Finding Love in the Mountain

Continuing my Cordillera adventure from Pulag, I decided to ditch my Coron trip to spend my 25th birthday in the cool, both literally and figuratively, village of Buscalan in Tinglayan, Kalinga.

I have always been fascinated with the Butbut Tribe’s rich culture and heritage. The experience was.. more than surreal.. this maybe the first time I’m using the adjective in its truest sense. I don’t know how it feels to be in love but I think this is how it should be.

Took the 6am trip of GL Trans at Dangwa terminal (not the one where you can buy flowers from in Manila, this is in Baguio already!!!) going to Bontoc, got there at around 12noon, took a trike going to the terminal of jeepneys bound for Tinglayan (malapit lang pala, nag tricycle pa ko) and met with my super friendly guide, kuya romy. No rush here, the jeep was scheduled to leave Bontoc at 1pm and we left at around 4pm. 2 hours after, we reached Tinglayan, then rode a habal-habal to cut the hike by 30 minutes and started the 30-45 minutes pabebe hike up to Buscalan Village.

We were welcomed by a hot cup of the best tasting coffee I had in my entire mortal existence, I forgot about my caffeine diet.

Fast forward to the moment Apo Whang Od held my arm and pierced her mark through my skin, I felt the sweetest pain I had for the past 25 years. Euphoria superseded the pain that it wasn’t painful at all. No exaggeration here. I got my batok on the eve of my 25th birthday! It’s a Scorpio for protection and because I am a scorpio every leap year (maipilit lang talaga).

kinikilig ako sa mga panahong to.
Grace’s mom told me it should swell in the morning but I was so lucky it didn’t.

Spent the night at Grace’s house and experienced how accommodating they were.

her youngest brother is too cute!!!

The morning after, still ecstatic with the thought that I already got my batok, an art which predates my ancestors,  I roamed around their working stations while having my third or forth (I lost count) cup of coffee.

batok paraphernalia
thorns from pomelo
the ink

Is it hygienic? Errrr… let’s say it’s ORGANIC 🙂

And here’s THE Apo Whang-Od doing the batok


Grace doing her signature dot (L) and her favorite design,cross (R)

Meet Eliang, Apo’s successor next to Grace.

And I ain’t  going home without a selfie from Apo (L) and another one from the very pretty Beverly, Apo’s apprentice, next to Grace and Eliang. It’s nice to know that they are really keeping their art alive.

The fun-loving villagers were very friendly and sweet contrary to how history perceived them. They even hated me for having to leave early cause they wanted to cook native tinola for my birthday lunch, they told me to come back on my next birthday!!! who am i to refuse? It pains me to see negative posts circulating in social media about them.

the humble village of Buscalan where kids speak in English with American accent.

I wouldn’t want to leave the village, too. I wanted to stay longer but I have bills to pay 😦 said my farewell to kuya Romy and went down with Grace’s brother, Regan, who offered to carry my bag.

Thank you, Kuya Romy for taking care of me 🙂

My trek down the village was longer than my ascent cause I kept on pausing to say “shet! ang ganda!” to every turn I make.

I didn’t see these on my way up because it was already dark.  Sorry, I am no landscape photographer, these images don’t give justice to how marvelous the view is.

Because a Buscalan trip will never be complete without a two-hour top load ride on your way back to Bontoc.


The view from the top load!!!!

Since I was asleep on my way to Tinglayan, I only found out on my way back to Bontoc how death defying the ride was.  IMG_0934


Got to drink with the locals on my birthday eve and got a special birthday privillege from Apo, best birthday salubong I had for the past 25 years. The long rides and hikes were worth it!

It is highly recommended you go there on your own. It made the community immersion more enjoyable. I’m coming back soon and will not forget to buy a year supply of their coffee.


  1. Get a guide! I can’t stress enough how getting a guide will make getting your batok easier. Kuya Romy is the best!! I swear! 09164031208
  2. Bring candies/cookies and the like for kids
  3. Bring basic medicine, matches or food as gift for Apo Whang Od and to your host family (if ever)
  4. Bring your own wet tissue. The mambabatok will use this to wipe the excess ink while doing your batok. A small pack is more than enough.
  5. Bring petroleum jelly and apply to your fresh batok religiously until fully healed.
  6. Try to keep it dry for a month or until completely healed.
  7. It’s gonna peel off after 2 or 3 weeks, it will look gray-ish and gross. Chill! it is but normal.
  8. Try to have your batok on a part of your body you are sure you can take care of (read: you can elevate) and won’t get overworked. I had mine on my left wrist because I am right-handed. If you still wish to have it done on your foot, consider your trek down the mountain (and your bus ride going home), you can just wait for them to come down here during the Dutdutan Festival every August.


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