Top load nirvana! With my fellow top load buddies Mayan, Kathleen and Kuya Charlie (our guide sniffing my bamboo flute)
It is one of those unforgettable travels that begin by missing your evening bus in just barely five minutes. A major fiasco, it was! One could only assume, at this point, how this unfortunate beginning may possibly be the end of our most-awaited first adventure for the year 2014. But perhaps, hopeful as we were, we managed to summon all our luck and discovered that a different bus heading towards another nearby destination – the closest jump off point to where we were headed is departing an hour later. That was a tense near miss! Even with the seemingly unexpected turn of events, the start of our adventure up north did not fail to tease us with more excitement. To Kalinga, off we go!
Nestled at the top of the mountain almost kissing the clouds and surrounded by wonderful rice terraces, we were headed to the humble village of Buscalan in Kalinga. In the village lives the famous 94-year-old last Mambabatok of the Butbut tribe known as Whang – Od. Arriving at the village, our nervousness to be inked hidden in the facade of giddiness cannot be contained but rest assured, it was perfectly calmed by the beautiful backdrop that filled us with delight. One cannot help but admire how living seems to be simple in a village immersed with such abundance of nature’s beauty. It does not take a huge effort to be able to appreciate the surrounding mountains and breathe fresh air. Appreciating is effortless. It begs your attention to marvel at the creation of God. What better place do you plan to be inked than on this very mountain?
The ink day has arrived!
I was sitting on a green monobloc chair, still freezing from the ice cold water I used to wash my body, waiting for Whang-Od to finish outlining my tattoo pattern with soot. I was silently praying that it won’t be as painful as I think it to be. Then suddenly, a flashback of our trip the day before surges in. How the detour of our trip was really a blessing in disguise in many ways. Without the unexpected turn of events, we could have not been able to meet fellow local and even foreign travelers like Lucy from UK who is backpacking across Southeast Asia. She and I discovered how we share the same love for children’s literature and Shel Silverstein’s The Gruffalo; or we could not have experienced being greeted by the cold January winds piercing through our skin; or how magically visible air comes out of your mouth and nostrils as you breathe and speak…
or see the locals of Banaue
and hear a local play the bamboo flute
or see the wonderful landscapes and rice terraces of Banaue and Mountain Province
yes kiddo, I know how cold it is. So better drink your hot choco fast before it turns cold!
or perchance get to meet in a local bakery, a nun who is also a curator at the local museum. Who would have thought that the small town of Bontoc has a museum! She invited us to visit the museum which highlights the outdoor interactive exhibit of the original Bontoc houses decades ago. You also get to see vast collection of interesting photos of headhunting practices and tribal wars which helps you understand more of their culture. Arming yourself with such information is a great way to start one’s adventure to Buscalan! Cool museum, they have!
but really, the highlight of our museum tour was this pig having a siesta under the sun. I miss my pet pig Peachy! :(
And before we knew it…
We were already riding the top load of another jeepney going to Buscalan. Kathleen who is afraid of heights took a leap of faith. She conquered her fear which rewarded her just like us with breathtaking majestic views of the mountains. (forgive me if I ran out of adjectives and really sound so mushy) The top load experience going to Buscalan is surely a must-do! You get to see the mountains up close without riding in a limiting enclosed airplane. Instead, you can feel the cool mountain winds rush in your face and breeze through your hair. It was like you can touch the mountains with the palms of your hands and trace them with the tips of your fingers. This top load experience definitely overwhelmed me with great joy.
Although riding the top load can really be dangerous, you just got to trust the muscle engine of the jeepneys, the hardcore driving skills of the driver and have a little faith just like Kathleen. Or else you will miss…
seeing the famous Chico river gracefully flowing through the feet of such beautiful mountains…
or the brown colored mountains
or the endless mountain ranges over the horizons and many, many more!
Biyaheng langit! The two-hour top load ride was an absolute feast of nature. And it is one of the many special moments that you feel surrounded by God’s presence.
We are almost there! Finally arriving at the hill of Buscalan, we are now ready to do the 30-minutes trekking (but we did it almost an hour). The locals who were carrying heavy goods from the town were climbing the steps without breaking a sweat and they all passed by over us one by one. Dear us!
Mayan reaches for the sky! Piso na lang, langit na!
I was sitting in a green monobloc chair, snapped out of my flashback memory, back to the present and was instantly surprised that without warning, Whang-Od has already started rhythmically tapping my skin with the pomelo thorn attached on a piece of bamboo. It was happening! Was it painful? Yes, but nothing that cannot be endured by a willing heart.
Kathleen covers her face with her own hands as Grace, the granddaughter of Whang-Od who could be the successor of her art, is doing her traveler tattoo. Whang-Od busily does the tattoo of Mayan in the third photo below.
I must admit that this trip involved mustering a lot of courage and a handful of unlearning coupled with great convictions. Brought up in a slightly conservative family, I grew up with notions that having a tattoo is a taboo. I never fully understood before why people find pleasure in this apparently painful kind of activity. However at some point, a sudden rush of light hits you and makes you mull over those seemingly incontrovertible truths you hold dear as a child. You begin to question and ask. You find answers or create answers on your own. And this is where I realized that living does not only involve a lot of learning but also of unlearning. I have come at a phase wherein I no longer mindlessly embrace conventional norms but make it a habit to actively think about them and constantly re-evaluate my worldviews. Let us liberate ourselves from the common thinking that what is popular or what is believed by the majority to be true is necessarily right. Maybe, just maybe, you might have been viewing things for the wrong reasons. What I am simply saying is…
I got a tattoo.
And my mother upon knowing this will pretty much be shaking her head in complete disbelief! But I know that she knows that I did this for all the right reasons. So I say, Hi, Mother!
greetings with Whang-Od (do not be deceived by the photo, she is very charming and smiling as seen in the photo below)
now this how I remember Whang-Od. A very smiling mambabatok.
An hour after we got our tattoos, we are now heading home and guess what?
How classic of us that we missed our bus again! Hahaha! But it matters not because the bus that we waited for has a good country soundtrack! I really loved it! Particularly, the Don Williams’ Turn The Lights Out song.
Fast forward at this moment of writing, I drink my coffee from the Kalinga highlands and say to myself over again that life does not only comprise a lot of learning but also of unlearning. My Himuliab tattoo which depicts a person in a prayer position means to accept, to bless, and to be given strength by the elders. It also means a fire that is flaring up. This tattoo serves as a personal lifelong reminder that living in this world cannot be done on one’s own. And that more importantly, the life that I am blessed to have is not only for myself but also for others and for God.
P.S. Don’t tell my mother. (just not yet, hihi)
P.P.P.S. The only thing I regret in this trip is bringing only one roll of film. :( Photos taken with Canon AV-1.