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For this trip I had a list of things that I wanted to do:

1. Visit Whang-Od, the century old traditional Tattooist of Kalinga.
2. Visit Alonzo Saclag, Sr., the National Living Treasure of Kalinga.
3. Sleep in a traditional Kalinga house.
4. Sample Kalinga cooking.
5. Ride as many forms of transportation as i can (without breaking my back)

Just a couple of quotations on solo travel that I totally subscribe to:
"Travelling alone is the single best gift you can give yourself."
"You never really travel alone. The world is full of friends waiting to get to know you."

I have been asked by a lot of people if I get bored or lonely when I travel alone. I have been called courageous, weird, friendless, mad/crazy, especially travelling in some parts of the Philippines. Hahahaha! What I am is hopeful -- hopeful that people of good spirits will meet and help me; I am positive that there are more good people that we count on and that's been proven to me time and again! Never more so that during this trip to Kalinga. I believe that if you are basically a person with an open heart, the people you meet will respond in kind... Even animals!

Boredom is the least of my problems when I traveled around Kalinga. People are so friendly and welcoming that my lack of skill with the language was no barrier to forming interpersonal relationships. :) Hand-signs and mime sufficed to put across what I wanted to say and i did get what the other person was saying without a single word being said. It would have been better though if I learned a few words of Kalinga (e.g. hello, good morning, good evening, thank you, etc.)


With Whang-Od wearing the peace bracelet I gifted her

With Whang-Od wearing the peace bracelet I gifted her

I travelled a total of 15 hrs to get to Buscalan, the mountain community where Whang-Od lived. It is one of the five communities that the Butbut Tribe (her tribe) established in the mountains of Tinglayan. I left Manila on the evening of November 29 and got into Tabuk at around 7:30 in the morning. I took the bus to Bontoc which dropped me off at the little hamlet of Bugnay where my guide, Kuya Gaspar (also a Butbut) awaited me with his van.

We drove up to the Turning Point where I registered and paid the required Environmental and community fee. It was also in Turning Point where all vehicles are parked and left behind. From that point all will have to proceed on foot. So he took up my backpack and bag of supplies and proceeded to lead the hike up the mountains to the newer community of Buscalan. When he noticed that I kept slipping (the trail was muddy due to continuous rain) he borrowed the bolo of a chance met village man and fashioned a cane for me from out of the viney growth next to the trail. I had a hard time on the trail mainly because i was out of condition having been sedentary for the past couple of months.

It took us 30 minutes to hike up to Buscalan which was composed of about 150 households and countless free range native pigs! Kuya Gaspar took me to the homestay he owned which sat next to the Padjao Rice Terraces. His wife Josie served piping hot Kalinga coffee, a sweetish concoction which revived my flagging energy. As I sat on a bench outside the house, I can see the farmers working on the various strata of the rice terraces. Modern technology has come to the ancient paddies! The farmers use mechanical tillers to work their farms.

After I had my cup, Josie took me around the village where I saw the locals working on their native industries: blacksmithing (bolos, knives, etc.); making tokens such as necklaces, little basketry, and of course, tattooing (Whang-Od was not the only tattoist in Buscalan). We went down to the little hut where Whang-Od held her business. It was close to 5 p.m. and the temperature on that mountain village was starting to feel colder but people still flocked down to that little hut. The Tattoist was busy with her final client for the day and Whang-od was looking kinda weary, she paused several times to take a deep breath and then went on to tap a stick on another stick which holds the thorn of the Pomelo (aka Citrus maxima) which she uses instead of a steel needle. I found that batok is a painstaking task! Modern tattooing is less impressive to me now that I've watched Whang-Od tap that stick over and over for what seemed to me now an endless space of time. I waited for Whang-Od to finish with her client and sign the work with her three black circles. I saw her clutch her hand to her stomach as if to still the pain she felt... I don't know how long she was seated on the low chair tap tapping that little stick to satisfy the people who traveled from all over to be inked by this little old lady who was one of the last to carry her tradition in this modern times.

Josie approached Whang-Od to tell her that I wanted to give her something (a peace bracelet which I kept for 2 years in the hope of giving it to her in person) and to have a souvenir photo taken with her. She nodded and smiled at me. I sat down next to her and she held out her hand -- it was cold and frail-looking but the clasp was strong... I suddenly remembered that this woman was also a farmer! I put the bracelet on her wrist and we smiled at each other. I could hear some people in the background saying that they should have brought her something too. Well, the pictures you see doesn't really do her justice! She is more beautiful in person. The guy who seemed to be watching out for her took the photo you see on this blog and told Josie that photo-taking with Whang-od costs P50 which I should give directly to her. I handed over my P50 to the Tattooist and left the little hut as the people waiting with me crowded around the little lady. For more of her story: Whang-Od


With Mr. Alonzo Saclag Sr. and his wife Rebecca

With Mr. Alonzo Saclag Sr. and his wife Rebecca

I travelled down to Labuagan Town after spending the night in Buscalan and taking photos of the sunrise over Padjao Terraces. Jordan Alisto who works for the Office of the Mayor of Lubuagan took me via motorbike up the mountain to Awichon, the cultural eco-village built by Mr. Alonzo Saclag, Sr. He used the money the government gifted him with after he was declared a National Living Treasure in 2000 to start the work in the 50 hectare property he had up in the mountains outside Lubuagan town. I was welcomed by Mrs. Rebecca Saclag and given an octagonal hut to spend the night in (Target #3 - check!!!)

Mr. Saclag seeks to promote Kalinga culture and arts through his work. He is sad that the kalinga is misunderstood by the outsiders. He said that it is wrong to think that Kalinga are given reputation for being unthinkingly violent. He did say that as recent as two months ago there is a declared tribal war started by a boundary dispute. Despite deep personal tragedy, he is very active in seeking to have the Kalinga traditions taught in schools so that the younger generations of Kalinga will not forget this important part of their history. Awichon Eco-village is a great venue to learn about Kalinga history, music and dances. When I was there, I saw a group of men from Abra who played basketball against a team from Pasil (another Kalinga town) practicing the gangsa as Mr. Saclag looked on. They also practiced playing the traditional leather covered drum and other instruments with the help of Mr. Saclag's son Reggie who helps his Dad manage Awichon.

What did I learn about the Kalinga after talking with Mr. Saclag and his family up in Awichon? I learned about Emilio Aguinaldo's time in Kalinga and that there is a lack of information about this time in Philippine History in the books used in schools. I learned about the the peace-pact, the budong, the Kalinga way of declaring tribal war, the differences between a clan war and a tribal war, the different dances of Kalinga -- from war to courtship. And from Mrs. Rebecca I learned about dressing as a Kalinga lady and that they are called the peacocks of the North. Mr. Saclag feels an urgency about the fulfillment of his life-long dream and wonders if he will have enough time to complete it. He wants to have Kalinga's oral history, music and dances recorded for posterity. He has a lot of plans to help promote Kalinga culture and arts to a wider audience so as to dispel the misinformation still being floated about Kalinga people. He wishes that the government will extend support (both financial and manpower) in making this dream a reality. In spite of this he is hesitant to seek the help of politicians as it might mean that he will have to compromise his stand and his freedom as an artist and teacher...
So right now it is painfully slow process for him and his family... I hope that he can make his dream a reality.

What struck me most about the info shared by Mr. Saclag was the fact that contrary to what some of us believe, the Kalinga do not just go warring in a flip of a switch! First, there is a meeting between peace pact holders to see if the issue causing friction can be resolved within the confines of the peace pact and the budong. If not, then there will be a formal declaration and the two parties will then return to their respective tribes to inform them about the failure of settlement and the beginning of the tribal war.

According to Mr. Saclag, there are three rules that they follow:
1. Do not burn houses.
2. Do not destroy the farmlands.
3. Do not kill the innocents (including madmen).
He explained the reasoning behind each rule and it made sense -- as much as such a war can make sense.

I would have loved to have stayed longer in my little hut in Awichon but my time was up and I had to go back to Manila. I do plan to go back there and stay longer so I can just relax and walk around the grounds and maybe take up their invitation to plant more trees to add to the ones that are already thriving there -- Kalinga oranges, lychees, coffee, abaca, mountain tea, and jugway.


Kalinga oranges

Kalinga oranges

Aside from the Kalinga oranges and the local coffee which I absolutely adore, the local cuisine is not much to write about. It is bland and unexciting. Awichon sells locally made chili condiment which helps pep up the otherwise uninspired food.

What might cause problems when commuting in Kalinga is the fact that public transportation has a rather limited schedule. Jeeps and buses usually only runs in the morning. So one must always take that into consideration when making one's itinerary.

According to my guide, Kuya Gaspar, the best time to travel around Kalinga is between April and May when the weather is fine and the rice paddies are at its best! I will surely try to go there during summer but i think that despite the wet weather, the cold nights, this time is just perfect for me! I loved my time up there and will look back to this solo trip with a great smile on my face. I have finally fulfilled a promise to myself about meeting Whang-Od while she can still look at me and know how much I admire her and I made new friends and learned new things about this amazing corner of the world which Mrs. Rebecca says puts them so much closer to God.

For sample costing and additional information regarding this trip, please do read: Kalinga 2

Posted by neena329_cab 20:57 Archived in Philippines Tagged food native love living tattoo huts tribal wars treasures kalinga cordilleras whang-od

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