Born and bred in the tropics of Southeast Asia, there is nothing I crave most in winter than to hibernate. It is not just my season. But Sydney is cheeky: She is always able to somehow sneak in a few sunny days.
So when Jord Watches invited me to be part of their campaign, I was absolutely stoked. After all, strutting my staple summer style off, even in the midst of winter, seemed like a clever idea.
Knackered from rush-hour traffic on a Friday night, The Urban Newtown beckoned like a nest to a tired hatchling. Amidst the bustle of busy Newtown, it stood distinctively, sporting an iconic Fintan Magee on its facade.
Winter has just come, and my body was just getting used to the cold. But Newtown begged to be explored. After all, it was Vivid Sydney season. If anything, the city was never more alive.
It is no secret that the open road is my travel terrain of choice. After all, “the dream” began on countless bus trips from my barrio to the city, in all my years in school.
Easter, as Jonat and I serendipitously came to reckon in 2011, is the perfect time for road trips. Whilst a four-day weekend is too short for an overseas trip, it is long enough to still have a holiday even with all the driving in between.
Last Easter was different: We took friends with us. On a test run on, albeit milder, a life lived out of a backpack.
On our way home to Sydney from Manila, Jonathan and I decided to unwind a bit in Hongkong with a day-long side trip to Macau. His parents, both retired, decided to tag along with us, together with an aunt who was visiting from Vancouver.
To our pleasant surprise, Hongkong had impressively discounted rates for senior citizens (people aged 65 and above). So if anyone is planning to take their parents out on a holiday, Hongkong would be a good idea!
Each year, a dreamer longs to do something of epic proportions. Jump out of airplanes, quit the day job, chase after the one great love, and the list goes on. Mine, however, was an ode to the dauntlessness of my ancestors. Albeit less maverick, it sure carried more weight for me. (way more for the boylove who was dragged into my mission LOL.)
Buscalan was hard to reach, and we only had a couple of days to spare. But it happened, and we went home with the lifetime bragging right of having been marked by Apo Whang-od, the country’s oldest living mambabatok (traditional tattoo artist).
This guide is for fellow corporate rats (and students, maybe!) who only have the weekend– the long weekend, at most– to spare for bucket lists, travel goals, and whatever else you may call making-dreams-come-true.
A Friday night departure, for example, would have you back in Manila by Sunday night and be at work on Monday.
Please note that this is based on the actual trip that we did. There may be other options, and I will try to be as informative as possible. However, if this may come off as inadequate, please feel free to browse other blogs.
If traveling during the holidays, it is best to book way well in advance to secure seats. We’ve had to book ours a day later than intended as everything else was fully-booked until then.
Reservation is only over-the-counter, unfortunately. For the adventurous spirit, you can embark on the adventure of being a chance passenger. But during the holiday season? I’d rather bungy-jump.
Departure (Kamias, Quezon City)
Victory Liner – Kamias Station
Fare – 700PHP/person (regular aircon)
Departs at 7PM (As we weren’t sure how long the trip would take given the traffic situation, we booked the earliest trip for the night)
Tip: Wear a jacket or get a blankie as the bus’ aircon can get really cold. It’s been said that drivers purposefully turn the aircon up to the maximum to prevent themselves from sleeping on the wheel.
Stopover (Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya)
Late Dinner / Midnight Meal – Lugaw (with egg – 40PHP; with chicken – 50PHP; with chicken and egg – 60PHP)
Bladder break – free/donation only; very clean toilets
Tip: In the Philippines, you have to bring your own toilet paper when using a public toilet.
Arrival (Bulanao, Tabuk)
5AM arrival – Disembark in front of St. William’s Church (note that this isn’t the final destination of the bus, so be sure to tell your driver in advance that you will disembark in Bulanao)
The first trip to Bontoc isn’t until 7am. Whilst waiting, have coffee in a nearby carenderia. Ironically, eateries only serve 3-in-1 coffee
HideOut Restaurant – 3-in-1 coffee (10PHP)
Depature (to Buscalan, Kalinga)
7am – Ride a Bontoc-bound jeep/van/bus
All transport– Jeepney, Van, Bus— leaves Bulanao at 7am. We took the Jeepney to Bontoc as it arrived in the terminal first.
Fare – 150PHP/person
Tip: Ask locals, as there is no fixed terminal/parking for vehicles bound for Bontoc. It can be across the church or in the corner of the next intersection. (worry not, it’s all along the same main road.)
1030am – Stopover in Tinglayan for Brunch
time of arrival in Tinglayan depends on the frequency of stops and road situation.
Good Samaritan Restaurant – Tinola and Rice (50PHP)
11am – Disembark in Brgy Bugnay (where your guide will meet you)
recommended guide – Kuya Eddie (+639128097578) [EDIT: 0928 402 4973 – New number! Kuya E’s cellphone was stolen] – it is advised that he is contacted in advance
Guide Fee – 1000PHP (flat-rate per group)
Ride a habal-habal (motorcycle) to the Turning Point (around 10-15mins uphill). Your guide will pre-arrange this.
Fare – 100PHP/person
Sometimes, there is a Bontoc-bound jeepney that goes all the way to the Turning Point, but there was a landslide in the area during our trip, which makes the road impassable for larger vehicles.
Trek to Buscalan (Butbut Tribe Village) downhill and a very steep uphill. The trail is paved most of the way, so you can never get lost.
Along the way, you’d pass by the refreshing Tumaniw Falls. A quick dip is in order!
Charlie Knows – homestay (inclusive of sleeping accomodations, meals and unlimited coffee. If you are as lucky as we were, you’d have free grog too! 😀
Kuya Charlie – +639397484707 / +639981888697
Cost – 250PHP / person / night. (Couples can request for the Fertility Room at no extra charge).
Grog – Red Horse Beer is deemed “too strong” and is not sold in the village — buy your stash beforehand. The local guides won’t mind a bottle or two of kwadro-kantos (Ginebra San Miguel Gin) though.
Meals – Your guide will prepare your meals. They provide unlimited rice and coffee. For viands, you can either have what they cook for you (usually eggs, chicken and vegetables), or have some of the grocery items you brought– canned goods, noodles– cooked for you.
Candies / Food for kids – when giving food to kids, please remind them to dispose wrappers properly. There are garbage sacks all over the village that you can direct kids to throw their empty food wrappers to.
Tip: Bring grocery items to share to the locals (canned goods, sugar, salt, medicines, biscuits/candies for the kids, powdered juice, toiletries etc.)
ACTIVITY / OTHERS
Lachilad Souvenirs – native necklaces at 100PHP; good idea for pasalubongs (souvenirs to give to friends/family on your return).
Kapeng Barako (Native Coffee) – 100PHP / 250g
Pasipat – a practice wherein couples who are wanting to conceive go around the neighbourhood elders to ask for their blessings. The elders then tie a beaded bracelet around the woman’s wrist while chanting a prayer. In return, the couple would give the elders a piece of bread (in our case, doughnuts – 100PHP for a bag of 20)
Tattoo – it is customary NOT to ask for the price prior to the session. The mambabatok (tattoo artist) will tell you after the session. Prices usually start at 500 PHP.
Apo Whang-Od Signature (three horizontal dots) – 100 PHP
Design – a design board is available for you to choose; you can also have Apo Whang-Od pick the design for you. She generally does what is requested, but sometimes suggests a better location or design.
Other tattoo artists – Whang-Od has since trained other women in the community to keep the tradition alive. (I even had one of the apprentices, Renalyn, ink my back, as I particularly liked how clean her lines were).
You can keep the thorn used after your session, and the guides will give you a replica of the bamboo they use in tattooing as a going-away present. (This can also be bought in the souvenir shop at the entrance of the village).
Tip: Never haggle. Help the community by helping the locals.
All of the above can be done in one afternoon, or at the latest, until early the next morning. Tell your guide of your plans and they will do their best to make arrangements in accordance to your schedule.
BACK TO MANILA
9am – We spent the night in Buscalan and left after breakfast the next day. The trek back to the Turning Point was easier than the one going to the village. We still had to take the habal-habal though, as there was a landslide in the area.
Fare – 100 PHP / person
10am – We caught the 10AM jeepney to Bontoc (there were buses due at 11AM and 12NN respectively, according to our guide). Since the ride to Bontoc was only an hour, we went toploading. From up there, the view was twice as epic!
Fare – 100 PHP / person
Other option – go back to Tabuk instead and go back to Manila from there. I understand this was the shorter/faster route.
11AM – Arrived in Bontoc; disembarked by the gate of MPSPC (Mountain Province State Polytechnic College) and walked to the bus terminal via the overpass. There was a Tourist Police Assistance Desk nearby, where we got information on transport options.
Fall in line for the Baguio bus (no advanced reservations available)
Departs at 1PM (GL Lizardo Bus) – terminal is near the public market/ central Baguio
Fare – 210 PHP / person
Can have lunch in Bontoc. We didn’t. (Bottled water – 30 PHP, Softdrinks – 25 PHP)