There’s something about the Cordilleras: Buscalan, Kalinga (Part 2)

This is the second instalment of the recent Buscalan, Kalinga adventure as narrated in this post. Sorry! I did say that I was going to write part two sooner but I got busy distracted. Apologies, too, as some parts of this post may get a bit reflective.

Life in Buscalan is incredibly simple, almost self-sustaining, because the land is rich and the produce is actually enough to keep the people fed. We chatted with our host Joyce while waiting for our turn at the tattoo shop and she told us casually that she’s never been to Bugnay–never been out of the village for that matter.

Drying the palay
Washing the dishes using water (probably) from something like a hydraulic ram pump

It was around ’07-’08 when the town got connected to the grid, so prior to that, it was all gas lamps and no television. And it made wonder, does seeing the world make you more open-minded or does it make you even more prone to discontent? I don’t know the answer, but I’ll leave you to reflect on that as well.


Now, back to tattoos. I guess most of you would know that the Kalinga tattoo tradition goes as far back as the days of headhunting. They call it kayaw and it’s done to avenge the evil done to a family member. Basically, the more tattoos you have, the greater your stature is as a warrior. I don’t know, many be it’s an Austronesian thing? Haha!

Fortunately or unfortunately, the warrior tradition is gone now and people like Apo Whang-od have shared this wonderful piece of tradition to us, outsiders. Some people take the long, arduous journey to the town because they need to have one thought solidified and inked permanently. Seeing the master and the apprentice at work gave me the goosebumps–Whang-od especially. The batok tradition has been in place for centuries, and what a I saw in her was the collective history of the Butbut tribe.

Apo Whang-od at work
Grace at work

The process takes about 20 minutes depending on your design. Most people choose the centipede because of its mythical quality–it’s meant to be a protector, an amulet. I on the other hand, got a design that represents mountains. For obvious reasons.

Bring your own petroleum jelly and wet wipes, a plastic wrap and some tape (especially if you are going to put your tattoo in an area touched by clothing)–not a requirement, but these things would help. This is how it happens. Also, if anyone asks if it stings? Well, duh. Haha!


A night’s stay in Buscalan is not enough, especially if the journey took longer–but there was so much down time that it didn’t feel too bitin for me.

Imagine chopping onions in this kitchen with a view. It would kind of make you want to cry.
Chilling out with this mountain dog named King Kong. She’s a she, by the way.
After-dinner snack is sticky rice. The black particles are ground black beans, then they add salt and/or sugar.

We left in the morning of Monday via Bontoc once again, and this time we were able to top-load–not in the usual touristy way, as we rode with locals and loads of cargo (basically all sorts of merchandise from rice to chickens). As usual, the views are stunning.



Is this place worth coming back to? Yes. No cliche here about enjoying the journey as much as the destination.

There is something about the Cordilleras. 🙂


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