I have been putting off writing about my Kalinga trip, not because it wasn’t a good trip, because it was. One of the best I have ever been on. I’ve been putting it off because I didn’t know where to start. There were so many details; So many beautiful little moments, that I could not pick just one. So where do I start?


 This story starts with a bus ride. Over night. Over fields. Twisting through mountains. Ridden with sleep, and dreams, and worries, too. Ten hours of pleasant discomfort from Manila to Tabuk, the capital of the Kalinga Province. I woke up early because after we had pulled out of Victory Liner’s garage at around half past seven the night before, I fell into slumber. I don’t have a watch with me. I never wear one. My allergy to nickel always makes my wrist break out in hives a few hours after I ever wear one. No matter, the bus had an electronic time keeper by the front. It’s two in the morning. I looked out the window and tried to look for signs, but there was nothing much to see but darkness.

At around five, I fished out my phone from my bag and turned it on to see if I could get a signal and tried to use the GPS feature to check where I was. We were close. I texted my guide to let him know I was near. He advised me to ask the driver to drop me off at Bulanao, part of the city of Tabuk, where the jeepneys that will pass Tinglayan–a town in Kalinga, and my destination--would be parked. I waited until we pulled up in Tabuk in what looks like a market place. All shop fronts were closed. This wasn’t the last stop. A lot of the passengers remained seated, but the GPS said we were in Bulanao—or somewhere roughly near the vicinity. I walked up the front of the bus to ask the driver if we were in Bulanao. After the bus driver concurred, I got my pack on my back and alighted the bus.


My ever-reliable pack

I rode a tricycle to what looks like no jeepney stop that I have ever seen. “Eto na po ba yung sakayan papuntang Tinglayan?” (Is this where I can get a ride to Tinglayan?) I asked. The driver looked at me with what looked like a confused expression on his face. After a few seconds he said, “Oo. Tinglayan.” (Yes. Tinglayan). I looked around. I kept wondering if I was at the right place. I was standing in a closed storefront among a row of closed shops that faced the main road. A portion of the road was closed. Repairs, I guess. I asked a girl who was walking to who-knows-where if I was in the right place but she just stared at me blankly. So, I waited.


Eventually, the jeepney, that travels the Tabuk-Bontoc route, arrived and parked on the middle of the road.

Eventually, people started arriving, including two girls, speaking in rapid Tagalog. They came from Manila, too. They ended up stuck in Tabuk after arriving maybe thirty minutes after the last jeepney for Bontoc left the day before, around nine. They were also off to see Fang Od; to get tattooed, like me. We had the same guide. A few minutes later, a jeepney arrived, already a third full, boxes piled on top of boxes, inside. Outside, on the roof, more cargo was piled up.


We continue the story with a long jeepney ride—the one from Tabuk to Tinglayan, where I sat squeezed in between a stack of boxes and people. More than four hours when it could’ve been shorter, but somehow necessarily long, with dozens of stops along the way. They kept loading more and more cargo to a vehicle already filled to capacity. Me, alternating between trying to figure out what the locals were saying and succumbing to the soporific effect the ride had on me. Have I mentioned that we were heading to the Sleeping Beauty Inn? I wondered if that had anything to do with my sleepy state.


The Chico River, which snaked through the mountains of Kalinga

We arrived in Baranggay Luplupa in Tinglayan past one. Our guide Francis Pa-in was waiting for us outside the Sleeping Beauty Inn. He advised us to eat lunch while he got two motorcycles that will take us to the baranggay of Bugnay, which is an hour away from Tinglayan. This will be our drop off point to Buscalan. So, we ate.


Later, I found myself on the back of a motorcycle, sandwiched between the driver and our guide. Light rain dropped from the heavens. Fog enveloped the mountains. The motorcycle we were on twisted through a road that had the moutain’s side to my right and a steep ravine to my left. The Chico River snaked menacingly below.


Finally, we found ourselves at the end of the road. Literally. Usually, you would have to walk from the main road in Bugnay all the way to Buscalan. That would be three hours up the mountain. But the motorcycle was able to drop us off a bit further up the mountain and had helped cut the time in half. I would walk this route on my way back, but that is a story for another time.


Then, we walked. Downhill and then up. On a cemented footpath which was about a foot wide. We trudged through the slippery path. Me, out of shape and short of breath, perspiration dripping down my back, and very aware of my surroundings. Even with the fog and the rain, the view is beautiful and expansive. Rice terraces were carved out of the mountains. Green everywhere.


The beautiful rice terraces of Tinglayan

We arrived at the entrance of the village in Buscalan, the place relatively quiet. Apparently, a celebration was going on uphill and the village people were congregated there. We would later go up there to eat and join the festivities. But first, we met our hosts and accepted some water and coffee. It has been quite a long journey.


The sign told me that we had arrived in Buscalan, Fang-Od’s village


This post is part of a series I wrote about a recent trip to Kalinga– to the village of Buscalan to meet the famed Kalinga Tattooist, Fang-Od. Check out the other posts by clicking on the links below:

5 thoughts on “The Long Road to Buscalan

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