10 Things you need to know about “Ang Babaeng Mambabatok sa Buscalan”
1. Wang – Od (pronounced as Fang Od) was regarded as the last of her kind. She was a mambabatok – a traditional Kalinga tattoo artist from the Butbut tribe in the mountainous community of Buscalan in Tinglayan, Kalinga. At 99 years old (date of birth December 27, 1917)- she is the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines. There was a clamor in social media for her to be nominated as a National Artist for her contribution to the Philippine culture but instead of National Artist, the late 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. She was unmarried and do not have any children to pass the knowledge of batok. Mambabatok can only teach within their bloodline, Apo Wang-Od learned the craft directly from her father so without any children, Whang-Od would have been the last mambabatok in the Kalinga province. But a decade ago, she began training her grandniece, Grace Palicas, to be her apprentice. At the tender age of 10, Palicas was put into intense training to learn the ancient art. She also teaches Ilyang Wigan, another bloodline successor, to continue her legacy.
2. The batok – traditional tribal tattoo was done by using bamboo stick with a pomelo thorn attached vertically at its tip that will be tapped on your skin with charcoal used as the ink. Back in the old days tribal tattoos symbolize their bravery and courage. For women, tattoos portray beauty and elegance. Also, Kalinga (literally mean to headhunt) women would adorn their bodies with tattoos to attract prospective partners.
3. Tour Guides. A local ordinance passed that you cannot visit the village of Buscalan without a local guide so you have to arrange it beforehand. This is in a way helpful because not only that they are familiar with the trek going to the village, they also serves as an interpreter for most of the people in the community do not speak Tagalog. When I was still in the process of researching for my trip to Buscalan, two names always comes up- Sir Francis Pa-in (+63 915 769 0843) and Charlie Pan-oy (+63 998 188 8697 and +63 916 605 0430) Both of them are neighbors of Apo Wang-Od. Sir Francis was considered a celebrity tour guide in their village. Tourguide charge is Php1000 for 1-5 persons, Php2000 for 6-10 persons so on.
4. Route. There are four main routes to choose from depending on your location and preference. But if Manila will be your starting point, these are the possible routes you can take:
- Manila-Baguio-Bontoc-Buscalan Route
- Manila-Banaue-Bontoc-Buscalan Route
- Manila-Sagada-Bontoc-Buscalan Route
- Manila-Tabuk-Buscalan Route
buses leaving Manila bound to Baguio, Banaue and Tabuk have regular trips everyday (mostly during evening) but if you are planning to go during holidays it is important that you book it at least a week before your trip to avoid the hassle.
This are the recommended buses you can take:
Victory Liner (Manila to Baguio/Tabuk vv) https://www.victoryliner.com/
683 EDSA, Cubao, Quezon City
+63 2 727-4688, +63 2 410 8986, +63 2 727 4534
Victory Liner (Manila to Banaue vv) http://ohayamitrans.com Cor. fajardo St., Lacson Ave Sampaloc, Manila
+63 9276493055/ +63 2 5160501
Coda Lines (Sagada/Bontoc to Cubao vv) www.codalinesph.com/ (formerly HM Transport Inc.) Monte de Piedad, corner Maryland, Cubao, Quezon City +63 927 559 219
5. Traveltime/ Travelfare This are the following routes and their corresponding travel times; all of the routes are land travel either by AC buses, toploader jeepneys or van for hire and their corresponding one way fares (as of December 2016)
• Manila to Baguio is 5-6 hrs by bus (Victory Liner) Php750(first class)/Php445 (regular) • Manila to Banaue is 9-10 hrs (Ohayami Trans) Php490 • Manila to Sagada is 12 hrs. (Coda Liner) Php720 • Kamias (Manila) to Tabuk is 10 hrs (Victory Liner) Php700(first class)/ Php550(regular) • Banaue to Bontoc is 3-4 hrs by jeep (Php212) • Baguio to Bontoc is 5-6 hrs by bus (Rising Sun) Php220 • Baguio to Sagada is 6 hrs by bus (GL Trans/Lizardo Lines) Php220 • Sagada to Bontoc is 2-21/2 hrs by jeep (Php150) • Bontoc to Tinglayan is 1-11/2 hrs jeep (Php100) • Tabuk to Tinglayan is 2 hrs by jeep (Php120) • Bontoc to Cubao is 12 hrs by bus (Coda Lines) Php685
Jeepneys that ply from Tabuk to Bontoc vise versa only have trips passing by Tinglayan as early as 7am and the last trip by noon time. The road from Tabuk to Bontoc runs almost parallel with Chico River punctuated with rice terraces villages so you will be rewarded with a scenic view on your way to Tinglayan.
6. the Trek. Wether you are coming from Tabuk or Bontoc, Inform the driver that you need to alight at Bugnay. It is the diversion road in Tinglayan that will be the place where you will be picked up by your guide. From there it will be another 20-30 minutes motorcycle ride on a winding road up to the Turning Point. Its called thus because thats where the road ends and the concrete footpath begins. Trekking time depends on one’s pace. To locals from the turning point they can reach the village of Buscalan in 30-45 minutes. On average, the trek is about 1-2 hours one way. It consist of walking on a flat terrain then a short descend to the foot of the mountain where you will pass by a short concrete bridge. From there you can see a waterfalls that cuts right through the path. That is the lowest point of the trek, once you pass that, prepare for the sharp ascent to the top of the mountain where the tribe of Butbut dwells. The steps are combination of stone and earth.
7. Tattoo design. You can choose from a stylebook or on a board that will be shown to you when you go to the tattoo area. If you are planning to have a personalized tattoo, show it beforehand so you can get confirmation that your design can be done (Apo herself do not do personalized tattoos but her apprentices sometimes accommodate the request) Most of the designs available are tribal with significant meaning to the tribe. Alibata (ancient Filipino alphabet) is one popular design you can request as well.
8. Cost. Cost of the tattoo solely to be decided by Apo Wang-Od herself. Although she does charge very minimal, sometimes she charges differently on an entirely same tattoo. On average, she charges Php500 – Php1000 on an medium-sized tattoo. Her signature, where she put every time she finishes a tattoo, is an ellipsis or a set of three dots is for Php100.
9. Accommodation. You have an option of few homestays within the village of Buscalan. The family of Apo Wang Od herself have the second floor of their house doubles as a homestay for guests who wanted to spend a night or two. During peak season, where in the queue to get tattoo can go as high as almost a hundred, it is best to stay for the night so you will be the first in line the next day. Homestay set up is spartan and normally cost Php250 a night.
10. Food. Like the accommodation, food that will be served will be simple. Most of the time, accommodation and food are included on the package that will be quoted to you when you inquire. Tourguides are charged separately.
- it is not mandatory to bring goodies and presents to the children in the community but they are much appreciated. Matches and toothbrush (for the kids) are most welcome
- try to get an anti tetanus shot before getting a tattoo for your peace of mind. Getting a traditional tribal tattoo is not the most hygienic procedure compared to mechanical inking.
- try to avoid getting tattoo on parts of the body that you cannot avoid getting wet. You will be advised to keep it dry as pores is still open a day or two after the procedure. Apply petroleum jelly on the area regularly.
- if this will be the first time for you to trek, try to do some regular cardio exercises at least a week before your trip.
- Apo’s birthday is December 27 and they are holding a tattoo festival during December 27-28 every year
- Try to visit the village of Buscalan during lean season so you can have a relaxed laid back experience. Most of the tourist and visitors who went to the place are often frustrated because of the long wait time to get a tattoo. I was lucky enough to be the first guest the day I went (December 26). I was 4th in line for that day- Apo did not give tattoo on Christmas day and she was in a very jolly mood during my visit.
- Cellular signal is almost non existent (if there is one at all) However I noticed that Charlie managed to communicate by SMS using an entry level phones (with keypad) When I inquired my guide about it, he told me that only those kind of phones have reception, smartphones are totally out and that only works on Smart and Sun Cellular.
- Get a shoes or sandals with a very good traction as the trail can get slippery specially during foggy wet mornings
- Getting tattoo the traditional way is they say ten times more painful than mechanical inking. You need to psych up yourself and decide weather or not you want a tattoo. Its not nice to go down the mountain with a half finished lizard or centipede running in your arms or nape.