“No wonder not many people go here. This road to Tulgao Village is treacherous!” This I thought as I strive to keep my balance on our habal-habal (motorbike) as we ascend this very (very) rough road. At times we had to go down and walk just to be safe. I told myself that before that if I go back in Kalniga, I would visit the Palan-ah Falls we missed on our last visit. On our third day in Kalinga, we found ourself in a 30-minute hellish ride at a narrow high-altitude dirt road to Tulgao Village.
It only took four months and I found myself face-to-face again with the legendary Fang-Od in Buscalan again. This time, my friends and I caught her building a fence for her new-born piglets and their mom once we got up the stairs to the village. At 94-years old now, it’s amazing she can still pound on the wooden post to sink deep into the ground. She greeted us with a glance, disappeared and shortly gave us a book where we can choose a design. I could see both anxiety and excitement painted on my friends faces as they pore through the pages. Probably wondering how painful this traditional tattoo is.
It was the holiday season long-break and a couple of my friends (RoadworthyMan and Hapipaks) wanted to visit Fang-Od, the famed mambabatok in Buscalan Kalinga and have themselves inked. It was kind of unexpected that transportation options quickly ran out even a few days ahead before the trip. I guess gone are the days where I can easily go to Baguio, Banaue or Sagada on a whim during this season as this time, people should book way ahead. I volunteered to help and give them another option to Buscalan, not only to accompany them but partly to join them as well as I wanted to revisit Kalinga again for the holidays. What ensued was a trip of misadventures on our way to Riverside Inn, Luplupa, Kalinga.
Manila was dumped by more than a month’s rain in August, finding it a bit difficult to go around. The unusual habagat (southwest winds) rains caused major floods in the Metro but that didn’t dampen our eagerness to travel. Once abated, a window opened to travel to Kalinga, a province I have longed wanted to visit, not only to see the famous mambabatok Fang-Od (Whang-od), but the curiosity to see the land of the head-hunters.
“Our priority is to get back to Tinglayan!” I said when we were discussing about our plans for the next day. We wanted to somehow include the falls and springs in Kalinga but it seems time isn’t on our side. It’s either we go back the same route to Bugnay or we go by Francis’s suggestion – a Kalinga Villages Traverse to the next two villages of Butbut and Ngibat then descending at Liyao for the main road to Tinglayan. We decided to go with the latter not really knowing what we’re getting into.
The rhythmic sound of two sticks tapping was sort of meditative and relieving as each tap means the citrus thorn at the end of one stick has pierced through a shallow layer of my skin and left a permanent ink mark underneath. The pain from this batok (tattooing)? It was noticeable at first, like a multitude stingy ant bite but bearable, but I have always regarded myself having high tolerance for pain so it wasn’t as painful as I expected it to be. But I’d rather Whang-Od (Fang-OD), the 93-year old famed mambabatok (tattoo artist) of Buscalan Kalinga, not stopping any sooner with her tapping as it seems to bring a numbing sensation than pausing then starting over again. In between I tried to ask some questions while she works on my skin like canvass and our guide Francis was kind enough to translate.
Have I discovered the secret to long life? It seems the people living in this highland village of Buscalan in Kalinga have. It amazes me to see how elders living in the age bracket of 80-90 and above are still nimble, skillful and can still manage to contribute to work. I’m not just talking about the legendary mambatok (traditional tattoo artist) Whang Od (Fang Od), whom we wanted to meet when we went to Buscalan. While I was dumbfounded to find her working under the sun drying out some beans, then carefully carrying those in a small sack at the age of 93-yo, her peers in the village could still run around circles to any sedentary couch-potato in the metro.