My first visit in Buscalan


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    Published on Apr 28, 2022
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    Buscalan is known for its famous tattoo artist or locally called Mambabatok and said to be the last tattoo artist, Apo Whang-Od. To get there, we had to travel 4-5 hours from La Trinidad, Benguet then to Bontoc, Mountain Province. From Bontoc, it would be another 2-hour drive to get to Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga.

    The road going to the village ends where one can now hike to the village center at a lesser time. We had to register at the registration booth first and pay the environmental fee of Php25.00 per person. A guide will then be assigned for every 5 people which costs Php1000.00 per guide.

    From the booth, we hiked down to the river which took us about less than 5 minutes, cross the river and then hiked up to the village itself for about 20 minutes or so.

    The houses were built next to each other creating a maze of small alleys here and there but always easy to find your way out to the main sidewalk which is at the edge of the mountain.

    Our guides were kind enough to entertain us in their homes cooking us a meal even. Some of us had tattoos done by young villagers. Getting tattooed by the master herself needs time. You have to be there two or three days depending on how long the queue is.

    The wait is really long for there were those who were already at the village that time as evidenced by the number of private cars at the parking lot across the mountain where the village is. We may have been the first clients for the day but not the first in line. Those who wanted a tattoo had to have their tattoos done by someone else other than Apo Whang-Od.

    For those of us who had nothing else to do, we explored a waterfall nearby which was about 30-minute walk back and forth. We had to cross rice paddies in order to get there. It was a refreshing bath at the falls that was not too tall and the pool is shallow.

    We also checked the rice terraces. Although there are terraces that one can pass along the way as you go up the village, those at the top of the village are the best one yet with the mountain ranges as the backdrop.

    With nothing else to see, we spent the rest of the day waiting for our companions who were having their tattoos done.

    It is noticeable how modern and traditional materials were used in constructing the houses. I was a bit surprised that sliding windows can be seen everywhere. It just goes to show that the village is not as remote anymore. Phone signals are a challenge still but that is slowly being addressed. Give it a year or two.

    Back then there were only a few tattoo artists but now those who can do it are now making money from it. With charcoal mixed in water as ink, a thorn from pomelo held in a stick and another stick to use to tap the ink to the skin, then you are paid with that. Of course it takes time and a lot of practice to perfect the craft. One of the artists who did the tattoo on one us made errors for the lines were not straight. She is young. She will soon perfect it.

    We were not able to have photo with Apo because she was busy with other clients but hopefully next time we will have the chance. We were able to see her do her thing and take photos of her tattooing her signature.

    It's great that the art and tradition and culture is being kept alive.

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