If you’re planning to go to Buscalan and get your first tattoo by Apo Whang-Od (pronounced as Fang-Od), you probably have asked around already for a tourist-friendly itinerary. There are, however, things you should prepare for:
1. You’ll fall in love with the village
Nature writer Robert Macfarlane said in his book, “Those who travel to mountain-tops are half in love with themselves and half in love with oblivion.” Buscalan, being surrounded by lush green mountains of the Cordilleras and terraced rice paddies, will make you oblivious of how time slips away. It is where instead of staying tucked under the sheets, you’d rather get up at 5:30 in the morning to see the sunrise from the rice terraces behind the village. And it is where you could stay still for hours and soak up the beauty around you that are enveloped by the nippy winds. Even the views along the roads leading to Buscalan will make you stop for panoramic photos that are really worth taking.
2. The Buscalan way of life will make you jealous
Women wash their dishes and clothes together from a common water source. Their men gather for a little first-thing-in-the-morning chat. Elderlies of the community are seated on the staircases of their stilt houses with thatch roofs. Native pigs and chickens wander around the village. This is just a typical morning in Buscalan.
Cellular signals are non-existent for smartphones but people stay connected. Beans and rice, the usual meal offered to arriving tourists, are Buscalan families’ staple. At night, they gather for supper, for stories, for bedtime and not for teleserye. Unsophisticated, traditional.
3. Kalinga coffee is addictive
Buscalan has an unlimited supply of Kalinga coffee, which they would willingly brew and serve black and free for the unending stream of visitors. Kalinga coffee is sought after by many because of its distinct taste and aroma. One cup will never be enough for coffee junkies. In March this year, the local government has reported that the coffee production in the province has dropped. Still, Kalinga remains as the country’s 7th largest producer of organic coffee and its brew is still a favorite of many coffee lovers.
4. Whang-Od’s tattoo bug bites
Apo Whang-Od has a couple of old books and wooden boards full of geometrically shaped tribal designs which one could choose from – designs that have real meaning than just being fashionable. There’s no such thing as getting one tattoo from the last mambabatok (master tattooist) of the Butbut Kalinga tribe, 97-year old Apo Whang-Od.
She has a horde of apprentices, among them, her bloodline successors Grace Palicas and Elyang Wigan. But to say that “getting inked by the master herself is an honor”, is an understatement even. Once inked, you’ll want more.
What You Want To Know:
*Homestays are sprawling in Buscalan with a fixed rate of P250/person/night. Just ask your guide for one he recommends.
*There are other tribes in Tinglayan that you could visit namely: Tulgao and Danao; Itongrayan; Sumadel and Bangad and; Basao but Apo Whang-Od and the Butbut tribe are in Buscalan.
*All tourists, both foreign and local must register and pay a P75 eco-cultural tourism fee
*No tourist can enter without a tourist guide. Guides from outside Tinglayan are not allowed.
*Guiding fee is P1,000 per day for one guide of 1-5 tourists; P2,000/day for one or two guides of 6-10 pax; P3,000/day for one or three guides of 11-15 pax and; P4,000 per day for one or four guides of 16-20 tourists
*It’s smarter to contact a guide at least a week before your visit so he can advise you on your itinerary, pick-up point, side trips, tattoo session schedule
*Apo Whang-Od decides how much your tattoo costs, but you need not worry, her rates are way cheaper than what the commercial tattoo artists ask for.
*The extent of pain will depend on your tolerance. If you choose to be inked by the younger artists Grace and Elyang, Apo Whang-Od would still give you her signature ink (three dots).
*Though not compulsory, you may bring goodies for the kids of Buscalan and matches, candles and wipes for Apo Whang-Od (Tip: She digs chocolate bars, too)
Sheila, a.k.a. The Solo Tripper. Former news desk editor, full-time traveler, freelance writer.