Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Quick Guide For Those Planning To Visit Whang-od In Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga

I've had the privilege of joining some friends to visit Apo Whang-od in the village of Buscalan a few days ago. Buscalan is a community of a few dozen houses and is one of the barangays of Tinglayan in the province of Kalinga. It's most well-known as the home village of Whang-od Oggay, the 97-year-old woman who still practices the ancient art of Kalinga tattooing. Hordes of people travel to the sleepy town every month to get inked.

It was a culturally enriching experience. Although I grew up in a place that's very similar to Buscalan, I've amassed a few nuggets of new wisdom during our visit and our interactions with the locals. In many ways, the village reminded me of home. From the old men having a chit-chat in the doorsteps of a house to the rice paddies surrounding the village, they made me home.

How To Get To Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga
Whether you're coming from Manila, Baguio City, Banaue, or Sagada, there's only one entry point. And that is the capital town of Bontoc in Mountain Province. There are jeeps there that will take you to Tinglayan. Bontoc isn't a huge town so finding the jeep station shouldn't be that difficult. Just flag a tricycle and tell the driver to take you to the Tinglayan jeep station. I'm not sure if there are regular trips going to Buscalan from Bontoc. It's advisable that you plan your itinerary in advance to make sure that you get to the village without any hang-ups. It's also worth mentioning here that the road doesn't reach Buscalan. You have to hike a trail that's about two to three kilometers long. Locals often complete the trail between 45 minutes to an hour. If you're physically fit, you can probably keep up. If you're not used to hiking mountains, it will likely take you one to two hours.

How To Conduct Yourself In The Village
Always keep in mind that the residents of Buscalan still practice a lot of their cultural traditions. Suffice it to say that you show respect to these traditions whether you agree with them or not. If you're doubtful about something, there's always a tourist guide who can help you. There's a poster inside the village that says, "Please observe and respect the privacy, personal time, and traditions of the artists and the community." Heed it.

What To Do With Your Waste And Garbage
There are no garbage collectors in the village. You are responsible for disposing your own garbage. Of course, you can always seek the help of the locals but ask permission first before you dump your waste in their bins. For your non-biodegradable wastes like plastic, it's best that you stuff them in your backpack and dispose of them properly when you're out of the village.

Where To Stay And Spend The Night In Buscalan
Some of the houses in the village offer home-stay services. That is you live with the occupants for the duration of your stay for a fee. Tell your guide that you are planning to stay the night so they can arrange if there's a home available for you. Or you can talk with other travelers if they would like to take you in for the night.

Where To Get Food
There are at least two sari-sari stores in the village. They sell mostly pre-packed food like canned goods, noodles, snacks, and biscuits. If you are staying in a home-stay, you can request for a home-cooked meal as long as your hosts are able to oblige. There's an abundance of chickens and pigs in the village if you are in a protein diet.

Getting A Tattoo
Getting inked by Whang-od is on a first-come, first-served basis. When you enter the village, you will be asked by your guide if you're getting a tattoo. If your answer is in the affirmative, you will be added to the waiting list. Furthermore, there's no guarantee that Whang-od will be the one to tattoo you. She's old and she needs her rest every now and then. That's why there are two young women who also ink visitors in the same tattoo hut as Whang-od's. You also have the option of getting inked by other Kalinga artists in a tattoo hut further up the village. Look for Renalyn if you want one of the more experienced ones.

There you go, have fun in Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga.
A lone house made of cogon grass in Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga. Photo: Daniel Feliciano/The Cordilleran Sun