Here is a meaningful trip away from comfort but somewhat felt like home.
After our training in Baguio, I took the opportunity of a shorter route and travel time to finally visit the Buscalan Village before going back to Manila. I only expected to get inked by the great Whang-Od but I got more than just a tattoo.
Day 1 – January 27, 2017
My office mate, Jenn, decided to join so right after our training, we went to Center Mall and took an ordinary bus going to Bontoc which costs P212. The bus leaves at 1:30 PM and 2:30 PM and usually takes 5 to 6 hours.
When we reached Bontoc, we decided to stay for the night since, according to the locals, there are only two daily scheduled trips going to Tabuk: 7:30 am (jeep) and 9am (bus). There are no big or luxury hotels so we opted to stay in Bontoc Hotel which offered a room for P800 per night. It has a shower but we were not able to use it due to the very cold weather and there’s no heater.
Day 2 – January 28, 2017
The next day, we took the 7:30 AM trip going to Tabuk for P100 which is a 2 hour travel to reach Bugnay Jump-off point. The views are breathtaking despite the rain and the fog.
When we reached Bugnay, we met Kuya Raffy, one of the tour guides who invited us to join his group that came all the way from Cebu. We were hesitant at first not only because we had limited budget, but we were also advised that having a guide is not necessary. He, however, insisted that it would be more convenient because of the bad weather so we took the deal.
From there, we rented a motorcycle then trekked for an hour to reach Buscalan. Be extra careful as the trail is difficult and you will be passing by cliffs so there is no room for mistakes. It is also advisable that you pack light because you won’t need so many clothes up there. As I said earlier, the weather was bad and we didn’t expect that the hike will be a bit challenging but all the efforts paid off after we were welcomed by the breathtaking views of the vegetable terraces and mountains, something that really felt amazing.
We were already given a heads-up that the village is usually full of tourists on weekends and that Apo Whang Od was not feeling well that time because of LBM and cough. When we arrived, Apo was doing the tattoo of a Taiwanese and in the other kubo, her niece, Grace, and granddaughter, Ilyang, were also having a session with some of the tourists. There is a signboard indicating the names of the tour guides with their number for you to know if it’s your turn.
Kuya Raffy explained that most of the time, especially on weekends when there is a queue, tourists get their tattoos from Ilyang and Grace and then will only be tattooed by Whang Od with her signature because she easily gets tired and it’s not possible to accommodate everyone. So we got ours from Ilyang.
I got the eagle tattoo which is included in the book of designs by Whang-Od. Jenn, however, decided to get inked with a baybayin, which means “Mama”. They say that Whang-Od does only her own designs so if you bring your own design, you can have your tattoo done by other tattoo artists in the village like Ilyang or Grace. I guess the pain of the tattoo will really depend on your pain tolerance. Mine was tolerable and it was self-fulfilling.
We then went to the small souvenir shop to not only buy ref magnets but also show off our tattoos while wearing the Igorot dress and have our pictures taken with the terraces as our background.
When we went back to the kubo, Whang-Od’s tattoo session was already dismissed at around 3PM. According to the locals, she’s already very tired and not feeling well but we can wait until the next day to get her signature. Our fellow travelers from Cebu, however, decided to leave the same day so Kuya Raffy, assisted them back to the jump-off point and helped them rent a van going back to Manila. But before they departed, he referred us to Ate Selma, the owner of the small eatery, if we get hungry.
A lot of homestays are available in the village with a fixed rate of P250 (includes breakfast) per night but during that time, since we didn’t make reservations and due to the large number of tourists, all of the homestays were already occupied. We were worried and thought that we will be sleeping outside the homestays but we were lucky that the locals were very helpful and kind. With the help of Ate Selma, we were accommodated by the family of Ma’am Connie Bagtang Binuloc, a teacher. They usually don’t offer a homestay but willingly welcomed us so we can freshen up and rest for the night. We were given our own room and they prepared food for us but most of all, being coffee lovers, we reveled in their unlimited Kalinga brewed coffee. I had three cups to be exact! We noticed that coffee trees are all over the village, that’s why. Kuya Raffy also came back for us and checked if we’re doing okay. He also reminded us that trips going back to Manila from Bontoc are only scheduled in the mornings.
We felt at home so much and there was no boring moment with the Binuloc kids. We let them watch the movie Good Dinosaur where I had to translate the lines so that they understood the story. They enjoyed it and in return, Guiller, one of the children, taught us some words from their native dialect but I can only recall “Whayugo Sia” which means “I love you”.
The next day, as expected, there was already a long line even at 5 AM and we were given a heads-up that Whang-Od might not have tattoo sessions since she still felt weak that day. But despite being sick, Whang-Od gave everyone a chance to have a photo with her. We lined up and every tourist was given at least a minute to have their pictures taken. You can see from their faces that although they were happy about their experience in Buscalan, they were also saddened about the health of Whang-Od. One of the tourists from Georgia (forgot to get her name) was even crying. Although there was an update from the media last February that Whang-Od is already doing well. Cheers to that!
Buses, jeepneys, and vans depart early from the jump-off point, first trip is usually at 8 AM and last trip is at 10 AM. Our van departed Bugnay at 9 AM and reached Tabuk at 12:00 NN. You will pass by a scenery they call Sleeping Beauty but almost all the other views during the trip to Tabuk are breathtaking. We were dropped off at the Victory Liner station and there were only two trips that day going to Manila: 5 PM and 6 PM trips.
We first bought pasalubongs in one of the grocery stores that sells the Kalinga Brewed Coffee and enjoyed a milk tea in the Coffee House wherein you can enjoy a display of paintings of native Kalingans and Whang-Od, of course. Waiting didn’t take too long as we were preoccupied with editing the pictures we took, watching our videos, and reviewing my notes for the blog. Even without Whang-Od’s tattoo, it still was an unforgettable experience.
We plan to go back in August and if you’re interested to join us, just email me at email@example.com. If you need a tour guide, I highly recommend the very patient and helpful, Kuya Raffy Baod. You can contact him through this number 09467637948.
Here is our itinerary with expenses:
1:00 PM GL Liner Terminal to Bontoc P212
7:00 PM Arrival at Bontoc
Overnight stay at Bontoc P800/ 2 = P400
Dinner at Bulaluhan P100
6:00 AM – 6:30 AM Wake-up call 6:30 AM Breakfast P75
7:00 AM – 9:00 AM Bontoc to Bugnay jump-off point P100
9:00 AM – 9: 15 AM Motorcycle ride from Bugnay to Buscalan starting point P100
9:15 AM – 10: 15 AM Trek to Buscalan
10:15 AM – 12:00 NN Tattoo sessions
12:00 NN – 12:30 PM Lunch at Ate Selma P100
12:30 PM – 6:00 PM Tattoo Sessions (500 for my tattoo/ 200 Jenn’s tattoo)
6:00 PM – 7: 00 PM Dinner
7:00 PM Lights out
5:00 AM – 5: 30 AM Wake-up call
5:30 AM – 6: 00 AM Breakfast
6:00 AM – 7:00 AM Picture taking with Whang Od (Since tattoo session was cancelled) 7:30 AM – 8: 30 AM Descent to Bugnay jump off point
9:00 AM – 12:00 NN Bugnay to Tabuk (van) P150
Lunch (Stop over at San Francisco Restaurant) P75
12:00 NN Arrival at Victory Liner Tabuk
12:00 NN – 4:00 PM Buying of pasalubongs Eat in one of the restaurants or coffee shops 5:00 PM Travel back to Manila P615
Travel Guide P600/ 2 = P300
Pasalubong – Ref Magnet P50, Key chains P15 / P25, Igorot dress rent P25
Kalinga Brewed Coffee – P180 / 150
Total Expenses = P2922.00