Thursday, January 2, 2014

Kalinga Province | A Great Cultural Experience

Talk about Cordillera culture. Being the less explored area in Luzon during the 300 plus Spanish occupation, the landlocked mountainous region of Cordillera has preserved its unique mountain culture intact, free from all foreign influences, thus one of our country's cultural hotspots today.

Now, the region is subdivided into 6 provinces: Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Apayao, Mountain Province, Abra, with Baguio City as its regional center; and each province has a dominant ethnic group: for Abra it's the Tingguians; for Apayao - Isneg; Benguet - Ibaloi; Ifugao - Ifugao; Kalinga - Kalinga; Mt. Province - Bontoc and Kankanaey.

I am forever a fan of these people, my desire to immerse in their distinct culture has been growing everytime I get to visit a new Cordillera province. Of the six provinces, I've already explored Benguet, Ifugao and Mt. Province. So when a friend told me they're bound for Kalinga, I blocked off the date and made sure I'll be part of their trip.


Friday - July 19, 2013 

I woke up, still on the road aboard Cable Bus, and I can see from my window familiar mountainous scenes. Ah, we're passing by the famous Banaue Rice Terraces. "Are we stopping?" I asked myself, "apparently not." We're just an hour away from Bontoc, the closest major town to Tinglayan in Kalinga, the day's goal.

It was 8 in the monring when the almost 12 hour bus ride ended. Finally, we arrived at Bontoc. At that moment, all we wanted was a good breakfast and probably a good mountain brew, so we headed straight to the first restaurant we spotted. They have pasta dishes and sandwiches, tamang tama lang. We asked the restaurant owner what time the next public transpo to Kalinga be leaving, she said the last bus just left, but two more jeepneys are scheduled to leave in the afternoon. So right after the meal, we went to where the jeepneys were parked (beside Bontoc College) and queried about the schedule of trips—next jeep to Tabuk is at 1 PM.

at the streets of Bontoc Poblacion
Came 1 PM and the jeep was quickly filled with passengers, some with big boxes, some with sacks of cabbages, some with live poultry, indeed I'm away from the urban Manila. We're all bound for Kalinga, excited, can't wait.

jeepney ride to Tinglayan.
As our jeep went zigzagging on a road that runs on the side of Chico river, I noticed the view outside was so beautiful. I was supposed to peek from the jeep's window and take some photos, but too tired to move even an inch. It's probably the most tiring commute I ever did, I got dizzy. Mas pinili ko na lang na matulog sa maalog na byahe.

At around 3:20 PM, we alighted the jeep where the big signboard saying "Luplupa Riverside Inn" is found. We finally arrived after more than two hours of travel from Bontoc.

touchdown Tinglayan, Kalinga Province

Tinglayan Town and the Sickly Traveler

From the main road, we walked towards the Riverside Inn located on the other side of Chico River. We crossed a long shaky cable bridge, entered the narrow streets, carefully avoiding the pigs and chicken and their shit that were scattered around. Riverside Inn isn't exactly on the riverside but at the heart of Luplupa Village. 

Chico River under me
We were the only guests at Riverside Inn that day, and the home owner happily welcomed us. It's just a simple but decent house with a number of fan rooms and clean comfort rooms. And the owners are very accomodating (thanks to them).

Once settled, I dropped my bag and seated at the balcony. I munched on my packed snack since we're not yet taking a true lunch. Then all of a sudden, I felt ill. Yes, bigla akong nilagnat! Nevertheless, I still joined my friends when they strolled at the village's rice fields found at the back of our inn.

we were right in time for the harvest season
rice fields of Luplupa Village
freshly harvested rice!
There's nothing much to do once you're in Tinglayan. A simple laid-back town has nothing to offer but priceless scenic views and peace of mind.

By dinner time, we requested the house owner to serve us with anything for dinner, and they did. What we had that night was beans, boiled and unseasoned. If you're too picky, bring your own meal. Tinglayan is entirely a farming town and very rural, so don't expect any city food once there. I thankfully consumed my meal despite the uncomfortable sickly feeling that night. I got no choice anyway. hehe.

what's up for dinner? Beans, of course.
After dinner, I was so not in the mood to move or whatsoever. All I wanted was to stay in bed and get plenty of rest. I should be fine by tomorrow or else I would enjoy less the highlight of our trip—to meet the last mambabatok.

Saturday - July 20, 2013

The Old Tattoo Artist of Buscalan

The following day, the five of us left Luplupa, met with Victor Baculi (the recommended tour guide from Luplupa), and hopped on the 7AM jeep to Buscalan. Of course, everyone got excited to meet Apo Whang-Od, the old and last mambabatok.

on our way, sir Victor pointed on the Sleeping Beauty. The mountain that resembles a sleeping lady. Can you see her in this photo?
We arrived at Bugnay at 07:50 AM, and from there we walked up using the Farm-to-Market road to Buscalan. Chill walk up to Buscalan would take more or less 1 hour, with views of terraces and simple villages.

Terraces of Buscalan
We saw right away the old tattoo artist upon entering the village's gate. She's there, busy tattooing someone. With the tools and charred hands, she marks the skin of her client permanently. Suddenly I felt irky and and scared when I saw in her (the client) face a hint of pain. So I told myself, "I'm not getting a tattoo anytime soon, that's for sure."

getting a tattoo from her needs bravery and love for culture. I love my culture, but I guess I'm not brave enough.
Welcomed us with big genuine smile, Apo Whang-od let us stay in her humble abode. I'm still not feeling very well so I opted to stay inside and rest while my travel buddies, who're all interested to get inked, thoroughly browsed the catalog or rather a book that has images of the old hag's works. As soon as they have a pattern in mind, they showed it to Whang-od and then the tapping begins.

Apo Whang-Od opened her doors to us for one night.
my friends checked this book for tattoo patterns
Apo Whang-od will then prepare her tools, all are new, to get the tattooing started.
Using only simple tools such as pomelo thorn as needle, stick as handle, and a black mixture (charcoal), Apo Whang-od still carries out the process of local tattooing (batok) to her clients almost flawlessly. The process was bloody and painful, but will certainly give you extra bragging rights.
She is a living legend, a national cultural treasure, the last mambabatok of the Kalinga People. If meeting her is something to be really proud of, what more if you'll get a tattoo from her. Priceless cultural experience.

Now 95 yrs old, she is the last Kalinga tattoo artist, or Mambabatok. I was so wowed by her sleeve tattoos. Definitely, she carries upon her shoulders a huge chunk of Kalinga culture. We simply cannot afford to lose her soon. Long live Apo Whang-od. My highest respect goes to her.
Depending on the size and details of the tattoo, the process takes at least an hour. I rested inside while my friends are happily and painfully getting inked. When I woke up, they're all smiling with their new tattoos.

By 3PM, we roamed around Buscalan to see more of the Kalinga culture. What is there to see?

I noticed that many elders wear sleeve tattoo.
If you were to take pictures or portraits of them, be sure to give them matchboxes in exchange
a typical traditional Kalinga house.
even the kids help in daily household chores.
they also have a blacksmith in town
pigs roam around the town like dogs. at madami sila
more rice. we came on a harvest season
Life in Buscalan Village moved pretty slow, so unlike the city life. And they're quite used to seeing foreign visitors in their place, they would smile if you point the camera at them, just be sure to give them something in exchange (matchboxes will do).

While strolling around the village's rice terraces, rain suddenly poured down. Of course this made us rush back to Apo Whang-od's place. The nice old woman then served us with aromatic freshly brewed mountain coffee, which I liked very much.

when in Kalinga, don't miss their local brewed coffee.
There's no electricity in Buscalan, so when night time caught up with us, there's practically nothing much to do but sleep already. But before we rested, we had dinner first. Guess what, it's beans again.

Sunday - July 21, 2013

We had to leave early morning the following day, first trip back to Bontoc is at 7, and we had to catch it. So, just before the sun rise, we left Apo Whang-od, thanked her of course for welcoming us and giving us a remarkable culturally enriching experience. And I hugged her tight to express my gratitude.

sunrise while trekking back to highway
The great day revealed scenic views and pleasing landscapes during the trek.
Bugnay Village (another cultural village in Tinglayan) as seen from the trail

Topload Ride and the Scenic Chico River

Our jeep arrived moments after we reached the highway. Saktong sakto. And even if it was empty inside, my instinct told me to go up for a topload ride.

Definitely a must-do when riding in Kalinga.
Chico River is Kalinga's life giver. It bisects the mountains, creating a deep river valley that sustains life in many villages. Back in the Marcos era, a dam was supposed to be built there to produce hydroelectricity for Luzon, but the Kalinga People of course expressed great opposition to this project as it will displace them from their homeland. Anyways, to my eyes, the Chico river and surrounding villages and landscapes are all part of a beautiful masterpiece.

Bugnay Terraces as seen from topload
some parts of the road eroded, quite scary noh?
another rice terraces spotted
the river is also a good for rafting sports. In Tabuk (a city in Kalinga), white water rafting with easy, intermediate and pro courses is being offered. It's quite pricey though.
another beautiful rice terraces along Chico river
The scenic topload ride lasted only an hour. By 9:40 AM, we're already approaching Bontoc Town. Too sad that our Kalinga trip will end very soon.
At Bontoc, we had a quick lunch, paid shower then hopped into the next bus back to Baguio City, then another bus back to Manila. Tired but satisfied.

Without a doubt, our cultural trip to Kalinga Province was a blast, and left a mark in my greatest travel experiences of the year 2013.



  1. Ganda! Hay. Sana ngayong taon ay mapuntahan ko na ang Tinglayan.

  2. No seasoning on the boiled string beans...not even a dash of salt?

  3. Kalinga Province have a many beautiful location for visitors attraction. During a research i read many articles of there peoples. They are so humble and cultures peoples. make tattoos on their body which is a taboo.

  4. Thanks for information about Cordillera culture. I read this post and and get amazing information about Cordillera culture. Cordillera beautiful and different place in world i want to go here. Bugnay Village is so beautiful i like this.

  5. Would you mind sharing how much they paid for the tattoos? :) Very nice blog!!

  6. wOww amazing! i got a lot of information about this. i can start now my essay about kalinga people and their culture..

  7. see you Kalinga this long weekend Aug 28-31.. who's going? lemme know!!!

  8. who whant to go at Buscalan Tinglayan,Kalinga to experience our culture and have a ink by Apo Whang-Od ... im BENJIE as a Tourguide just PM ME here my # 09480774818

  9. Hey do you have the number of the tourguide going to buscalan village to Whang Od?



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