TRAVEL: Puerto Galera, Mindoro

Travel Date: 10 – 13 March 2017

Despite its popularity and its proximity to Manila, I have never been to Puerto Galera. The reputation of the place as a “beach party destination” just didn’t appeal to me.

Sabang Beach

Obviously, I am no longer a Puerto Galera virgin. I went not because of the beach, but for an art and music festival in the mountains. (Read: Malasimbo Art and Music Festival).

We had free time during the mornings until late afternoons. To make the most out of our stay, we decided to check out the town. As expected, there’s more to Puerto Galera (Mindoro, in general) than its beaches.


The Church of Immaculate Conception

From our hostel, my friend and I each took a habal-habal (motorcycle) to take us to town.P_20170313_081354.jpg

The Church of Immaculate Conception looks just like any other ordinary modern church: gated, covered pathway, high school kids gathered around to practice a school play.P_20170311_112456.jpg

Going around the property, we found out that the Church overlooks a harbor where several yachts are docked. The turquoise water was so calming to look at, we decided to chill here for a bit.P_20170311_112629.jpg

Surprising Sinandigan

After the festival, we decided to stay back one more day to explore another barangay nearby. From our AirBNB, we moved to a hostel run by an Australian father-and-son, Paddy’s Backpacker Hostel and Dive Center in Brgy. Sinandigan.


Sinandigan is a barangay a few minutes away from the dive beach of Sabang, Puerto Galera. Unlike the touristy Sabang lined with hostels, hotels and transient homes for travelers and divers, Sinandigan is a quiet residential barangay. There were only two hostels in the area.

We decided to get lost and see what it had to offer.

Playa Beach

Following a narrow path near out hostel, we stumbled upon this raw beauty of a beach. ‘Playa’ is Spanish for ‘beach’. It was so raw, the locals just call it Playa.P_20170312_142829.jpg

It was pretty much a ghost town (ghost beach?). Lined with abandoned divers’ resorts, it has it’s own dock that looks out to crashing waves. The dilapidated hotels were a bit disconcerting. But being in an isolated part of town, it was also weirdly calming.P_20170312_143357.jpg

Sinandigan Lighthouse

We came across a local in the area who told us about a lighthouse not far away. With nothing else to do, we took off to look for our next destination.P_20170312_145154.jpg

Now, when locals tell you it’s not far, don’t believe them. Distance is relative, so be prepared to walk for hours. As always, getting lost is always part of the fun! We walked over an hour through narrow alleys, open fields and foliage paths; and – if there was anyone around – ask for directions until we reached our destination.  P_20170312_151120.jpg

View from the lighthouse
Marion atop the lighthouse

Tamaraw Falls

Our next stop took almost an hour ride of habal-habal across quaint little towns, beautiful seascapes and daunting mountain walls. Tamaraw Falls is located along the main highway that connects Puerto Galera to Calapan.P_20170313_084027.jpgP_20170313_084013.jpgP_20170313_084618.jpg

This 423-foot drop twin falls is named after Mindoro Dwarf Buffalos, which are native only to the island of Mindoro. A public wading pool and picnic area is located at the foot of the falls, where tourists can rest and enjoy the scenery for a fee.

The Grotto

Being a coastal town, Puerto Galera has many beaches both public and private. On our way back, we spotted a man-made Grotto built over rock boulders overlooking a random beach. We stopped by to take in the wonderful view of this province for one last time.P_20170313_092038.jpgP_20170313_091222.jpg

As an archipelago of 7,641 islands (with more undiscovered popping up), our country offers more than just beach parties. Whether you are into mountain hiking, chasing waterfalls, lake swims, scuba diving, and whatnot, the Philippines is blessed with natural wonders every kind of traveler can enjoy.

Ingat and see you on the road!

How to get there:

Take a bus bound for Batangas Pier (Pasay, Cubao or Alabang Terminals). Php 150 – 250.

From Batangas Pier, take a ferry going to Sabang – about an hour. Php 230. 

Where to stay:

Paddy’s Bar and Backpackers Accommodation and Dive Centre offers dorm rooms for as low as Php 250. Run by father-and-son tandem Paddy and Spud, they also offer scuba lessons care of their in-house dive master Lorenzo. Follow their Facebook Fan Page here:

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

TRAVEL: Traversing Mt. Cinco Picos to Silaguin Cove, Zambales

Travel Date: February 25-26 2017

Zambales is a province northwest of Manila, about 4 hours away. It has recently gained popularity amongst the younger generation of travelers because of its majestic Cawag mountain range and isolated coves ideal for day hikes, traversing and camping. (For the uninitiated, a traverse is crossing a mountain from point A to point B.)

I have always been reluctant about traversing. The thought of carrying everything with me all throughout the climb tires me out already. But after conquering Mt. Balingkilat (the highest peak of the Zambales Cawag Mountian Range) – Nagsasa Cove – a traverse that lasted 13 hours through a freaking typhoon, mountain-to-sea doesn’t seem so bad after all. The beach at the end feels like a reward after a grueling hike.

A rocky start.

Mt. Cinco Picos literally means Five Peaks and is part of the Cawag Mountain Range. Because majority of its trail is open, we decided to do an afternoon – night trek. We started at 3pm, crossing dry, rocky riverbeds and grasslands.


Due to time constraints, we decided to pass through campsite and head straight to peak 1. We reached the first summit at around 730pm, for camp, dinner and socials.

We were the only group in the mountain –  a novelty nowadays when climbing and the reason why I prefer going North (versus climbing around Cavite, Batangas and Rizal). We woke up at 6am to see the wonderful sunrise.


Unfortunately for me, I woke up with a really massive headache. I had to stay back at camp while two of my teammates explore peak 2.P_20170226_065845.jpg

We weren’t able to scale all five peaks, since this would require two or three more hours (and my hangover was really bad).

Subic Bay
Silanguin Cove

Once complete, we broke camp and started the trek down to Silanguin Cove. It was a relatively easy descent, considering my headache. It took us 3 hours to reach the cove, passing by yet dramatic landscapes.

P_20170226_080235.jpgThere were a lot of kaingin or burnt clearing during our hike. Our guide told us it was to make way for wider trails. But do we really need to burn down large chunks of land? Hmmm.P_20170226_092358.jpg

The water was calm when we arrived… until it started raining. 
All to ourselves! 

Unlike the more popular coves of Anawangin and Nagsasa, Silanguin Cove is almost isolated. There was only one other group leaving when we reached our resort host. Like the mountain, we had the resort all to ourselves yet again! Curiously, we spotted several yachts docked nearby. Kanino kaya ‘yon?

We had a few hours to spare before going home. We ate brunch, slept and dipped in the waters to cool down. The warm water was a relief to our sore legs. It was the perfect way to recover from the massive hangover (never again!!!) and to end our traverse.

Team Silanguin

Ingat and see you on the road!

How to get there:

Take a Victory Liner bus bound for Olongapo. (Php 250)

Take the blue jeepney that will bring you to Subic Town. (Php 20)

Hire a tricycle to take you to the jump off point (Php 100)

The hike will require you to have a guide and a contact in Silanguin. To experience Zambales like a local, you may contact Tim or Chie at: +63919 991 5494 or +63998 862 7015 or like their Facebook Fan Page here: They specialize in personalized local tours – ideal for solo travelers and small groups.

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




TRAVEL CORDILLERA CHRONICLES: Tappiya Falls in Batad, Banaue, Ifugao

Travel Date: 5-7 February 2016

Date Published: 14-20 April 2016, Issue 366

Visit for the actual article.


Beyond Batad: Falling in Love with Tappiya Falls

“Yesterday didn’t feel touristy. Like we were just exploring as we went along.”

That was how one friend described our short Batad trip. Batad is a small town in the province of Ifugao, about 30-minutes of tricycle ride away from Banaue Town Proper. While the former remains the most popular tourist destination, Batad has been gaining attention from travelers because of its majestic and unspoiled Amphitheater Terraces and Tappiya Falls. Located in the valley, the waterfall is about an hour’s trek away from the edge of the Batad ridge.

The cluster of houses at the top is where the jump-off to Tappiya Falls is located.

It was raining when our group crossed the great terraces. The slippery paddies challenged my balance and core strength (which is nearly non-existent!). It was a choice between falling in a mud bath with freshly planted rice stalks or a bone breaking seven-foot drop on the other.

Close encounter with the terraces.

After the strenuous and stressful hike jumping from one unstable rock to the next, we finally reached the edge of the terraces. We took a much-needed rest at a small store to revive our energy. A few steps from the store is a narrow stone stairway that serves as start-off point of the trail.

Batad from the other side.

We started the trek down the slippery steps, which was surprisingly easy to navigate. However, I would hold back on underestimating the trail – and any other trail for that matter. As a personal mantra, I always follow the ABC of traveling: Always Be Careful. While the way to Tappiya Falls is well established, it IS narrow and steep. Just one wrong step can cause you to fall off the ravine.

If walking through Batad Rice Terraces gave one the option of falling over a muddy pool or dropping on a rocky seven-foot plunge on the other, traversing the route to Tappiya Falls gave us only one scary option: falling off a deep watery gorge to our right. The rocky wall on the left became my best friend, holding on to it as I carefully trudged the slippery path.

DSC_0107.JPGOn the plus side, the view, as always, was stunning. The gorge is truly spectacular, with the river snaking away from the waterfall and the lush green forest framing it.

Finally reaching Tappiya Falls, we marveled at its imposing and powerful beauty. From its apex, the water rushes down at about 70 meters high. Our guide told us to stay by the banks as the strong current might swallow us. I decided against taking a dip in the falls because of this (I am not a very good swimmer). But the water was inviting, especially after the sweat water-work of our descent. I decided to just go for it, carefully balancing my way on the rocky floor of the riverbank.

Contemplating if I’m going in or not.

DSC_0110.JPGThe water is freezing cold, my body needed to acclimate a bit before I can actually relax and enjoy the water and the view. The 30 minutes we spent frolicking and enjoying the peace of the place was worth the one-hour hike we did to reach it.IMG_4681.jpg

We had no concrete plan for Batad. We even had to cut it down from an overnight stay to a day-trip because of the rainy weather. But that leg of our 7-day backpacking trip was definitely a highlight of our Cordillera tour.


It gave us everything we expected and more: from a challenging hike through heavily forested trail to crossing the 2,000 year-old world wonder; dipping in the cold waters of Tappiya Falls and the much needed isolation from the rest of the world, we indeed became “one with nature” in the truest sense. The short day spent here was enough for us to fall in love with Tappiya Falls and Batad.

Read about Batad and know how to get there here.

Ingat and see you on the road!

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


Travel Date: February 5-7, 2016

Date Published: 7-13 April 2016, Issue 365

Visit for the actual article.



It was late in the afternoon and we were sitting by the veranda of our hostel in Banaue, Ifugao watching the rain. We’ve just arrived that morning, and it has been pouring non-stop. Everything was covered in thick fog and we were stuck indoors. We even came up with a moniker for our situation: iFOGao.


Sitting there, I noticed that Banaue has become more of a commercial center for tourists. Low-rise buildings are clustered everywhere. A seven-story parking lot is being built right across our hostel, while tour vans lugging Koreans and Chinese line the narrow road. Needless to say, Banaue was quite a disappointment.IMG_4753.jpg

Banaue was supposed to just be a stopover on our way to Batad, a lesser known part of the Mountain Province. It is a small village in Ifugao, about one and half hour from Banaue Town Proper. But because of the weather, we decided to stay the night.


The following day, our group took a tricycle to bring us to Saddle Point – the drop-off point before the hike going to Batad. The trip from Banaue to Saddle Point goes through a winding road. The roar of the motorcycle, along with the dampness of the weather and the doleful grayness of the view gave the journey a peaceful, almost reflective feel.

The long and winding road to Saddle Point.

We arrived at Saddle Point and started the trek down, stopping by a small store to rent walking sticks. This was also where we met our tour guide for the day: Basir, a pretty 11-year old Igorota.

The group with our awesome guide, Basir.

Batad lies on a lower elevation compared to Banaue, hence the descending trek. The trail was muddy, slippery and stressful. My short (but ever-reliable) legs had to flex and stretch to reach the unstable stones that lined the towering pilapil or dikes.

Trekking down Batad.
See the homes clustered together middle-center? That’s where we were headed.

After about half an hour, we were finally standing in the middle of the Batad Rice Terraces. With the sun out, the fog dispersed and we were treated to jaw-dropping view of Batad.

Batad is known for its “amphitheater” terraces.
Stopping to admire the view… and catch my breath.

The Ifugaos made this wonder 2,000 years ago using only their hands and legs as their tools and machinery; and mud and stones as their raw materials. The result is an endless stretch of green “steps” carved on the side of the mountain.

The vastness of it definitely made me feel small and insignificant. Standing in the middle of it all made nature feel more magnified. I can’t help but imagine waking up to watch Haring Araw (Sun King) embrace the landscape in his warmth while Amihan (Wind Goddess) caresses my face. I immediately regretted not spending the night there and promised to come back in the future.

I wonder how this would look like when it’s endless green!

Banaue Rice Terraces may be the world-famous man-made wonder of the world, but if you want to see the majestic beauty of unspoiled rice terraces, skip Banaue and head straight to Batad.

How to get there:

From Manila, take the Ohayami bus going straight to Banaue.

From Banaue, there are two jeepney trips that leave for Saddle Point daily: one in the morning (around 9am) and in the afternoon (around 3pm). (Php 150).

You can also rent a tricycle. (Php 800).

From Saddle Point, trek down until you reach a store. Ask if Basir is around to guide you. (Walking sticks for rent : Php 20, Guide fee: no standard fee, but tip generously. The money is used for Basir’s schooling).

Ingat and see you on the road!

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




Travel Date:

Buscalan 1.0: 30 November – 2 December, 2015

Buscalan 2.0: 9-11 February 2016

Date Published: March 31 – April 6, 2016, Issue 364


The art of batok is an age-old custom of tattooing done by the Butbut tribe Kalinga. Tattoos are a symbol of bravery and are traditionally only given to a Butbut warrior who comes back with a head of an opponent. The more tattoos a warrior has, the higher his stature os in the tribe. When the tribal wars ended, the batok tradition became more of a power symbol for the elders of the tribe.

In modern times, and before the popularity of Whang – Od, any foreigner who wants to get a tattoo from a mambabatok (batok artist) must go through a ritual to determine if s/he is worthy of a tattoo. Today, the batok can be done on anyone who is willing to do the pilgrimage of traveling nearly 14 hours. Even so, some travelers back out after seeing somebody else bleeding and cursing throughout the process. (You will have doubts, trust me).


Only women can become a mambabatok (Edit: Some locals say this is not true, that men of the tribe used to perform the tradition as well. However, all practicing mambabatok of the tribe are women)Whang – Od is the last traditionally – bestowed mambabatok of her tribe. At 97 years old, the graceful lola is still strong and is even charmingly vain, stopping to wipe her face and fix her hair every time someone asks for a photo.

Grace, 19 years old, is the first “modern” Butbut to become a full-pledged mambabatok. She was initially a reluctant protégé – doing it only for the love of her Apo (Elder) Whang – Od. But after realizing the value of batok to her people and their culture, Grace finally embraced the duty as successor of the dying art.

Elyang is the youngest mambabatok. I have never seen her at work though. The first time I saw her; she had just undergone an underarm operation – related to too much tattooing.

Because of the popularity of the batok, many children are now encouraged to train and become a bonafide mambabatok. I chanced upon Shesi, 11 years old and a mambabatok-in-training while practicing batok on her aunt.

Shesi and her weapon of choice.


The day after we arrive, we got down to the hut near Whang – Od’s home, where the batok takes place. The venue has an overlooking view of the mountains, providing us a very calming view. The steady tak-tak-tak of the on-going batok is the only sound playing in the background, a great contrast to the dug-dug-dug of my heart. I was nervous, but I was determined to get a tattoo from Whang – Od.

The hut where the magic happens. Photo by Stefan Becker.

I have chosen my design the night before from a book Charlie lent us. The book was about traditional tattoo practices in the Philippines and other Asian tribes, written by an American author (the name escapes me). There is also a wooden flat board with tattoo designs drawn on it where visitors can choose. Tourists can ask their guides for the name and meaning of each. The guide also doubles as translator for Whang-Od. Both Grace and Elyang speak fluent Tagalog and English.

The first tattoo I got from Whang – Od on my first climb was a bird, which symbolizes the spirit of departed loved ones. After finding out the size I wanted for my tattoo, Whang – Od laughed – hard. “Why would you go so far and climb so high to meet me, only to get a small one?” she asks me in her dialect. I told her I was scared and that I want the tattoo to be cute, like her. She laughed again.

She started to draw a stencil of the design using a thin stick and ink. The ink is made from soot and mixed with water to create a black paste.

Apro Whang-Od “stenciling”. Photo by Stefan Becker.

After stenciling, Whang – Od took a pomelo thorn and places it at the end of a bamboo stick. She covers the thorn with the black paste and takes a second bamboo stick for “tapping”. She then proceeds to tap along the stencil line. The tapping makes the inked thorn go deep into the epidermis, similar to how needles from a tattoo machine works, analogue style.

For my first Whang – Od tattoo, the tapping process was relaxing and painless. I felt more pain with my machine-made tattoo. That is why on my second climb up last February 2016, I decided to get a bigger one, a lawin or hawk – meaning “open communication with God” – placed at the center of my back.

But unlike my first experience, this was extremely painful! The second the thorn hit my skin, I was regretting underestimating it.

The thorn goes down deep and hits what I believe are my muscles, the sensation reaching down to my spine. Since the inking is done in singular taps, Whang-Od goes over the same spot several times to ensure the lines are inked properly, and the ink seeped through the epidermis. This causes the throbbing and the bleeding of the tattoo. A batok is literally a wound tattoo.

Apo Whang-Od working on my second tattoo. Also in photo, my first bird tattoo. Photo by Stefan Becker.

While the throbbing feeling might feel unbearable at times, it also felt very spiritual and elating. Everytime Whang-Od takes a break, I find myself wanting to feel the thorn digging deep into my skin again. It’s like hiking up a treacherous mountain, with every step taking every ounce of  energy in your body – and you promise yourself not to do it ever again.  And yet, once you reach the summit, you can’t wait for your next climb. That or I might just be a bit of a masochist.

It was addicting. It was stirring. It was surreal. It was magical.

The bird and the bleeding hawk. Photo by Stefan Becker.

Once the tattoo is done, Whang-od spreads some sort of cream or ointment over the wound/tattoo. I was advised not to get it wet for at least a week, to avoid infections.

They say batok is probably the most unsanitary way to get a tattoo. My first tattoo still gets infected, four months after getting it; while my second tattoo is still healing, and still itchy after a month.

But would I go back and do it all over again? Absolutely yes!

I would go back to Buscalan not because Whang-od is a legend and getting a tattoo from her gives me social media bragging rights – although getting two tattoos from her is an honor I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I will go back because of the people, the place and the affinity I have created with both. If Buscalan was a person, he would have a warm, gentle nature, an adventurous spirit and a beauty that runs deeper than what you see. I’ve always heard from other travelers that you can fall in love with a place the same way you can fall in love with a person – fast, hard and when you least expect it. I’ve never believed  in that. Not until I’ve found Buscalan.

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





Note: Since it’s taking me awhile to update this and have so many travel backlogs, I’ll be posting articles I’ve written for FilAmStar News, a US-based online and print newspaper catering to the Filipino Community.  Check them out at

These published articles chronicle my 2016 backpacking trip up North covering Kalinga, Banaue and Mountain Province. Travel date: 5-11 February 2016

This specific article chronicles my first (30 November – 2 December 2015) and second trip (9-11 February 2016) to Buscalan. 


Date Published: March 24 – 30, 2016, Issue 363


I have been meaning to climb Barangay Buscalan since reading about Whang – Od in 2011, but it never pushed through. I finally got around to doing it in 2015. It was part of the first major climb I took that year, along with Mt. Pulag.

The travel going to Brgy. Buscalan is long and entails a lot of waiting. On our first trip there, it took us over 15 hours of travel time from Baguio. That’s seven hours on the bus, 30 minutes on jeepney, five hours of waiting for the cargo/passenger jeep that will bring us to Tinglayan, two hours riding on said jeepney, 15 minutes on habal-habal (motorcycle) and lastly, 45 minutes hiking up to Brgy. Buscalan.

Topload view going to Bontoc. Photo by Eunice Maximo.
Habal-habal terminal. Photo by Eunice Maximo.

The view during the entire trip more than makes up for the length of it. From the surreal cotton candy – colored sunrise to the marvelous stretch of Chico River and the 360 degree beauty of the Cordilleras, one will be left watching in awe, glued to the window of the bus (or in some cases, disregarding the hair-whipping wind riding topload). A picture would never give the view justice. The best photos I took were all in my head.

Photos don’t give justice to the beauty of the great Cordilleras. Photo by Eunice Maximo.


For this second trip to Brgy. Buscalan, we were supposed to go to Tabuk from Baguio, where our contact will meet us. But the bus conductor at the Dangwa Terminal in Baguio told us of a faster route via Bontoc. We boarded that bus and got dropped off at Dantay Junction, where we rode topload jeepney going to Bontoc.

In Bontoc, we were supposed to take the Tabuk jeepney, but was once again discouraged by the locals. Fortunately for us, the cargo jeepney bound straight for Tinglayan decided to offer seats for travelers that day. I say this with pride: We were part of the first group of backpackers to ride the new route.

 The jeepney dropped us off at the habal-habal terminal, where we rode the motorcycles to the trekking jump-off point. From there, we took a scenic climb up Brgy. Buscalan, passing by small-scale rice terraces and a waterfall. We reached Brgy. Buscalan just as the sun was setting, and needless to say, it gave use the most dramatic view of the Cordilleras.

Reaching Buscalan. Photo by Eunice Maximo. Edit: A souvenir shop now stands on this spot.


The people of Brgy. Buscalan are known as Butbut. Charlie Pan-oy is a Butbut and is probably the most popular tour guide from the place. He owns a very hip homestay “Charlie Knows”.

There are no hostels in Buscalan and homestays are the only option for accommodation. The room we stayed in is big and bare. Mats, pillows and blankets are available for use. They do have electricity, but black outs are common.

Photo by Eunice Maximo.

The Filipino hospitality is still very much apparent in the Butbut tribe. Arriving at Charlie’s, we were offered what is hailed as the best coffee in Kalinga while his wife prepares our room. When we arrived, locals and tourists alike were hanging out outside their home, and both warmly welcomed us as we all enjoy our coffee.

The homestay host usually cooks food for the guests, but we offered to help out in the kitchen and cooked our dinner that night. Charlie and two of his in-laws stayed around after dinner, sharing stories about guests and joking with us until lights-off. We settled in for the night, tired but thankful from the long travel, and excited and anxious about tomorrow’s tattoo session with Whang-Od.

Waiting shed. The first structure you will see upon reaching Brgy. Buscalan. Photo by Eunice Maximo. Edit: The shed has already been replaced by the souvenir shop.


The passenger / cargo jeepney bound for Tinglayan promptly leaves at 3:30pm from Bontoc. Work your schedule around this when planning your itinerary.  Edit: They now have two trips everyday: 7am and 2pm. 

From Baguio, go to Dangwa Terminal and look for the bus that will pass by Dantay Junction (Php 200).

From Dantay Junction, ride a jeepney bound for Bontoc. RIDE TOPLOAD FOR AN AWESOME VIEW! (15 php)

 The jeepney will drop you off in front of Bontoc DENR office. Walk down the road and ask for the cargo/passenger jeepney bound for Tinglayan. (110 php)

The jeepney will drop you off at the habal-habal terminal. You can ride one or start your trek from this point. I suggest you ride one. (50 php) The habal-habal will bring you to the jump-off point. Trek starts here. PACE YOURSELF! Edit: The road is now fixed. You can do away with the habal-habal and just trek up the barangay. 

Having a flexible schedule going up Brgy. Buscalan is ideal, since the line is erratic, depending on how many people there are and the size of their tattoo design.

Up next: Part 2 of FINDING BUSCALAN: The Art of Batok

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


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!
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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