Buscalan in itself is a peaceful wonder, nestled high in the mountains of Kalinga, famed for its obscurity but pales in comparison to the living legend it is widely known for. Often visited as an afterthought, more and more people are finding out that Buscalan can stand on its own for which it is lesser known.
There are several ways to get to Buscalan depending on how much time you have. I suggest to allot a few days to explore and recuperate in the village, not only because it is beautiful but also because it can be quite taxing just getting there. I find the easiest way is via Bontoc from Manila, Baguio or Tuguegarao.
- (A) From Manila, head to the Victory Liner Kamias Station for daily trips to Tabuk or Banaue. From either locations, you may catch a jeep or bus to Bontoc.
- (B) From Baguio, head to the Old Dangwa Bus Station, behind Center Mall, offering a few Bontoc options either directly or when heading to Banaue or Sagada.
- (C) From Tuguegarao, there are jeeps and vans to Tabuk. Then take catch a jeep or bus to Bontoc.
- From Bontoc, look for buses heading to Bugnay (yes, famous for their wines) and gallivanting native pigs. A good sign would be the Bugnay or Buscalan locals sporting their native tattoos.
- From Bugnay, catch a motorcycle or habal-habal to the Turning Point. Take out your cameras as it can get surreally beautiful in an instant. A few years ago, the only option was to walk to Buscalan from Bugnay. If you’re game to do this, you might as well drink the wine.
- The last leg (if you have any left) of the journey consists of a meditative, 45-minute assault to Buscalan Village from the Turning Point. When I say meditative, I mean questioning your life choices at yet another sighting of stairs. I especially love the focus-or-you-will-die bridge and the women you may meet tending the fields.
These are approximate costs for entire travel but may vary over time:
Manila-Banaue-Bontoc | Php 550 (450/100)
Baguio-Bontoc | Php 220
Tuguegarao-Bontoc | Php 60-150
Bontoc-Bugnay/Tinglayan | Php 60-110
Bugnay-Turning Point | Php 150/Free
There are a few places in Buscalan but may be booked out depending on the season. With this, I suggest you organize a guide well before the trip to avoid any hassle. Guides during the busy season are now mandatory and cost around Php 1000 (5 pax). In addition, they can organize your session with Whang Od and is a good way to give back and provide alternative income for the beautiful people of Buscalan.
Most notable accomodation would be the Rastafara with its 180 degree view of the rice terraces but I prefer mingling with the locals like Klang who cooked our meals and offered her home to us. I mainly come back for the unlimited coffee.
Klang/Clarissa Palangdao: 0920.704.5124
To prepare the tattoo ink, the soot from used crockery is mixed with water to create a paste. This is then applied to the tip of a native lemon (dayap) thorn and applied to the skin.
Was it painful? Yes, more than the machine tattoo i had 13 years ago. Sometimes, the dayap thorn would fray which causes the skin to be pulled slightly. For some “lucky” canvasses, the mambabatok may have to embed the ink several times on the same spot which, as you can imagine, would shoot up the pain levels. I would advise holding on to the railing during these times, as i did. My experience here.
Oh by the way, just to be sure, I took an Advil prior to the session. It did not work. #ouch
- Tattoos can range from 300 up depending on the design. You are not told the price unless you ask.
- Expect a horde of people lining up for Apo so try to allot an extra day in case she doesn’t get to you. Look for the magical book to list your name. Alternatively, give the new generation a try as they master the art of batok. Grace is fantastic for her lines and a lot of the #maidenbatoks (as young as 10 years old) are learning very fast.
- Simple, geometric lines are encouraged as lines are not traditionally filled in. Stick to the traditional designs too or make slight variations only.
- Sanitation is something that would need to be regulated I’m afraid, especially now with the influx of people getting tattoos, but at the time I got mine, err… it was difficult to ask Apo to use another cloth to wipe my blood with. I went all in. I was told after though that it is ok to remind her as she often forgets to either change the thorn or to change the cloth she used for the person prior. In this case, bring wet wipes or a clean cloth!
- I got myself a topical ointment which I applied religiously on my way back home to avoid infection. I am also generally paranoid.
- In case of fever, bring medication. I didn’t experience this at all
- Although optional, I highly encourage a token to be given to Whang Od. I gave her fresh oranges from Bontoc which she loved.
Things To Remember There
- No chance of Instagramming your selfies with Whang Od as there is no signal there
- Bring condensed milk, which is a perfect match for Buscalan’s underrated Kalinga coffee. You can purchase a small bag for Php 100. I cannot talk enough about this coffee, guys. It is amazing!
- I would highly discourage bringing candies for the kids. They love it but organizing school supplies, educational toys or reading materials would serve them greatly in the long run. They especially love activities, music and games. I went there on the weekend of Philippine Independence Day and so I gave ’em mini flags.
- For people with a medical background, a weekend mission such as dental cleaning, immunization, circumcision etc would be a great way to give back!
- Hats! When I spoke to one of the women in the fields, they were requesting for these simple items. I’m organizing one soon!
- You can buy a chicken to share with your host family in the village. Sari-sari stores are also available for basic items.
- Don’t forget to explore the surrounding waterfalls. You would have passed by one on the way up to the village. Another one is a short trek beyond the rice terraces.
- There are buses you shouldn’t miss and generally leaves at around 9am and lunchtime from Bugnay. However, the buses fill quite quickly so make sure you allot plenty of time for the trek down, and prepare for a lot of waiting for a “lucky” trip back to Bontoc should you miss them.
- During planting season, ask if you can help and have a genuine moment with the locals.
- Also, if I haven’t mentioned it enough, buy their coffee!