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I Found my Second Home in the Arms of Buscalan Village

Buscalan Village

It was a cold Thursday night of February 25th  when I jumped on the bus with my favorite backpack and a bag of medicines. I was going on another solo trip, this time to Buscalan, a small village in Kalinga province, about 340 miles away from Manila. I was having mixed emotions; happy because I’m on the road again, but gloomy because I expected to be with someone on this 4-day and 3-night journey.

For the first time, I didn’t reserve a seat with Ohayami, which I normally do whenever I go to the Cordillera Region because I was skeptical if I should push through with this travel. Then I thought, I shouldn’t live life with regrets, also, I told myself that Apo Whang-od couldn’t wait for me any longer. I should get my batok (tattoo) soon.

 

Ohayami Bus

Writing story on the road

 

The bus leaves at exactly 10 p.m. from Manila bound to Banaue. I spent the 9-hour journey watching the world slides by the window. The people inside are a curious mixt of bored and comfortable. I could feel everyone’s excitement to get to our destination. By the way, don’t forget to bring your jacket because Ohayami Bus is consistently cold based from my experience.

7:00 a.m – We were greeted by a chilly weather of Ifugao. People fell in line to pay for what I believed as tourism fee (20php) at the bus station. I couldn’t contain my excitement, maybe because I was also very hungry. All I could think about was the hot Sinigang served at Banaue Hotel, which is my favorite place to eat whenever I’m there.

 

Sinigang

Best place to eat in Banaue!

 

9:00 a.m – I decided to leave Banaue and take a jeep going to Bontoc (150php). I chose this route instead of Manila to Tabuk because the road offers one of the best landscapes; a winding road with a view of a sea of clouds, mountains, rice terraces, and river. There I met Marie, an American volunteer living in the small village of Hungduan, Ifugao.

 

[Read Related Article – Best Road Trip View Ever]

American Girl

Welcome to Mountain Province!

Rice Terraces

The view of the road going to Bontoc

 

We arrived in Bontoc before noon time and said goodbye to each other because she was heading to Baguio. I walked around the town of Bontoc and bought some canned goods, noodles, bread, and water. I also bought rice, which I knew shouldn’t buy considering the fact that they have an overflowing supply of organic rice in the mountain. I bought rice anyway to make sure I would have something to eat during my stay.

Reminder: Please stop bringing candies in the mountain, instead bring children bread or biscuits. We have to understand that there is no regular dentist or doctor in Buscalan. These children are so  used to receiving candies, they are now fighting for a piece.

 

Jeep to buscalan

The Jeep going to Buscalan

The jeep bound to Buscalan (80php) is located beside the Mountain Province State Polytechnic College. As per blogs that I read, it leaves Bontoc at 2:00 p.m., which didn’t happen for some unknown reason. I was patiently waiting for hours when a guy with his girlfriend shouted my name inside the jeep, “Cai! Cai! Sino si Cai?” (Who’s Cai?) I looked at him and introduced myself. The man said that Kuya Charlie texted him to include me in a group.

This is how I met this couple, Meanne and Malvin. They became my housemates for a day in the village. For someone going solo in Buscalan, it is advisable to join a small group to share the mandatory guide fee of 1,000php for a group of 1-5pax.  Kuya Charlie, my contact to Buscalan (0998-1888697), informed me that he can’t accommodate us since his house was already full. Nonetheless, he endorsed us to Elmer to be our host during our stay.

 

Jeep Topload

Friendship Goal!

 

Going to Kalinga was another opportunity to do top load, one of the best activities to do in this part of the Philippines. It was more than an hour of a death-defying zigzag road with a stunning view of Chico River, mountains, trees, and terraces. It was scary but fun.  This is where I met Lorena, one of the reasons why I became closer to the people of Buscalan.

 

Rainbow

The view of the road going to Kalinga

 

Topload

Top load going to Buscalan

 

The road to buscalan village

The road to Buscalan village

 

The sun has already set when we arrived in the Village; a small community with at least a hundred houses and less than a thousand residents. We were welcomed by our host family with Kalinga coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker but I loved their coffee. I informed Lorena that I brought medicine with me and asked her if there’s a health officer in the area. She told me to look for Minerva, a registered midwife of their tribe.

 

roommate

My room mates for a night

 

With the help of Elmer, I was able to meet Minerva who arrived with a big smile. I could feel the excitement poured out of her like the sunshine. I oriented her on some of the medicines that I brought. My friend, Wendy a Licensed Pharmacist labeled it before I went to Buscalan.

 

medicine

Minerve, a registered midwife from Butbut tribe

 

It was passed 8 p.m. when we started to prepare for dinner. I gave my sardines to Elmer and our host family cooked it for us. They ate vegetables every day fresh from their backyard, so you can expect that whatever food you will give to them they will cook it with vegetables. The next time you visit their village, don’t forget to bring some grocery for your host family. It is not required but highly appreciated.

 

homestay

My home for 3 days and 2 nights

 

batok designs

batok designs

When I was about to sleep, I heard Lorena calling me from the outside. She invited me to spend a few hours with three other travelers. I asked Lorena which tattoo design represents water. The guys told me to ask this girl wearing a pink shirt who was sitting beside me. Then I heard someone said, “Hindi mo ba sya kilala?” (Don’t you recognize her?).

I said “Hindi” (No).They said “

They said “Seryoso ka?” (Are you serious?)

Yes!” I replied, noticing that they wanted to laugh at my ignorance.

It felt so awkward, more so when I finally realized that they girl they were referring to was Grace. Yes! The young master, Gracia Palicas. I immediately fished my phone and asked for a selfie. The feeling was a bit awkward since we’d been talking for quite some time yet I didn’t recognize her.

 

Grace Palicas

With Gracia Palicas

 

The night was full of fun while we were drinking, sharing stories and jokes, and singing songs that I only heard in Buscalan. If you’re planning to visit, bring lots of jokes. Butbut tribe has a high sense of humor. The conversation always starts and ends with laughter.

 

kalinga coffee

kalinga coffee

 

The next day, I woke up to the feeling of cold weather embracing my body and the strong aroma of Kalinga coffee. I immediately went down hoping to get my tattoo with Whang-od. It was almost lunch time and my guide’s name has not been called yet. You see, that’s the current system for the queue works,when someone calls the name of the guide it means it’s the turn of his guests to get tattooed.

It was passed noon when I decided to get my tattoo with Elyang, Apo Whang-od’s niece. Because there were a lot of visitors falling in line to get inked by Whang-Od, my chance of getting a batok (tattoo) from Apo was getting slimmer and slimmer. That day was my only chance because I was set to leave tomorrow morning to catch the jeep back to Bontoc.

 

Whang-Od tattoo session

Whang-Od tattoo session

 

Grace Tattoo session

Grace Tattoo session

 

The feeling was a mixture of fear and excitement. This was my first time to have a tattoo and I had no idea how painful it would be. My turn has come and I told Elyang to place a water symbol on my right upper back. To make the atmosphere light, I tried to make fun of myself but deep inside I was scared. Then I thought, “Why should I be scared?” According to som people it’s painful but tolerable, so I set my mind that it wouldn’t hurt. I remained silent while Elyang was performing batok on my back.

 

At first, it felt almost nothing, I thought “mind over matter” was working on me. I was convincing myself that it was not painful but as time went by, it was getting more and more painful. Despite the pain, I still think it was tolerable.

 

Water Tattoo

Water Tattoo

 

After getting the tattoo, I saw Ma’am Isabel, the teacher I met in Bontoc. She introduced me to her family and toured me around her house. She also showed me the tribal style nipa hut; still under construction but it is soon to be a guest house.

 

buscalan village

Buscalan village

planting rice

Planting Season

Out of curiosity, I walked towards the rice terraces and discovered an awesome view of the mountain, the sky, and the village. It was breathtaking added with people planting rice and children playing around the rice field. This was heaven on earth. I walked over to get a better view on how people plant rice. I asked them if I could join. They said “Oo naman Sir!” (Of course Sir!).

Women Planting Rice

Women Planting Rice

It was my first time to dip my legs on a knee high mud and I swear I loved it. They were all laughing while watching me struggle as I walked on the rice field; it wasn’t easy to move. They taught me how to plant rice and we shared stories for more than 2 hours.

 

It was surprising to hear some of their stories like how hard the life in the community is, that many of them have never been to Manila and that they only see it on TV, and the closest thing they could ever have to a city is Bontoc. I felt their excitement as they answered their queries about my life in the Metro; what I do in life, what is my job, where do I live, how’s life and working in Makati, and a lot more.

 

Rice field

I made it!

 

Likewise, I learned a lot about their culture and lifestyle. I found that they are not allowed to sell their rice or bring it down to the village. The rice that they will harvest this coming July or August will be placed inside like a rice warehouse then everyone on tribe will just get their supply.

 

live like local

live like a local

 

When we were about to finish, one lady told me “Sir Cai, mag pa-mirienda ka naman dahil maganda naman ang trabaho mo sa Makati” (Sir Cai, please treat us for a snack since you have a nice job in Makati). Then everyone started laughing. Without hesitation, I said yes and went back to the village with Minerva, the owner of the rice field who accompanied me to look for the nearest store. This once in a lifetime experience made me feel closer to the local people of Buscalan. They even invited me to have dinner with them.

When I was about to go home, I saw another group of travelers who invited me to walk around the rice terraces. Another perk of traveling solo, a chance to meet awesome people.

The night was still young and my host family was preparing our dinner when I arrived back home. They were preparing beans boiled in salt. That’s how simple life in Buscalan is. While we were eating on the floor, I took the opportunity to know my host family even better. Based on all the medals displayed inside their house, it is obvious that the family members are high achievers in school. Unfortunately, Elmer had to stop from studying after graduating from High school to give way to her sister who was still in college taking up Engineering.

I was impressed knowing that they can send their daughter to college but in exchange, they needed to sell all their lands to support her education. A big part of their earning today comes from hosting and tour guiding and a big part of it is saved to support her schooling, allowance, apartment, and food because she’s studying in Tabuk.

 

Buyugan Family

Buyugan Family

 

Elmer Buyugan

With Elmer, my tour guide

 

I felt heartbroken when I heard that they don’t know if they can still support her in the upcoming semesters because their earnings aren’t enough to cover her expenses. They no longer have lands to sell. I didn’t show my feelings and instead tried to give them words of encouragement, that everything is possible as long as they help each other. Sooner or later when she graduates, I’m positive that she would give back all their sacrifices to them, her family.

After our dinner, I heard Grace calling and inviting me to have dinner with them. I couldn’t say no because I appreciate their hospitality. We spent the rest of the night with her friends and some guests, sharing stories and jokes just like how I spent my first night in the village.

 

With Whang-Od

With Whang-Od

 

It’s my last day and I woke up early still hoping to get a batok from Whang-od. Unfortunately, she was still inside her house and looks like she was not yet ready to start the session anytime soon. Before I left, I visited her to give the bangle from Marge. I felt privileged to hold her hand as I slowly slide up the bangle on her wrist.

In my head I was whispering that she would not leave anytime soon. I promised to go back; I need to feel the pain from her hand, to get that batok from the legend herself. I hugged her then said goodbye.

I left the village with an unexplainable happiness but also with a heavy heart. It’s hard to leave a place that became close to you and made you feel like home. I know that this is not the last time that I will visit your humble village. They told me to revisit this coming August to harvest the rice that we planted. Also, people reminded me to print all our photos once I get back and give them a copy.

Thank you Butbut tribe for extending your home and letting me feel that I’m part of your family. I’m really excited to go back and see you again.


67 comments

  • Is it really possible to have a solo travel to Buscalan? Cos im planning to go to Sagada but I’m starting to change my mind and want have a tattoo instead. I mean I really want to go. 🙁

  • Loved the post, very poignant and strangely moving. It is really great when you find a place that you feel is a home away from home. The warmth of the people would definitely have made it difficult for you to leave.

  • This is very touching. I salute you for having the guts to go solo and to be able to know and experience life with is really wonderful. It gives a lot of learnings in life and appreciate things too. it also enriches your soul. I can’t wait to experience this soon when the opportunity knocks.

  • What an inspiring post. I have heard about the Kalinga people before but your story made me feel like I was there with you. I didn’t realize it was a good idea to bring medicines, and something for the children when visiting the area. I will have to remember this for our visit.

  • You may sound not happy to be with someone you have expected to travel with you during this trip, but definitely you have met different people that made your trip awesome. I couldn’t wait to visit this place when I obtain the chance real soon. I like how you insert your tips on your composition. Anyhow, this is another travel experience that you’ll surely treasure because of your amazing travel memories.

  • It is so wonderful to be able to spend time with locals. I am inspired to set off on a solo trip like this. Great captures of the simple life there.

  • Hey, at the beginning the jeep and roads did not look very inspiring but it seems it was worth the effort! Good that you could combine your leisure trip with some good actions, like the bag of medicines

  • Such a beautiful place..and you captured a beautiful rainbow too. That jeep and your stay..they look so rustic..like from a different era. Would love to visit here sometimes

  • From the pics and your narrative, Buscalan seems to be a wonderful place to spend a few peaceful days. I really appreciate your courage in getting tattooed. I can never think of getting one done 🙂

  • I love this journey Cai… from getting your tattoo done to going down to rice paddies… How I wish to meet Apo Whang Od, I keep on telling my friends about her, so I should have to meet her 🙂
    Aside from your experiences, this travel made you meet and interact with people, which I think a great factor why you consider Buscalan your second home.

  • Cute tattoo. What a wonderful experience!

  • […] a chance to visit Batad, Ifugao with almost nothing, not everyone had the chance to plant rice in Buscalan and live like the locals, and not everyone who visited South Cotabato showcased how peaceful this […]

  • I think we would have seen each other had we pushed through our trip to Buscalan. Beautiful place!

  • Nice to meet you cai ? you are such a nice and jolly person.. Thank you ? see you when I see you ?

  • The farthest I’ve been in the North is Baguio. I’d love to visit Sagada, Vigan and Kalinga in the future when my husband comes home. 🙂

  • Gad! You really got a new tattoo! I can imagine the pain having it done manually. But I think it’s more meaningful because it was done by Whang-Od. She looks like a fierce lady. I wanna be as badass as her when I get old. Beautiful place. Beautiful tribe. =)

  • Hi Cai, hijo, you are so amazing! How I wish to go up there, too. Maybe in time with my sons who are so adventurous like you. Keep enjoying healthy lifestyle as I did during younger age, up to now 😉 . Savor each moment. Life here on earth is short. Live, Laugh, and Love. You are blessed enough to enjoy all these things that God created. Keep on thanking God in all circumstances. Stay safe and be more blessed..

    • Hi Xanthe,

      I appreciate your comment. Yup, let’s live our life to the fullest. I hope to see you and your son on the road. God bless us!

  • Wow! Inggit ako! I’ve been wanting to have a solo trip as well but as a girl, it’s hard for my parents to let me wander in this world full of uncertainties. haha But, someday, I should do this by hook or by crook! You have a nice blog here. Very entertaining to read up to the end. 🙂

    • Thanks Ann, Hopefully maiintindihan ka ng parents mo one day. Solo traveling is fun and exciting 🙂

  • Wow! It seems you enjoyed your trip there. I love this post and all your photos were amazing. Very Instagram worthy!

  • I love the picture of the foggy road. It’s looks really cool from behind like that. What a trip man! And those tattoos, my goodness. That looks scary and painful. But oh so brave when you’ve done one of course. Must be a real adventure and great inspiration. http://www.sofarsosabine.com

  • The scenery here is amazing. The mountains and the lake are just beautiful. I would love to visit here.

  • Such a detailed post of your travel!!! I could imagine how cold is the weather there just by looking at your photos.

  • OMG , how beautiful ! I have only seen places like this on tv so far , the view is just breath-taking ! Your photos are ace !!! Thanks a lot for sharing this amazing adventure ! Aren’t these tattoos very painful ??? Looking forward to seeing more of your posts ! Bookmarked for later ! Thank you !

    • Hi Klaudia,

      I appreciate your comment. It’s tolerable. I thought Im going to faint but I made it 😉

  • gosh this is my ideal trip … I would love to meet Whang Od too and I want to have my first tattoo from her .. i like your choice of tattoo by the way..
    I have a question pala.. that 9 hours of travel from Manila… may stop over din ba ang mga buses?
    Hopefully I can experience such journey someday

    • Hi Bluedreamer,

      Hope you get your tattoo soon. Whang-od is not getting any younger.. Yup, 2 short stop over 😉

  • Great post, amazing photos, epic adventure! Traveling alone allows us to better get a feel of our surroundings. That place looks amazing with its simple and unharried vibe, very much unlike the hectic life in the metro.

    • Hi Ivan,

      Thanks for your comment. Indeed, that’s why sometimes I let myself to travel alone to have a deeper connection with people around me.

  • Would love to visit Benguet but I am afraid of the zigzag road e. Nakakainggit naman, yun have travelled a lot. Ako hanggang pagbabasa ng travel blogs at panunuod ng TV lang nakakarating sa mga ganitong lugar. But hopefully, when our situation gets better, I can travel too.

    • just sleep lang while on the road hindi mo na din yun ma fefeel. Travelling is not expensive naman po. I spent around 3k here for my 4 days 3 nights stay all in n yun 🙂

  • wow, it sounds like such a journey to get there but sometimes that makes htose places way more special. a) getting a tatoo done that way is amazing, I would. and b) the scenery you get to enjoy before and after is really quite breath taking. Very cool as I have never herd about this destination until now, and now I will put it on my list.

  • Cai, what an awesome experience of being connected with people. Given na ang nature na super nice, pero I thought it was the connection you had with the people in the village that is going to last in your memory.

  • This is amazing! I love how you just opened your heart to this opportunity and really immersed yourself in the life there. I think it made for a much better trip and meeting people you never would have known. You are inspiring to me and making me want to travel more!

    • Wow! Im so touched to know that I inspire you. Thanks Alison. 🙂

  • Looks like an amazing trip. Did you do any pre-planning or totally random?

    • I just make sure that I have contacts on where to stay. The rest are random things but of course I planned to get a tattoo 🙂

  • What a story, and a journey and you have a tattoo as a reminder of the entire things! Fantastic.

  • I love this story! So wonderful how you got to be a part of their family and the tattoo is just awesome!

  • what a sweet story!

  • I was going to go sometime in Feb, but things just didn’t pan out and I had to reschedule. Hey, I was going to get the water tatoo too. Now, I really want to make it happen already. Nice story.

  • What an amazing experience that must have been! I admire you for traveling alone, I would have been a wreck on my own.

  • Awesome, Cai! I want to go there also, but I don’t have the courage as I am afraid of the death-defying zigzag road. After reading your story, I am considering to gather more “lakas ng loob” to go up there. I like the fact you that you live like the locals.

    • maybe I’m just OA with death-defying HAHAHA give it a try please. You will love it 🙂

  • Sagada and Banaue are included in my husband’s bucket list but I don’t think I can travel in “death-defying zigzag road”.

  • Sagada and Banaue are included in my husband’s bucket list but I don’t think I can travel in “death-defying zigzag road”. Hehehe!

  • Great post, Cai! Loved your storytelling style and all the photos. Thanks for bringing us all along on your great adventure 🙂

  • What an adventure, Cai! Thx so much for sharing your adventures of Buscalan with us. Getting a tattoo, planting rice, the fascinating people, and the journey itself are things you will never forget.

    • Welcome Doreen. It was one of my travels that I won’t forget.

  • This was such a complete story. I love that you got a water symbol, I know someone who is going to get one too! There was a feeling of family and warmth throughout the entire post, it was really lovely to read about. Its the trips with this much heart that are the most memorable. 🙂

    • Wow! Is he/she going to get a water sign too? That’s awesome. Thanks Mar!

  • Loved this post Cai! Such a beautiful place ?

    http://itsatravelfullife.com

  • Oh, my stars–what breath-taking scenery! And what a wonderful trip and visit with these people you had. Just beautiful all the way around!

    • thanks Susan 🙂 This was my best travel this year so far.

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