There’s something about the Cordilleras: Buscalan, Kalinga (Part 1)

There’s something about the Cordilleras, that breathtaking region that cuts across six provinces and one chartered city. Coffee tastes better, fresh produce is available year-round, there’s enough sunshine in the morning and rain in the afternoon, the cold is there, but it’s always mild, not oppressive. I recall many summers spent in Baguio when I was a kid–when there’s an abundance of strawberries and cherry tomatoes by the garden, and when apple pies are served for merienda, fresh out of the oven.

Up to this day, I can’t get enough of the North.

The past year has brought me back and forth to Sagada, Bontoc, and Banaue for a lot of adventures, but only last weekend have I gone to the province of Kalinga, to Buscalan, specifically, to see the mambabatok Apo Whang-od and her apprentice, Grace. The trip was not without challenges. Typhoon Ineng’s onslaught closed some of the major roads including Baguio-Bontoc–something easily managed by trip-cutting to Sabangan.

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Baguio-Bontoc Road section affected by Typhoon Ineng

There are several ways to go to Buscalan: Manila to Tabuk via bus and then jeepney to Tinglayan or Baguio to Bontoc via bus and jeepney to the Bugnay jump-off. I preferred the familiarity of the Bontoc route, so my friend and I spent approximately 18 hours on the road (bus, jeep, walk) excluding an overnight stay in Tinglayan because the dark caught up with us.


If coming from Bontoc via jeep to Tinglayan, better ask the driver to drop you off at Bugnay.  You can take a habal-habal (motorcycle), or just walk up to about five kilometers to Buscalan. While most people would opt to take the motorcycle, we decided to walk. Yes you may think that this is some form of self-flagellation, I totally get it, but it gave us the most rewarding views of Bugnay and Butbut villages all tucked in the mountains of Kalinga.

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Bugnay Marker
Ascent from Bugnay
Some distractions along the way can help ease the suffering. 🙂
View of Bugnay after a considerable change in distance and altitude. It’s well worth the leg-pain, I promise.
After a while, you’ll pretty much get into a proper, albeit unpaved road. Walk the mile until you reach the ‘turning point’–where the road ends and the descent begins.
And when the descent ends, another grueling ascent begins. No chill! I forgot to take photos, but there is a falls along the way. Take a break but don’t litter!
This is the part when you’ll realize how strong / weak you are. You’re probably carrying a set of clothes and some canned goods on the way up but we actually saw kids–KIDS!–carrying a gas tank and some elderly women just walking by casually. Word of advice: bring a trekking pole.
This walk is a feast for the eyes.

When you finally get to Buscalan, ask your guide to help you line-up at Apo Whang-od’s tattoo shop. Not everyone can converse in Tagalog, so yes, help is needed. Apo actually takes in visitors, but if there are too many, some villagers offer homestay for P150.00 to P250.00 a night–complete with unlimited Kalinga coffee, use of the kitchen, locally-grown rice, and a bed. We stayed in Ate Joy’s retreat house (+63 998 479 77 60) with a front lawn that is very well-kept and a view that’s so good to wake up to.

Our home for the night.
Our hosts!

On part two of this piece, I’ll tell you more about our experience in the village and our very gracious host. But, I could tell you as early as now that life in Buscalan is very simple, so for those going there for the first time, please bring candies, matches, and a few small gifts that you can share to the kids. There’s electricity but no reception for Globe–for Smart users, bring an old bar phone because in that area, your iPhone or your Note 5 is only good for playing music or taking photos.

Have a great Saturday! I’ll write part two tomorrow because I’m only stealing time that’s supposed to be spent for work. Haha!



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