Journey to Apo Whang-Od, Master Mambabatok

Every journey must begin somewhere and for me this one begins in Manila. While this is slowly becoming more popular of a place to visit, most people opt out for the famous Banaue UNESCO rice terraces scaling the Cordillera Mountains, unless the sole purpose is to get a tattoo. This was going to be a solo pilgrimage which didn’t deter me any. After trekking through the Himalayas for a period by myself, the idea of heading off into the mountains solo thrilled me.

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I spent the afternoon doing some basic research on how exactly to get to Buscalan in the Kalinga province. Not only is there no bus route, roads don’t even go there. I was up for a bit of a trek, but the part that worried me was the more recent rule that I kept coming across in nearly every account of someone visiting. A guide was necessary to enter the village. Not because it was that hard to find, but due to the influx of Filipino and foreign travellers. I learned after that simply put the small village wasn’t set up as a traveller destination to support these guests. A spot now in a sense was to be reserved with your guide in one of the homestays available. Not knowing how strict this was or really how true, I threw caution to the wind. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I jumped on a night bus with my basic directions and was off. I’m sure good things would happen.

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The bus stopped at 6:00am and everybody seemed to be jumping ship. Usually a good sign to follow suit. Squinty eyed, I looked around asking to confirm if this was Tabuk. Sure enough it was, and the Cathedral was right across the road as I had read. The security guard there then informed me as the day began to break, jeepneys would line up across the street. These would go west to Bontoc and my drop point was Bugnay, to then walk the remainder of the way. People began to congregate and the jeepneys arrived. Before long they were near full and somehow I managed passage on the only one that went past Bugnay to the nearest possible point to Buscalan on the newly developing road.

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My bag onto the top, I followed it up to ‘top load’, simply meaning your seat was the roof rack while weaving down the mountain roads. A few stops in town to pick up goods such as rebar, chickens and bags of rice for deliveries along the way we left town at a cruisy pace. Riding on top I was told was somehow the safer method to go about this as well. If for any reason the jeepney decided to off-road, I had the chance to jump off to safety before it completely tumbled down the mountain. Sounds like something out of the movies, but I guess a slight chance it better than none. I had been on enough more than sketchy roads through Asia now I’ve lost my concern for these sometimes stomach churning journeys. It makes for an exciting ride to say the least.

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Approaching Buscalan

The cold morning mountain air was refreshing from that of the cities and the views from the top of the jeepney, inescapably captivating. The panoramas had my head spinning. The Chico River carved its way through the base of the mountains beside us the whole way, small villages supported by the mountainside set amongst the rice terraces that climbed around them. A landscape so familiar from places I’d been, yet so foreign.

A lady sitting to my right kept sharing her biscuits and offering me water. Chatting with very broken conversation I learned that her name was Lotus and her home was Buscalan. She was out picking up goods for her family. She directed me to the restaurant during our lunch stop and insisted I sit with her. A very motherly women, little did I know she had already taken me under her wing. I had found my guide to Buscalan.

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Whang-Od has taught her trade to both her Grandniece and Granddaughter

Passing Bugnay, the jeepney then turned up a dust covered road. Newly built while signs of construction still leemed to the sides. Dropping us at the last possible section of finished road, this is where the trek began. Slowly but surely the road was being finished for easier transport to and from Buscalan, but I’m not sure if it will ever fully make it. If you hiked there, you’d know why. Winding around the last mountain, I finally spotted it. Perched high above on a steep incline. The road teetered to a narrow path hugging the mountainside, over a small bridge where the waterfall was. The finale was the daunting part. An extremely steep staircase that seemed unending. The views were extravagant with my mind focused on the top. The houses came into sight as I took the last corner. I was there. I had made it to Buscalan. I had made it to the famous Apo Whang-Od.

To Be Continued…

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Rice paddies of Buscalan

My route to Buscalan…

  • Victory Liner Kamias terminal in Manila to Tabuk (2 buses between 7-9pm)
  • Arrive across from the Saint Williams Cathedral around 6am
  • Wait for jeepneys to arrive. Many travel in the direction needed towards Bontoc, though an early one is best. They do not run all day. Only one jeepney I was told travels up the road being built towards Buscalan, otherwise get off at Bugnay
  • There are signs pointing the way from there and anyone could direct you with the mention of Whang-Od. Even though it is reasonably simply to find technically a ‘guide’ is needed so reaching Buscalan ultimately shouldn’t be a problem
  • Guides costs 1000 pesos a day for a group of 1-5 per guide and the homestay itself is on average about 250 pesos a day per person.
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