TRAVEL + PRAY: Buscalan 3.0

Travel Date: 28 November to December 3 2016

My third climb to Buscalan happened exactly a year after the first one. Like any other repeated travel I do, each climb was different – different companions, different mindset.

Passed by Bontoc to visit a very good friend.


Can you imagine waking up to a view of the majestic Cordilleras everyday?
Climb 1 taught me that rubber slippers are my toes’ best friend when climbing up the slippery steps of Buscalan.

My first climb was for my mind.  I was going through the most chaotic year of my entire life, and I wanted to get away.  The place was far and remote. It was the ideal place to get some peace and quiet.

The rice terraces north of the village.

The second time was for my soul. I was at the denouement of a chapter in my life. I was finally reconciling with the chaos and the loss, and I wanted to close that chapter in the place where I first found peace.

Wooden home stay house north of the village. Can’t wait to stargaze here in my next climb!

The third climb was for my heart. This time around, I traveled solo. With peace of mind and a healed soul, I was determined to make the most out of this trip.

Sunrise over Buscalan.

On my first night, I chanced upon a birthday celebration. The entire barangay was invited, including tourists. Together with two other travelers I met going up, we decided to join in the festivities, even participating in the traditional dance.

Here’s a blurry video I took while trying to follow the Butbut women’s traditional dance. Buscalan is a small village in Kalinga, where the legendary Apo Whang Od, the last Mambabatok (traditional Butbut backhand tattoo artist) lives. On the day that I arrived, the entire village was gathered in the community basketball court since that morning because four boys were celebrating their birthdays. It was customary to celebrate boys’ birthdays this way (kind of like our 7th Birthday Jollibee Kiddie Party). However, birthday girls aren’t given the same festivity. I was invited along with another guest, Jovi (an Igorota herself) to participate in the dance. The men are in charge of the beat, using gangsa palook (thanks, wiki!) while the women dance to the beat. Despite our best efforts, the elders / party leaders deemed us as failures. As punishment, Jovi and I had to sing on stage, which we readily accepted. Good times! #LovelTravel2016 #tradition #custom #dance #North #Luzon #Buscalan #Tinglayan #Kalinga #Philippines #Cordilleras #WhangOd #travel #culture #outdoors #LiveLocal #LoveLocal #nomad #nomadlife #party

A video posted by Lovel Aniag (@lovelaniag) on Dec 3, 2016 at 7:29pm PST

The following day, we went through the usual tattoo session with Apo Whang-Od.

Can I keep you?

Apo Whang Od uses soot mixed with water as ink and a thorn from dayap (lime) wedged on a bamboo stick as needle. She then embeds the ink by tapping the needled bamboo with another stick using what is known as backhand technique (batok). The tattoos are traditionally done on male warriors/headhunters as a sign of courage (most notably when they are able to bring home the head of their opponent), and on women as a sign of beauty. She has been practicing the art of batok for years, and was able to perform it on the last headhunters of the tribe. Apo Whang Od is the oldest mambabatok from the Butbut tribe of Buscalan, Kalinga. Fortunately, she is no longer the last. Her grandnieces Grace, Elyang, Renalyn and Emily are now continuing this ancient tradition. Shesi, the youngest to take on the tradition also practices during weekends. #LovelTravel2016 #Buscalan #Kalinga #Cordilleras #Philippines #Norte #WhangOd #Tattoo #Mambabatok #Art #tradition #culture #travel #backpack #backpackers #nomad #nomadlife #LiveLocal #LoveLocal #people #beautifuldestination #travelstoriesphilippines

A video posted by Lovel Aniag (@lovelaniag) on Dec 5, 2016 at 1:52am PST

Inata-ata at Lawin (Eyes and Hawk) The ‘eye’ symbolizes the many ancestors watching over a person, and implies additional sight beyond his/her own – a spiritual awareness, a guidance from above. It also connotes the number of days that the people of Kalinga wait for the return of headhunters to their village (it could be that the frequency of the ‘eyes’ on the band may represent this). The ‘hawk’ means ‘messenger from the skies’, or having a direct line to God. Both tattoos are done by Whang-Od Oggay, the oldest mambabatok or traditional tattoo master from the Butbut tribe of Buscalan, Kalinga, Philippines. #LovelTravel2016 #WhangOd #tattoo #art #culture #tradition #travel #North #Buscalan #Kalinga #Philippines #history #backpack #backpacker #nomad #nomadlife #stories #people #beautifuldestination #travelstoriesphilippines #LiveLocal #LovelLocal

A photo posted by Lovel Aniag (@lovelaniag) on Dec 6, 2016 at 10:58pm PST

Another milestone: three trips and one year after, Grace finally finished the three-part tattoo on my lower back! Yay! Sana matupad na siya!

Bonded over batok and boys. See you again soon, beh!

Finally met Elyang!

Couldn’t miss this opportunity to get inked by the Young Master! Manjamana, Elyang!
Screen Shot 2017-01-08 at 7.25.15 PM.png
Renalyn working on my NFF’s tattoo. 

While sipping the famed Kalinga coffee at the famed Charlie Knows’ homestay, a rasta-looking local arrived with two foreigners. He looked interesting. Apparently, he was a respected elder in the tribe and was the first guide in Buscalan.

The very rasta-cool Victor.  

In between sessions, my new found friend (NFF) Jovs and I decided to explore the village. P1080776.JPG

They were everywhere!!! ❤
Can you see Lovel 2.0?
Still my favorite place on earth. 
sea of cloud, rice terraces, sunrise, mountains and sky. 
Mga nagpapainit.


So beautiful!
Crazy girls! ❤

Here’s a video of my adventure:

Buscalan will always have a special place in my heart for a lot more reasons. Looking forward to seeing you again soon! ❤

Ingat and see you on the road!

How to get there:

From Baguio, head to the slaughter house to catch the first trip to Bontoc at 5am.  Php 212

From Bontoc Town Proper, get off near the market and ask around for the jeepney heading to Buscalan. Trip schedules are 7am and 2pm. Php 100

Where to stay:

Charlie Knows Home Stay

Probably the most dapper Butbut you’ll ever meet. Haha! Charlie can accommodate solo and groups in his home, and already include porter and tour guide. Contact number 0998 188 8697. 


There are no ATMs, so bring enough cash.

There are no signal in the village. Expect delays in Charlie’s replies. Wag makulit at wag magalit kay Charlie (Don’t be annoying and don’t get mad at Charlie). It’s not his fault. 

Make your schedule flexible. There are a lot of tourists going there nowadays, especially with the emergence of organized tours during weekends. DO NOT EXPECT TO GET TATTOOED IF YOU’RE DOING IT AS A DAY-TRIP. A lot of people has the same idea as you and just because “you don’t have enough time to stay”, doesn’t mean you can get priority. Give way to people who got there first and take the initiative to organize yourselves. If you really want to get inked by a legend, stay as long as you can.

Climb on weekdays. Ideal days are Mondays-Wednesdays. Less crowd.

Know a place I should discover? Or want to travel together? Email me at 


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