit and can’t believe she’s 100 years old :o. Also that tattoo process looks painful but all worth it. And such a beautiful place too!!


    1. Hey Karie, I was also amazed on their fitness level. I saw one elderly, I think around 80s, she still manages to climb that 1000 flight of stairs going to the village without any effort. They’re all amazing. About the tattoo, yes it is painful! Haha. Good thing my pain tolerance is high, I was able to endure it. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is not just long but a very very long; extensive post. The Philippines is high on my list. Your hike seems quite tough and equally adventurous too. I am glad to know about the living legend Apo Whang Od.


    1. Thanks for patiently reading this travel story, together with your family, I think the best place to visit is El Nido, Palawan where you can find the best islands of the country 🙂


  7. Very elaborate post. I have been reading Philippines has numerous varieties of activities.
    Good to know about the living legend Apo Whang Od


    1. Hey Indrani, Apo Whang Od is considered a living gem in the Philippines because she’s the only person who knows the process of batok. Good thing she already taught 2 apprentices, her grand nieces. If you have time, you can visit this place and it is totally worth it!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a great, in-depth post. I’ve never been to the Phillipines, but one day hope to. The hike you did especially caught my interest, although it sounded a little dangerous. It’s always good to complete a challenge though when travelling.


    1. Hey Tanya! The Philippines is truly rich in culture specially in the northern part of Luzon islands wherein you’ll meet endless mountain range in the horizon. It’s dangerous yep but sometimes, the best adventures and memories are found on the other side of danger. 🙂


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