Traversing Buscalan Village

A quick weekend getaway to the famed Buscalan Village where the current influx of visitors is driven by the race against time and opportunity to personally meet and get inked by a legend before she transcends into the other world, but that’s not the topic of this post. I’ve written this to let people know what life is at Buscalan and how simple yet beautiful the place is.

Traversing Tinglayan coming from Manila is like walking on a different world where everything seems peaceful. If you are coming from Tabuk or Bontoc, you need to alight at Bugnay. It is a diversion road in Tinglayan where you will be picked up by your guide if you are travelling solo or commute.

From there it will be another 20 minutes motorcycle ride on a winding road up to what locals used to call as Turning Point. It’s called thus because that is where the concrete road ends and you where the mixed concrete and gravel path begins.

Trekking time depends on one’s pace. For the locals, from the turning point they can reach the village of Buscalan in 30-45 minutes. On average, the trek is about 1-2 hours one way. It consist of walking on a flat terrain then a short descend to the foot of the mountain where you will pass by a short concrete bridge. Midway through the trail up to the village, you can already see the rows of houses along the hills and rice terraces. Back to the trail, the waterfalls cuts right through the path.

That is the lowest point of the trek, once you pass that, prepare for the sharp ascent to the top of the mountain where the tribe of Butbut dwells. The steps are combination of stone and earth which reminds me of my descent from Mt. Purgatory, except that the soil is red in the peaks of Cordillera mountains.

You have an option of few homestays within the village of Buscalan. The family of Apo Wang Od herself have the second floor of their house doubles as a homestay for guests who wanted to spend a night or two. During peak season, where in the queue to get tattoo can go as high as almost a hundred, it is best to stay for the night so you will be the first in line the next day.

Like the accommodation, food that will be served will be simple. Most of the time, accommodation and food are included on the package that will be quoted to you when you inquire. Tour guides are charged separately.

Little are known about the Kalingas because they had very little interactions with the lowlanders. Information about them is solely relied on textbooks and documentaries done by anthropologists. The Kalingas are known headhunters and these are tattooed on their warriors’ bodies as a coat of arms. They were never under any foreign rule and during World War II they fought with hatchets and spears against the Japanese. The practice of headhunting has long been dead since the 1960s.

Buscalan is beautiful. Grass and local blooms fill its meadows overlooking the expansive panorama of a pristine terraced hinterland. Waterfalls punctuate the mountains but Tumaniw is the most accessible to tourists. The hiking trails in Buscalan are certainly fantastic but do not do this without a guide as there are wild animals around.

The Kalingas have very sharp facial contours and sun basked skin. Their bodies are well toned from going up and down the mountain with baskets of rice or vegetable on their backs. They have a significant population of elderly especially within the last quarter stretch, which speaks of the kind of lifestyle they have lived all these years.

A day in a life of a Butbut is simple. They wake up early to tend to their swine, cattle and farm. They plant rice on terraces carved on the mountain. Arabica coffee is also grown in the area and sold to visitors as a souvenir. Their favorite pastime activities are chatting under the stilted houses and entertaining tourists with the tongali and guitar over cups of fresh Kalinga coffee.

Buscalan has become in the recent years a destination for tattoo enthusiasts, mountaineers, artists and curious travelers. Documentations have increased driven by more media coverage and studies of contemporary scholars. But the community needs help and this is where responsible, sustainable and purposive tourism comes in. We can all make a difference by giving back to the community that opened its once silent and elusive village to us city dwellers.