VISITING WHANG OD in BUSCALAN: the long road to the living cultural icon

KALINGA PROVINCE

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In today’s travelling community, having a tattoo done by Whang Od herself is a common bucket list activity. Regardless of which route to take, going to Buscalan is a tedious commute. Swarmed by tourists during weekends and holiday breaks, it is best to visit her during the weekdays.

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Our Route

After grueling hours of long commutes, of van, bus, jeepney toploading, we found ourselves at the end of the road leading to the jump off point to Buscalan. There we met our guide, Sir Oliver in full smile along with his comrade, Mike, who met us earlier on our journey to Buscalan.

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This is it, we would start our trek to the tattoo village, so called Turning Point. Alighting from the strong motored jeepney – we started treading the trail, fresh from hours of seeing deep ravines and being on the cloud line, we got a bit desensitised with heights. As the sun starts over the western horizon, the cold wind starts to creep on our flesh. As we turned left to the trail, there we saw right in front us, the Buscalan cliff, were few millimetres from your step is a deep ravine, the best place to not skip a step. What surprised me is portion of the trail has railings installed – this gave a moment of peace of mind. Buscalan village can be seen from here, perched approximately higher than you on the other side – seemingly so near yet so far. Sir Oliver had shown the ascending path we need to traverse before going there – I breathed the deepest I can and silently shouting in my brain – I can do this. Imagine being sedentary in office and home, I could have suffered massive cramps.

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As the trail descends to a much steeper angle, I started to control each and every step to avoid slipping. Traversing rice paddies and modest foot bridge, we found ourselves resting on the lower part of the trail. Catching our breath for a few minutes, we took pictures of the surroundings with the remaining sky light available – flashes fired and poses donned. Here we go! The ascending undulating trail to the village.

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Gulping up my remaining wild-berry-flavoured yoghurt snack I bought in Bontoc, I channelled my remaining physical strength to the seemingly never ending ascent to Buscalan village. Turn by turn, I took photos of the changing scenery as I go higher. I pumped up the ISO on my camera to get that almost sufficient exposure.

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Now I can see the roofs approaching, and with excitement boiling inside me, I almost ran to the village entrance. Here I am, I made it!!! With a perfect vantage point of the mountains and rice terraces, this is the best place to be! I breathed the deepest I can and mentally patted myself on the bank – this is the product of your persistence and patience after long, grueling, tiring, tedious, exhausting and strenuous commute.

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Sir Oliver led us to his homestay and moments after, found myself savouring the cool climate, the hammock, and the sweet scent of Kalinga coffee – this is life after the travel-storm.

THE MORNING AFTER THE ENDLESS TRAVEL

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The alarm rang and I peeled my eyes, this is my first morning in Buscalan. I stretched my aching body and trod outside exposing myself to the cold mountain wind. As I wore my specks to see what’s out there in the pitch dark sky, I saw seemingly tripled the quantity of stars compared I see over the metro in stunning utter clarity.

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Momentarily our guide arrived and led us to the scenic viewpoint to wait for the sunrise. Twist and turns as we crisscrossed the sleepy village of Buscalan and passed by men sleeping in hammocks on a chilly twilight. Armed with our documentation guns, we started taking snapshots as we arrived at the viewpoint. Surrounded by nothing but picturesque rice terraces, graceful mountain ranges draped by undulating clouds and the slow creeping sun.

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As the first rays of the morning sun laying the virgin mountain slopes, the real and actual scenic view unveiled and stunned my vision momentarily. It was one of the glorious sunrise I have ever witnessed in my life.

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As the village started to wake up, locals trod their feet around the town. As we head back to our homestay, the awakening scent of Kalinga coffee lingered making me drooling for another cup. We cooked our breakfast and search for our main agenda, dear Apo Whang Od.

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Seeing her in the flesh was an almost absolute starstruck moment because of her rock star status in the tattooing world. Having a photo with her is one of my most prized souvenir, another moment with a living cultural icon.

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Apo Whang Od, a traditional tattoo artist

 

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After the tattoo session of our travel mate, we head out back to the tiring trail and now we have the opportunity to bathe in cool waters of Tumanniw Falls.

 

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As the sun continued to its path unleashing its fiery flares, we headed to ascending trail back to jump off point. Since we missed the morning jeepney to Bontoc, we saw heaps of motorcycles for passengers. After a mandatory rest, we individually hopped on motorcycles and seemingly glide on the winding roads. Mind you the panoramic view is ultra breathtaking!

Our ride ended on a store beside the provincial road where will be indefinitely waiting for passing bus or jeep. Hours passed we busied ourselves in viewing the immediate surroundings, drenching our vision with nothing but utter beauty of nature displaying herself to us.

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Soon as we got a glimpse of the apparently full jeepney, we ran to the sidewalk and wishing our lives for an ample space for a group of seven passengers. Meters from us, the apparent thought is a fact! The jeepney is really loaded, and with the intention of not missing out our set itinerary, we squeezed ourselves over the jeepney top and momentarily, we are on our wildest commute ever back to Bontoc, the topload way!

That short lived experience in Buscalan with Apo Whang Od is surely “one for the books” in my travel history.

THE  VISUAL GUIDE OF THE TRAIL AFTER THE TURNING POINT

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THE VISUAL GUIDE ON THE MOUNTAINUOUS TRAIL

The “Habal Habal”-Ride-of-our-life route from the Turning Point to the highway (Php 100.000)

(screenshot from Google Maps)

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Route from Bontoc Proper to Buscalan Junction in Red Line via TOPLOAD (Php 100.00)

(Screenshot from Google Maps)

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The two-hour Toploading Experience

 

Our guide is Sir Olie. You can contact him at +63 939 774 1477

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Me with Sir Olie

Sir Olie’s homestay

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