A Dream Was Done In Buscalan

Ever had a dream place you really wanted to visit that it took you years to plan and prepare?

We all have our one dream place. Mine, it’s Buscalan.

September 29, 2017

It was around 5:00 o’clock in the afternoon when I started packing for a trip that was long planned. Schedule of our departure? 6:30 p.m. But I still have managed to prepare my things and do last-minute shopping for a good pair of hiking sandals and a toothbrush. Came 7:00 p.m., we were still rushing to the meeting place and as I was expecting, everyone was all in a hurry, too. Good thing, our driver was so patient. We left Manila around 8:00 p.m. Normal Filipino time. The traffic was so bad since it was a payday Friday, and NLEX… you know what it is.

After braving the traffic and as soon as we pass through the expressway, the adventure began. In case you’re wondering, we have availed a tour via Raizen Travel and Tours and if you want a less hassle trip to Buscalan, check out their Facebook page. Sobrang cool ng driver/guide/cook/ka-jamming all-in-one nila! I just forgot his name but he has a great taste in music and that made us more lively inside our van. Grabe yung soundtrip! Mix of OPM, reggae, rock, and 90’s feel good music. Ang saya! We were 12 in the van (minus the driver) and there was never a dull moment because of the non-stop kwento, laughter, and foodtrip. Sa van pa lang, solid na. I was with my boyfriend, friends, friends of friends, and kamag-anak ng friends; and we all turned out to be friends na rin.

September 30, 2017 Around 3:00 in the morning, we decided to take pictures and experience the freezing situation in the highest point in the Philippine Highway System located along Halsema Highway in Atok, Benguet. It is 2, 255+ meters above sea level which makes the whole place chilly; it will give you shivers up to your bones.

Then, we continued traveling our way to Bontoc. When we arrived there, our kuya driver left us for a while with the van to buy some goods for our stay in Buscalan. We spent time enjoying the cold 4:00 a.m. breeze while roaming around the streets of Bontoc proper. The sun was not out yet but the people we met, even the dogs, were so welcoming. Few moments later, we got our way to Buscalan. Going there, you need to drive over steep hills and arduous roadways. We’re lucky that our driver is good in maneuvering because with one wrong move, our van would’ve roll down the slopes. It was such a glorious feeling gradually seeing the view as the sun rise up.

We finally arrived at the jump-off point around 7:00 a.m. The morning was way far from the usual. We unloaded from our rockets and found heaven as we landed. We were surrounded with wondrous rice terraces all over the vicinity. From there, we started hiking to Brgy. Tinglayan. It took us about an hour of trekking to the barangay.

(Photo by Earvin Casais)

with the children of Tinglayan (Photo by Earvin Casais)

Aside from our kuya driver, we were lucky to be accompanied by these local guides – Kuya Kenad and Ate Anyang.

They were responsible for our needs in Tinglayan. Plus, they treated us like their family and helped us live like locals for a day.

Going back, when we finally got to Brgy. Tinglayan, the exhaustion faded as we saw the locals and the whole barangay, and everywhere we go, we hear that “tapping” sound that made us more exhilarated. There were black and pot-bellied pigs all around, and the dogs were so tamed and friendly. The locals are still living their traditional and simple lives, although some were already adapting the technology. But one thing I noticed was that everyone – elders or younglings, male or female; have their own traditional tattoos on their skin. Their way of tattooing is called batok, and the most renowned and legendary mambabatok is Apo Fang-Od. (Others call her as Whang Od.)

Apo Fang-Od signing a book where she’s on the cover

Apo Fang-Od, from the Butbut ethnic group, is a hundred year old mambabatok who still practices their culture and art of tattooing despite her age. According to her, she has no plans of stopping yet as long as her sight and health still ables her to do it. Her grandchildren also practices pambabatok for the preservation and continuity of their tribe’s tattoo culture. I suggest you research more about the people of Buscalan and their culture so that you’ll understand the importance of pambabatok to them.

Apo Fang-Od preparing her weapons of choice (Photo by Earvin Casais)

After having our own breakfast and a thermos-full of Buscalan coffee, our group decided to finally have our own batok.

Grace and Elyang doing their work of art

I was trying my best to endure the pain. I remember playing Tong-its on my phone and amuse myself but, it didn’t worked. This was my first ever tattoo, by the way. I didn’t expect it to be hella painful!!

Then, after lunch, our group was the first one to line up for Apo Fang-Od. While waiting, we couldn’t keep our excitement to ourselves.

When I saw her, grabe. Para akong nakakita ng tala na bumaba sa langit.

Oh ang matamis mong ngiti.. (Photo by Earvin Casais)

She was sitting on a stool, patiently giving everyone the three dots they deserve. Gusto ko siyang yakapin at isayaw.

My turn came and the pain I felt in my first tattoo was nothing compared to pain I felt as she continuously tap a Pomelo’s thorn – dipped in liquid charcoal ink, with a piece of wood, into my skin. I literally could feel every prick to my bones. But it was all worth it!

Manjamarah, Apo Fang-Od

We were all given the three dots which is actually Apo Fang-Od’s signature. It’s such an honor to be carrying it with us forever.

Evening came, we were lucky to be invited to a feast and witnessed one of their tribe’s tradition; a wedding ritual.

There was a couple who just got married and everyone was celebrating by dancing their tribal dance. Female tourists were asked to join if they want while the men from the tribe gracefully gong their traditional percussion instruments. And yes, I danced with them. It was such a great feeling!

We ended the night with a smile on our face and a feeling of excitement for the next day.

October 1, 2017 Our last day in Buscalan. We were welcomed by this breath-taking view.

Heaven on Earth!

We spent the whole day roaming around Brgy. Tinglayan; exchanging stories with the locals, taking photos for memories, and savoring this piece of heaven on earth.

While my friends do their thing, I also made the most out of our remaining hours in Buscalan. I decided to have another tattoo, this time, on my back.

After lunch, we started packing up and slowly accepting the fact that we are leaving this amazing place. At 12:00 noon, we descended heaven and went back to reality. My heart was full of memories from that dream trip that I will treasure forever.

Indeed, a dream was done in Buscalan.

September 30, 2018 A year later.

I still plan on going back to my dream place and do the things I haven’t tried because we only had ample time when we were there. I only took few photos because I said to myself that I will enjoy every minute of this trip. Buscalan is one of the many places perfect for a much needed technology and stress detox.

(L-R): Remus, Earvin, Onad, Gerwin, Giselle, Mae, me, Wenjie, Ate Anyang (local), Nikko, and Enteng.

If I were to visit Buscalan again, I’d still choose these people who were with me because we all share the same craziness. I will just invite some of our friends to go with us next time.

Now this. I couldn’t believe that I have survived the uphill hike and the pain of having the batok not knowing that I was 2 months pregnant that time.

Yes, people. Nobody (including me) knew that I was already carrying my little one inside me when we did all that crazy, fun adventure. Kaya pala ibang level yung pagod at kain ko ‘nun. I am just thankful that nothing bad happened to us.

I am planning to go back to Buscalan with my little one, maybe next year, when he could walk already and run free with the pigs and kids of Brgy. Tinglayan. I can’t wait for it!

If it isn’t too much to ask, you may want to watch my Buscalan Travel Video to see more of this trip.

Also, I will blog about my batok and its meanings. If you have any questions regarding this trip, please feel free to ask me. And I highly suggest to include Buscalan in your bucket list now!

*All photos are mine and Earvin Casais (as stated in the captions).

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