Buscalan Village is a hilltop tribe located in Tingalayan, Kalinga. It’s a little bit further north than Sagada. It houses the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines. Apo Whang-Od is a 100-year-old lady deemed as a national treasure for being the last mambabatok in the Philippines! Pagbatok is a method of repeatedly hammering ink into the skin with a thorn from the pomelo tree and a wooden stick. The black tincture is made of charcoal dissolved in water.
While the frail Apo Whang-Od can still manage to do some of the tattoos, her work is limited to the signature 3 dots. She has left the rest of the tribal designs to her granddaughters.
-The intricate tribal designs are at PHP 500 each.
-Apo Whang-Od’s signature 3 dots are at PHP 100.
-Our custom fish designs were at PHP 200 each.
I was looking through Facebook events for a Whang-Od tour over the Thanksgiving weekend and found Team Swabe by Romel Judavar Caduldulan and his partner. They were organizing their 4th trip to Buscalan Village for PHP 2,500 inclusive of:
-Van Transfer (Manila-Kalinga-Manila)
-3 Hosted Meals (Day 1 Lunch & Dinner and Day 2 Breakfast)
-Homestay with unli rice and unli local coffee of Kalinga
-Tropahang hindi ka iiwan
-Side Trips to Banaue, Atok Benguet (Highest Point) and Baguio
Day 0 (Friday)
08:00pm Assembly at McDo Centris
09:00pm ETD for Banaue
Day 1 (Saturday)
06:00am ETA Banaue. Picture taking, coffee break
09:00am ETA Bontoc, Light breakfast, buy supplies
10:00am ETD Buscalan
11:00am ETA Jump off (prepare for 30mins-1hr trekking)
12:00pm Homestay, Lunch (Hosted)
01:00pm Free time, tattoo session, explore village
06:00pm Dinner (Hosted)
10:00pm Lights Off
Day 2 (Sunday)
06:00am Breakfast (Hosted)
07:00am Resume tattoo session
10:00am Back to homestay, pack up
12:00pm Turning point, travel to Bontoc
02:00pm ETA Bontoc, late lunch
02:30pm Travel to highest point
05:30pm ETA highest point, coffee, photo ops
06:00pm Travel to Baguio
08:00pm ETA Baguio, dinner at goodtaste
09:00pm ETD Manila
02:00am ETA Manila
Side Trip to Banaue Rice Terraces
Our meet-up point was Eton Centris McDonald’s at 8 PM. We took the MRT there because it was rush hour on a payday Friday. We were supposed to leave at 9 PM but some of the folks were late, so we left at 9:30 PM effectively.
We arrived at Banaue Rice Terraces around 8 AM the next day to take photos at the observation deck, followed by breakfast at the Viewpoint Inn across the road. The souvenir shop rented out some Igorot headdresses for PHP 10. You can also take a photo with some of the indigenous tribesmen for any fee or gratuity.
Another hour’s ride brought us to the last town we could get provisions from for the next 2 days. Romel got some stuff from the wet market while Miguel and I got white flower to ease his motion sickness.
We continued the ride to the jump-off point for Buscalan, a muddy road with a dead end. Buscalan Village is about an hour’s trek on the semi-cemented trail winding along the hillsides. The view was amazing!
It was noontime when we finally reached the village. The houses were a combination of wood and cement. The village had progressively rising levels, resembling a concrete version of the rice terraces. Black pigs roamed freely.
We were promptly introduced to our homestay, as well as a pot of brewed Kalinga Coffee. Yum. 10 of us stayed in a small room with only 3 mattresses. We managed to fit like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves sleeping horizontally! The rest of the group stayed on the second floor of our host family. No idea what that’s like. The bathroom was an outhouse with the small, provincial toilet bowl in one corner and a large drum filled with cold, still water.
The 3 meals covered in our package were prepared by Romel himself in the main house:
-Lunch: Chicken and Pork Adobo with Rice
-Dinner: Beef Sinigang with Rice
-Breakfast: Lucky Me Noodle Soup, Scrambled Eggs and Longganisa with Rice
Miguel and I went off on our own to explore the village, passing through the village center where everyone had gathered. It seemed like a town hearing, but was mixed with a celebration. Some couples were doing the traditional mating dance of the Igorots with colorful woven blankets to the banging pots-and-pans sound of northern ethnic instruments.
We continued walking towards the edge of the village, randomly choosing paths until we ended up in a compound that met the rice fields. (We unknowingly found the tattoo place, because we would return later that afternoon for that purpose.) A vibrant rainbow was cast over the sky. We headed back to the homestay to check on the rest of the group.
Meanwhile, Romel had gone to Apo Whang-Od’s place to get a number. We were #14, and group #4 was currently being worked on. There was a wedding that weekend, so all the villagers had gathered at the village center, including Apo Whang-Od herself. All tattooing was halted, except for a couple of her granddaughters.
Our host led us to where the remaining granddaughters worked, the same compound overlooking the rice fields. Romel had booked us a girl named “Killer”, one of the more experienced granddaughters. We drew up our own design: Yin and Yang fish. I had the white fish swimming upward and Miguel had the black fish swimming downward. Because of the manual method of inking, shading in the design was too difficult for the mambabatok, who was limited to doing outlines. As a compromise, we filled in Miguel’s fish with an “X” to symbolize darkness.
Killer also allowed us to trace them on the skin ourselves. She did 2-3 passes because the manual process of tattooing left dotted lines instead of a smooth line normally achieved with the more modern, automated technique. Miguel bled profusely and woke up the following morning with a bruise around his fish tattoo.
There were times when getting a tattoo by hand hurt more than the automated method simply because of the uneven hammering. It also shows in the imperfect outline, but there’s a certain charm in imperfection.
The sun was quickly setting behind us, so the group relocated to the homestay along with the tattoo artist. Another granddaughter of only 12 years of age joined us minutes later. Apo Whang-Od herself eventually came to visit. She spent a few minutes evaluating her granddaughters’ work, giving tips on making the lines darker because tattoos are meant to be seen.
She was not at all what we expected. On her way out, Miguel tried asking for a photo with her, but before he could finish his sentence, Apo Whang-Od noticed me because I was in her way.
“Asawa?” she asked, pointing at me and Miguel, wondering if we were married.
I chuckled and shook my head, but she didn’t really care for my response, because then she saw Miguel’s exposed midriff and low-waisted shorts.
“Masama yan,” she added, shaking her head in disapproval.
Her tone suddenly changed when her eyes fell on his bulge.
“Malaki!” she exclaimed, prodding his cock with her bony finger. “Malaki. Masarap!” she repeated, smiling sheepishly at the crowd.
Everyone laughed at the relatively awkward situation. I responded by nodding vigorously, agreeing that big was indeed tasty. LOL.
The following morning, Apo Whang-Od was held up doing group #5. Thankfully, we dropped to group #7 because a lot of people had already left Buscalan by noon. There were so many people lined up!
We left the village at around 4:30 PM and reach Manila around 4 AM, tired but fulfilled by this rare experience.
If this experience isn’t enough for your lust for culture or adventure, check out these other destinations in Northern Luzon: Bataan, Pangasinan, Baler, Pampanga and Ilocos Norte!