Newly inked batok and Buscalan Village
Journal Top Stories

Meeting Apo Whang Od and My First Kalinga Tattoo

It is such a humbling experience to have Apo Whang Od, the last mambabatok of Kalinga, ink my very first tattoo. This trip might be short but full of unforgettable memories. Read my travelogue.

CONTENT

  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

The Hike to Buscalan

It was 1130H when we arrived in Barangay Bugnay in Tinglayan. The town is sandwiched with two mountains with a rice terrace on one side and myriad of trees on the other. The sound of water rushing from Chico river can be heard in town. Here we met Bulut, a handsome lean man with sun-kissed skin and a long facial feature in his mid 20s. He’s our guide for this trip.

A week ago while researching for this adventure, I stumbled upon the contact number of a local guide named Oliver. I texted him a week prior to this trip and made my reservations. Luckily, he was available and he confirmed my reservation. Bulut is the cousin of Oliver and he introduced himself as our guide for this spontaneous trip. “Nasaan si Sir Oliver?” (Where’s Oliver?) I asked. “Nasa meeting sya kasama yung ibang guide sa Tinglayan sir” (He’s in a meeting together with the other guides in Tinglayan sir.) He replied. His voice is in a native Butbut accent.

Bulut told us that we need to ride a habal-habal (motorcycle) going to the turning point. From there, we will start our hike.

Beautiful Barangay Bugnay in Tinglayan, Kalinga
The view of Barangay Bugnay going to turning point.

Riding the habal-habal was also a fun experience. The road from Bugnay to turning point is like a slithering snake with sharp curves and turns. The view on the other hand is amazing. You can clearly see the small houses scattered all over the rice terraces at the other side of the mountain. Upon arrival at the turning point, we alighted on our habal-habal and paid the fare. From there we started our 1-hour hike.

Hike from Turning Point to Buscalan Village
Start of hike from turning point to Buscalan Village.

The Buscalan Cliff and Utter Danger

Most people who shared their journey about Buscalan in social media only showed the highlights of their trip. Examples are pictures of their newly inked tattoos and selfies with Apo Whang Od. Little we all know that the path going to their village is utterly dangerous.

While walking a few meters from the turning point, I was surprised that Bulut was out of sight. I found him shouting at the edge of a cliff. He said that this is the way going to their village.

Climbing down the Buscalan Cliff
Bulut climbing down the Buscalan cliff.

Shocked on what I heard, I assessed the path that we will be taking. The precipice is too steep and there are no guide ropes to grip in the area. One wrong move and you will fall and slide all the way to the bottom of the mountain. We will rely only on our foot and sense of balance.

Climbing down Buscalan Cliff

Climbing down the Buscalan Cliff

Hiking down Buscalan Cliff

We started to hike down one step at a time. I kept on focusing my thoughts on the path ahead ignoring the dangerous ravine on the other side. Then, I suddenly slipped. Thankfully I was able to grab a tree stump. I took a deep breath and started to step down again. This time, I climbed down in a crouching position and I think it was better this way. A paved trail is waiting for us at the end of the cliff.

Hike to Buscalan

Finally, we made it! Hearts beating and tachypneic, I felt elated after climbing down on that dangerous cliff. We started to walked again on the paved trail and enjoyed the beautiful view as a reward. “Gaano pa kalayo sir Bulut?” (How much farther sir Bulut?) I asked. “Mga kalahating oras na hike pa po sir” (Around half an hour of hike sir) he answered.

Hike to Buscalan

There’s also a waterfall in the middle of the trail. Bulut offered us to have a look and rest in the waterfalls. Since it’s already noontime and we’ve been traveling for almost 17 grueling hours, we continued the hike up to the village. From the waterfalls, there’s a concrete staircase going up to the village. The total climb is around 1500 feet and it is the final part of the hike. Bulut told us that we should be careful climbing the stairs because it has no railings on it. Eager to finish the hike, we started climbing the steep stairs.

Hike to Buscalan

Hike to Buscalan

In the middle of the climb, I heard a wheezing breath in the background. It was Randy, tired and laboring. “Okay ka lang Randy?” (Are you okay Randy?) I asked. Randy shook his head. We stopped for a while and gave Randy time to rest. I offered my water bottle for hydration. “Baka dahil sa init lang ito” (Maybe it’s because of the heat) he said. I told him to rest for a while. He even told us that we should go first and he will follow. “Sabay-sabay tayong aakyat dito” (We will go up together) I retorted.

Rest while hike to Buscalan Village

After a few minutes of rest, we started climbing again. This event repeated for a number of times. I feared that my friend would have a heatstroke on these moments. I kept on telling him to rest until he’s fully recovered.

Resting during the hike to Buscalan.JPG

While resting, we met a number of locals climbing the stairs. They were so fast! These steep stairs are nothing to them and I admired their acquired strength. In Manila, we kept on refusing the stairs and opt for the elevator or escalator to make things easier, but these people don’t need any lifts or escalators. We even saw an elder with a cane made of wood climbing down the stairway. I think she’s in her 80s, but her knees and legs were still strong. After two water bottles emptied and a long climb, we finally reached the village!

Reaching the village of Buscalan
We finally reached the village!

Next Page: The Butbut Tribe and the Last Mambabatok of Kalinga

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