Tattooed by Wang-od, the Mambabatok

My decision to get a tattoo from Wang-od sprung from my want to have my very first tattoo, and what would be greater than having it in a traditional way, right? And at the same time, inserting it in my solo backpacking adventure. It’s crossing off two items from my bucket list in one trip (although, along the way, I realized I crossed off more than just two in my bucket list).

So I left Sagada at around 9 or 10 AM. From the Sagada town proper, I toploaded the Bontoc jeepney along with some tourists as well. I arrived at Bontoc around 11 AM and walked somewhere near a college (sorry haven’t noted the name) where the jeepneys are parking.

From here on, bear with me because I am not really good with directions and when I was reading the blogs, I am just confused where is Bontoc, where is Bugnay, where is Tinglayan, where is Buscalan, which of these places really am I going to?!

So please see my illustration. Yeah, I did it in Paint just because I was lazy (hence my name) to do it in Photoshop, haha! Anyways, this is how I understand things. Point A, Bontoc, is your starting point. At the town of Bontoc, there are different jeepneys you can take. But basically if you want to go to Wang-od, you can take the Buscalan jeep because it will drop you off to point C where you will start your trekking.


Good thing for me, when I found the Buscalan jeep, there were 5 very loud but amazing girls I met from Tagaytay who were also going to Wang-od. So I tagged along with them. That was around 11:30 AM. The driver said that the jeep will go around 2PM. We somehow had the option to rent the jeep for P1500 (/6=P250), I think, but we decided to just wait for 2PM anyway. They had Kuya Gilbert as their guide. I had Ate Selma as my guide and I was a bit worried because she is not texting back and I have no idea where to get off but then having the girls with me and since we’re going to the same place, I was at ease.

Almost 2PM and no signs of the jeepney going. Ate Selma was really creative in finding ways to get to me. She texted someone she knew who was in Bontoc at that time to relay her message to me. She told me I could take the Tabuk jeep which is going earlier and tell the driver to drop me off at Bugnay. Her concern was that the sky is getting dark and it might be difficult to trek while raining. But then I settled with the Buscalan jeep, maybe because I feel safe having tourists like me there.

Sidenote: Tabuk is the capital province of Kalinga. To put it simply Bontoc and Tabuk are the usual towns where the Buscalan villagers go shopping or something. They mostly go to Tabuk for their needs.

At around 3PM, the jeep took off to Buscalan with other passengers and an additional 2 pairs of couples who are also going to the village. I felt safer but then I’m still anxious because my guide asked me to get off Bugnay while the others will head straight to Buscalan.

Long story short, my route was from Bontoc, I took the jeep to Buscalan, took off at Bugnay where Ate Selma was waiting for me. She had previously arranged a single motorcycle ride to take us to the “SQUARE” in my illustration, let’s say that’s the jump off point where we started trekking.

Here’s what it looks like:


This is the other end of the tram line which transports goods to the village of Buscalan.

But the others, from Bugnay, they will still pass the winding road (as in my drawing) then reach Buscalan drop off. If I understood right, the jeep was supposed to be stopping at the jump off point but due to the landslide, it only reaches the drop off point. But honestly, the drop off and the jump off isn’t really far. It’s still an easy trek because it’s still concrete road. From the jump off, that’s where the real trekking starts.

Okay, so trek, trek, trek up and down the mountainside. You’ll know you’re near when you reach this small falls:


My kasingganda guide, Ate Selma


To know that there are marijuana plants around there is enough for me but Ate Selma was insistent to have me take a picture there. So okay, picture with Mary Jane.
With Ate Selma and the motorcycle driver, Mindo, who was actually a grandson of Wang-od and is also a tour guide.

We arrived at the souvenir shop right before the rain started pouring. I registered there and listed my name for the tattoo queue. We rested there for a while. When I was reading the blogs, I thought the souvenir shop was somewhere at the jump off point. I was wrong. It’s already part of the village.

Also, there is no, as in N-O signal there for both Globe and Smart. Ate Selma literally hangs her phone at one of the higher houses just to get a decent signal.

Selfie with Wang-od… JOWK! The souvenir shop had some tarps of Wang-od around.
Medyo napagtrippingan ako dito, hahaha! They made me wear the costume and some accessories they’re selling and telling me I look good in it. Bad thing is, my phone can’t adapt to the dark so blurry photo here.

We took a rest at Ate Selma’s place. Supposed to be, the homestay is at Ate Marie’s, her sister because they really arranged their house for homestay, especially large groups, but then Ate Selma offered me to stay in her house since I was alone and they can accommodate me. The things is, they have no CR but I’m okay with it. And it’s a first experience for me as well, toileting and taking a bath at the neighbor’s CR.

This is my homestay:

Ate Selma’s Eatery is the only eatery in the village. They had just started it. Your homestay sometimes offer you food for free (usually vegetables) or you may ask for them to cook for you at a price. Or you can just drop by at Ate Selma’s Eatery if you’d like.
Certified Tourist Guide: Ate Selma’s certificates from trainings

The eatery, which also serves as the family’s dining table.


Complimentary coffee always free! Yay! Their menu for that day includes Bihon (P50/serve), Adobo (P80), fried fish (P50?), nilaga (P100), rice (P20?) and others. Medyo mahal but their serving is good for 2 persons if you’re not really hungry, and understandable considering the lengths of the transport of goods.


It was almost nighttime and I was tired so I slept for a while. Then at around 8 or 9 PM, Ate Selma took me to socialize at another house. There was a French man there and with other tourists and some locals, we played cards. They were teasing the French man (I forgot, was it Daniel?) to buy them some drinks, the litro beer, sorry forgot what that was which was around P110, I think. But then he put in only P100 because he only had a few money with him left and he had to go the next day. So I ended up contributing P100 for the drinks. Oh, well. It was a short but fun night.

I woke up the next morning giddy to get a tattoo. They served me this kamote:


And they served me rice and some green, leafy vegetables as well. I didn’t tell them I don’t eat vegetables but I ate a few vegetables anyway (with a lot of toyo). See? I got a lot of things ticked off from my list.

View from the window of the eatery/my homestay


We checked at the tattoo shop first. That was around 8 AM and the session hasn’t started yet. That’s when I paid for the environmental fee or something.

At the tattoo shop where guests are waiting in line. They’re the ones I’m with at the jeepney.

So I played with some children for a while. I had Zootopia on my phone and I watched it with them.

Then at around 11 AM, we checked at the tattoo shop again and the session has already started. I was starstrucked when I saw Wang-od but then, you know, it’s different when you have those uber skillful photography shots of her and seeing her there in action with many guests around. It was just like any normal day.


And since there were so many conflicts about the tattoo queue and Ate Selma’s blood pressure is rising up because of it, I decided to have a tattoo with another mambabatok for the meantime.

Sidenote: There’s some palakasan system there with the tour guides. Sometimes, they just squeeze in groups because some will just have an overnight stay and go by lunchtime. And if you don’t have a makapal face like mine, don’t tell others that you’re staying for two nights or you will “fall” down the queue line because of course, they are already in a hurry. Sometimes, you also want to be considerate but once you squeeze in a few people, more people will be squeezed in like during my time, there were “out of the blue” tourists na nagside trip lang and they were squeezed in without informing the others down the queue line with the usual excuse that they will just have Wang-od’s signature.

Kat (my friend and guide from Escolta) had her tattoo by Renalyn but at that time, Renalyn and Grace (Young Master) went to Tabuk and the line with Elyang (granddaughter of Wang-od) is also long so we went to Ate Emily. So, yes, there are younger generations of mambabatok. She had passed down her craft after all.

Ate Emily was doing the tattoos of a couple who turned out to be one of the passengers in the same jeep the other day! Couple A, the female turned out to be an Ilongga and she was the aunt of a resident doctor in the hospital I’m working in. What a small world. We had a chat while I wait for my tattoo.

Sidenote: At first, I haven’t realized what Kat told me to just “pick from their designs as respect for their culture.” Since this is my very first tattoo, I just wanted to have something I really want so I did it my way anyway. But the thing is, they usually have a hard time following designs which they are not used to. Well, good thing for Ate Emily for agreeing with my design because it was just simple. And circles are more expensive than just lines because they find it difficult. Now that I thought of it, I somehow regretted not choosing a figure with a Kalinga meaning.


While having my tattoo, a family of Filipino-Canadians came. One of them kindly took the video and this shot. The father was joking, “Alam ba ‘yan ng mga magulang mo?” And when I was having my tattoo, I haven’t realized how painful it was and I was saying it out loud and he told me, “Ginusto mo ‘yan kaya panindigan mo.” Haha! Parang hugot lang…

With Ate Emily. This tattoo costs P500.

Yay! I have a tattoo! Though my very first tattoo wasn’t technically by Wang-od but then, you know, it’s a traditional one and it has a story.

Sidenote: Speaking of stories, I haven’t thought that when you have a tattoo, you should be prepared when people ask about it. And so, the Filipino-Canadians were like, what does it mean, what is that? This is where I got it from, just because I have I’d like to live the mantra of “WILD and FREE.”


Okay. So we went back to the tattoo shop at around after lunch. The Tagaytay girls were worried because they were supposed to go at around 2PM but I think 2 of them haven’t had a tattoo yet. In the end, they decided to stay another night. Wang-od had her lunch first so I lingered around the tattoo shop talking to tourists and picture taking with Elyang.


So I found there Couple B who are homestaying at the house I’m sharing the CR with, and who arrived right before me the other day, and who I hang out with the other night. I’d just like to mention them because I love the thought that they had their own individual tattoos and at the same, they had a similar tattoo which symbolizes their family (4 stick human figures). The funny thing is, they found that image in the board where you pick your tattoo but when they showed it to Elyang, Elyang said she can’t do it because that was just a drawing by the kids there and because it had circles and more on curved lines. So she suggested straight stick figures and they settled with that even though it doesn’t have the same impact like the childish drawing they picked initially.

With the Grand Tattoo Master Wang-od

So okay, being a nurse, I was concerned with the infection control, AIDS and those sort of stuff but I read a blog that she had her tattoo with just natural healing, no antibiotics or anything so I followed that one. Regarding AIDS, they change the thorn per person, I know that because they give your thorn as a souvenir after your tattoo. The ink was from charcoal mixed with water. Then they use wet wipes to clean. For the younger ones, they change wipes often but for Wang-od, she changes it whenever she likes.

I have a video but maybe I can embed it later because I can’t upload with my current WordPress account.

My tattoo! So this was just three arrows up and the three dots were Wang-od’s signature, as the locals would call it, sort of like an autograph. So since Wang-od is old, her tattoos were already shaky and painful because she doesn’t adjust according to your pain tolerance. So if you can’t tolerate pain or you’re a neat freak, or you’re in a hurry like the other guests, you can just have the signature. And I’m so happy this is only P200! She usually sets her own price and maybe she’s in a good mood when I had mine!
Elyang in action with another solo traveller. But he just lives in the Manila area or somewhere there. He’s one of the victims (victim talaga?) of the squeezing in the queue lines. It was already his second day and already after lunch and he still hadn’t been tattoed by Wang-od. Also, he got some allergic reaction. Too bad I didn’t have some antihistamines with me. So guys who can relate with allergy problems, you know what you should bring.

I also left my mark at the tattoo shop so if ever you went there and saw my mark, drop me a comment or a message!


It was around 3-4PM when I left the tattoo shop so since we didn’t have time to go to the falls, we just took a trip around and to Ate Marie’s place. This was also the time I took out the candies I bought. And mind you, three packs of candies aren’t enough because even the adults were asking for some, haha!


Ate Marie sells pancakes @ P10 each.

Ate Marie’s house can accommodate up to 30 people. She had two rooms, some mattress and pillows. But 30, it means some would sleep at their veranda on the floor. But they’re clean so if you don’t mind, it’s okay. And more importantly, there’s a bathroom. And another to take note of, Ate Marie doesn’t speak Tagalog and she couldn’t understand so when you live there, actions speak louder than words.

Also, she has a sari-sari store and has a ref. So I bought there 1.5 softdrinks for P100 and shared it with my homestay family that night.

This is with, OMG, sorry I forgot the name. I remember it sounds Japanese. Anyway, this part is where the other end of the tram line is.

I also wanted to take note talking to Angie and Minerva (another granddaughter of Wang-od). We were talking about 50 Shades of Grey, like they have watched it, and they have read it and the other installments (e-book). Yes, some of them have tablets and android phones too. Some houses have TV and DVD players. Ate Selma has a radio and ref (for the frozen goods). But their water is free. Anyway, going back to Angie and Minerva, we were talking about that they were called the Butbut tribe, how Grace is rich, haha, and during her birthday, she treated her family to have a vacation in Ilocos. We talked about the Duterte supporters reaching them during the campaign period, who of the five running for president bought their votes, who they voted because they vote whoever the elders told them to vote. We talked about the guests coming to the place, what nationalities they were, their attitudes, how they think of them, what they do, their (some foreigners) marijuana use, the local’s use of marijuana, the foreign languages they learned, etc. It was a good feeling to know more about them and being with them. It feels good to have that experience and not just that I’m staying there because I want to have a tattoo with Wang-od.

The next morning, I had this for breakfast:


I said my goodbyes and I gave them a sort of medication kit as my token of appreciation. I stuffed it with dressing materials and the usual medicines, mefenamic, paracetamol, etc. Then, we walked to the drop off with Ate Marie who is going to Manila to attend to something. I arrived at the drop off at around 9 AM and there’s a jeep waiting there. I found the Tagaytay girls and a pair of tourists I have just seen. I said my goodbyes to Ate Selma and she asked for my umbrella as a souvenir. I gave it to her. I was so thankful because she have me a discount since I was just a solo guest.

Parting photo at the drop off point

When we reached Bontoc, I said my goodbyes to the Tagaytay girls who were off to Baguio while I was off to Banaue. We exchanged Facebook contacts and took a groufie.


I don’t know how to end this post and I can’t describe how much I love and have learned from that experience. But if you have questions, feel free to connect with me on Facebook (Lilac Penafiel) or comment here or send me a message because I can’t wait to share this wonderful experience with you and help out those who were as lost as me.

Here’s Ate Selma’s number, and please mention that I referred her to you:

09461691308 or PM her on Facebook: Ate Selma’s FB

Other notes:

*Wang-od doesn’t have children so when I say grandchildren, at least from her bloodline

*Most tourist guides are male, Ate Selma and another one are the only female guides. So for me, a solo female traveller, Ate Selma was a good choice.

*Sometimes, guides are just waiting at Bugnay or at the souvenir shop but it’s best to contact one beforehand.



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