What can be more adventurous than putting travelling, trekking and getting a traditional tattoo altogether? Just the thought of it pumped up my excitement and a little bit of fear was not far behind. I was going to get my first tattoo in an unconventional way and I’ve always told myself in the past that I would NEVER get a tattoo. Lesson learned: Never say never.
It took us less than two hours to get to Manila from Cebu City through Cebu Pacific Air. We booked a private van for our 5-day trip. It was more convenient for us to easily have stopovers and we have the whole van to ourselves. We were a big group of 11 friends by the way. If you decide to go with this option, you can check the Facebook page One Viahero Van Rental and request for Billy as your driver. He’s already very knowledgeable of the route. He’s a great and professional driver too. You may also contact Billy through his number: 09167953810.
We initially planned to take a bus from Manila to Bontoc which most (if not all) of the bloggers shared. Since our trip to Manila was in the morning and the buses to Bontoc leave only at night (even the limited topload jeepneys to Tinglayan leave only at specific times), we wanted to make the most out of our time and booked a private van instead.
The journey to Banaue wasn’t easy. More than 13 hours with long winding roads and rough terrains can definitely give you a headache and a pain in your behind. We wanted to go straight to Bontoc but since we felt that we needed to rest comfortably on a bed, we made a stopover at Wonder Lodge. It was already midnight when we arrived and it was the only one open at that time. The temperature in Banaue can drop below 15 degrees at night. Thank God they have hot showers.
We left around 5:00 in the morning to see the Banaue Rice Terraces. It was just a few minutes away from Wonder Lodge.
The Banaue Rice Terraces are 2,000-year-old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the indigenous people. The Rice Terraces are commonly referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. Wikipedia
We didn’t stay long and then went to Bontoc for breakfast. It was a 2-3 hour trip from Banaue. Imagine hungry werewolves inside the van.
I wished I took the time to go around and take a lot of photos of Bontoc. Its rivers, mountains and rice terraces were amazing. There’s something about that town which holds a lot of mysteries which are yet to be unfolded.
After having a hearty breakfast, we went to another town called Tinglayan. Bontoc – Tinglayan took less than an hour but the road was the most challenging so far. I could only imagine riding a topload jeepney on that route but it could have been a fun (and probably dangerous?) experience. If we didn’t take a private van, we could have stopped in Baranggay Bugnay in Tinglayan where the 2-hour hike begins. There’s also an option to ride a habal-habal for Php 100 to the drop off. Our van made it all the way to the drop off point. From there, the only way to Buscalan was by foot. There was an area where we could leave the van overnight for around Php 150.
Since we were planning to stay in Buscalan overnight, we just brought the things that we needed plus valuables and left the rest inside the van. You wouldn’t want to be trekking with a very heavy bag.
Two weeks before the trip, I already contacted a tour guide from Buscalan named Gilbert and he also arranged our accommodation. He was recommended by one of the bloggers. Tour guide fee – Php 1000 for 5 pax (We had two tour guides). Accommodation – Php 350/night with free native Barako coffee. You may contact him through this number: 09084792012. You can actually haggle on the fee but since we were happy with how they assisted us for two days, we even gave them extra.
My heart raced as we were preparing to see Apo Whang Od, mixed emotions surged. Mang-oy and Lazaro walked with us to where the famous Mambabatok was at.
Whang-od Oggay ([ˈɸɑŋ:ˈəd]; born 17 February 1917) is a Filipina tattoo artist from Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga, Philippines. She is considered as the last mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist) from the Butbut people in Buscalan Kalinga and the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines. Her tattoo ink is composed of the mixture of charcoal and water that will be tapped into the skin through a thorn end of a calamansi or pomelo tree. She was tattooed when she was a teenager. Each of her arms took one day to be finished and her family paid bundles of rice for it. When her tattoo was completed her father killed a pig to celebrate it. This ancient technique of tattoing is called batok that dates back a thousand years before her time is relatively painful compared to other conventional techniques. She uses designs found in nature and basic geometric shapes. Due to her status as the last mambabatok, many netizens are lobbying her to be one of the National Artists of the Philippines. Instead of National Artist, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago urged her colleagues in the Philippine Senate through a resolution that Whang-od should be nominated as one of the National Living Treasures or Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan, which is equal rank to National Artist. (Wikipedia)
When we arrived, she was still working on an intricate tattoo on a tourist’s upper arm. She couldn’t speak in Tagalog/English and we had our tour guides as interpreters. She had to take a break for more than an hour to have her lunch and feed her pigs. In order to save time (since she had to rest by 4 or 5 pm), we had our first tattoo done by one of her granddaughters, Emily.
I was often asked, “Did it hurt?”. Yes but it was bearable. It was more painful to have your heart broken. The symbol on my tattoo is called a “crab” which means, “traveller” and it costs Php 500. When we heard that Apo Whang Od was already available, we went back to her to have her “three dots” signature.
We’ve heard and read horror stories about the others’ experiences that theirs got infected or took a month before it was healed. In our case, we constantly applied antibacterial cream which gave positive results. You just have to make sure to keep it clean all the time and allow it to “breathe”.
These are the tribal designs which you can choose from. Each of these symbols has its own meaning or representation.
- Bring your own antibacterial wet wipes. We caught Apo Whang Od trying to reuse old wet wipes and when we gave her new ones, she refused and told us that it was the same.
- Bring antibacterial cream. We used terramycin and applied several times a day for several days. We didn’t have horror stories about our tattoos.
- Avoid raising your voice, being rowdy or laughing hard. Apo Whang Od is a very quiet lady and might mistake you for making fun of her.
- Bring gifts for Apo Whang Od and the kids. We brought powdered milk, food and candies.
- They have a different culture in the village and it was a great experience for immersion. Respect, converse with the locals and never leave your trash anywhere (I saw some trash along the trail).
Summary of our trip:
Day 1- Manila -Banaue
Day 2- Banaue – Buscalan, Tinglayan
Day 3 – Buscalan – Sagada
Day 4 – Sagada – Baguio
Day 5 – Baguio – Manila
We travelled in a fast pace, tried to squeeze in all those places in 5 days, that we only visited a few spots in Sagada and Baguio since those were intentionally just our side trips. The highlight of our trip was to meet Apo Whang Od and had our traditional tattoo done. It was a great pleasure to finally meet the 100-year old Mambabatok, who was the last of her generation.
Whenever I look at my tattoo, it brings back all the good and fun memories we had. It was all worth it.
The photos should not be copied, reproduced & redistributed without my permission.
Copyright © 2017 Julianne Villaflor. All Rights Reserved.