Tinglayan, Kalinga: Sleeping Beauty, Tattoos, and Babkals

To meet the last tattoo artist Fang-od in the village of Buscalan, one has to board a bus to Tabuk for 12 hours, and take a 3-hr ride from Tabuk to Tinglayan.

There are regular trips from Tabuk to Tinglayan at 7 and 8 in the morning, but since misadventures seem to love us, we missed both trips. At 10AM, we stood at the jeepney stop waiting for any form of transportation. I asked around if there were jeeps stopping by anytime soon but I was just advised to sit and wait. And so we did.

Luckily, thirty minutes later, a jeep stopped in front of us, the driver asked the people where they were headed, and finally, he nodded and decided to go to Tinglayan. On the way to Tinglayan we were greeted with sweeping views of the mountains with the endless flow of the Chico River at its feet. The jeep went further upstream for 3 hours.
Chico River

Kalinga Tribes

It was late in the afternoon when the jeepney pulled to a stop and told us that we were finally at Sleeping Beauty Inn. Francis Pa-in, our guide, came out to meet us and ushered us in for a late lunch.

While waiting for lunch, Francis, who by the way is one of the few guides in Kalinga, pulled out a map and drew our game plan. My heart sank when I realized we would not be able to fit everything in. There were several things that we could experience and visiting the different Kalinga tribes alone could take 2-3 days, and taking a dip at the Palan-ah Falls and hot spring would take half a day. Sadly, we had to choose our battles.

I roamed around the place and was puzzled by the fact that nearby stores also had Sleeping Beauty in their signage. Why is this town so hooked with Sleeping Beauty? Turns out, I didn't get to research the fact that the mountain right behind us in the photo was named after the Disney princess. See how the ridges look like a side view of lady lying on her back? 

The town center is smaller than that of Sagada, and only a few houses offered lodging. I think I only spotted two and one of those was Sleeping Beauty Inn, owned by the town mayor (who also owned Sleeping Beauty Restaurant and Sleeping Beauty Grocery, because tough guys dig Disney princesses!). We chose the inn because of its nice location, right smack in a piece of land in the middle of the river. If ever you have fears of crossing hanging bridges like my friend Lea below, you will probably get over it by the time you leave Kalinga. There were no other guests that day so we had the whole house to ourselves.

Sleeping Beauty Inn
Another noticeable thing about this Sleeping Beauty town is that pigs rule the streets. Pigs were roaming around walking like your usual askals. There were more pigs in the streets than dogs. Tinglayan was Babe territory. We were still fascinated about this fact until the day we left that we already thought of a name for them... babkals (no surprise). What's more fascinating is that the native pigs that all look the same can all find their way home. Francis said there's no trouble with the similar-looking pigs since the owners know their pets and the pigs know their owners. Must be love!

We own the streets!
Cozying up for warmth

Since it was late in the afternoon and it was drizzling, we asked Francis to take us around the small town. From one hanging bridge to the next, we made our way to the village of Old Tinglayan donning our rain gear. After 20 minutes, we found the marker for the village. There we met our first tattooed Kalinga woman.

Meet Tu-yo. A woman who when asked about her age would say that she does not know because she did not learn to count. She was cooking for dinner when we came and her daughter and grandchildren also came out to meet us. We sat with her at the kitchen and talked with her for a while, with the help of Francis who was translating for us. She was the first person to urge us ladies to get a tattoo so we could get married. Fact: In the olden times, men of the tribes found ink-decorated women attractive.

What we saw in Old Tinglayan was a primer of what we were about to experience up in the village of Buscalan. We left Old Tinglayan before the sun set and slowly made our way back to the town center. It was still raining and it was starting to get cold so we gladly accepted Francis' invitation of coffee followed by a few shots of Tanduay and Coke to warm up the night. He regaled us with his stories of more than 10 years of guiding guests in the province of Kalinga.

After a couple of rounds, we called it a night. We brought our headlamps out and crossed the hanging bridge for the nth time.

The next day was a big one. Time to finally meet the famed mambabatok.

How to Get to Tinglayan:
1. Board a bus to Tabuk. (via Victory Liner in Kamias)
2. From Tabuk, ride a bus or jeepney bound to Tinglayan or Bontoc.

Francis Pa-in- Kalinga Guide- Contact him at 0915.769.0843

**Superb photos by Aaron Arvin Manila.

Shakespeare in the Park

Photo from here

The arts were not a huge part of my growing-up years. I stared at paintings without a vague sense of its depth, I saw ballet performances on TV and switched channels, I never tried to scrutinize minute details of sculptures, and the only theater play I thought to watch live was The Sound of Music (only because I loved the movie as a child). 

The first play I watched was Nick Joaquin's The Portrait of the Artist as Filipino in college. It was a  small school production that we were required to watch.

Fast forward to 2007, I was able to regularly drop by art exhibits in a mall. The exhibits were fun and refreshing to the inexperienced eye. In 2010, I found myself inside a deserted art museum in Kuala Lumpur. There was not a single soul in sight. I took my time scrutinizing the works.

Maybe those were signs. The arts and I. We stand a chance.

Earlier this year I realized I haven't watched a real professional stage play production. It was about time that I experience one! In May of this year, I finally had a taste of my first ever real play, picnic-in-the-park style. Think Paco Park Presents, the Singapore Repertory Theater Edition. I was lucky to be in Singapore during the running dates of SRT's Shakespeare in the Park: Twelfth Night.

No chairs allowed. No pets allowed.

From Orchard Road, we took the GPS out and found our way towards Fort Canning. Fort Canning is  a hill in the middle of the city where Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, lived back in the days. It has been turned into a park and aside from being a quick green escape from the city, it is now a venue to various cultural activities. It took a 20-minute leisurely walk before we found our way inside.

We arrived early but there were already people setting up. Locals and foreigners alike were coming in, armed with their blankets, snacks, and cameras. We found a spot on the top of the hill and sat on the grass. The stage was set below a gently sloping hill, with the hill providing a good vantage point for the audience. I had no clue on what the play was about but thanks to the flyers provided by SRT, I knew the plot and the characters the actors were going to portray before the play started. It also helped that my companion was quite versed with Shakespeare and his works.

By the time the play was about to start, the whole place up to the top of the hill was packed.

It was a wonderful evening in Singapore, with the lights of the city's buildings coming out to life and blending with the stars in the clear sky. The wind blew softly, enough to relax us and rid everyone of the events of the humid afternoon. The show director went up on stage, announced the start of the play, and the chatter slowly died down. The first act was opened by a captain and his crew drinking by the bar at the bay.

Twelfth Night is a story of an assumed identity that led to a familiar love triangle with an unconventional twist. Viola was a survivor of a shipwreck and she never saw her twin brother, Sebastian, after the incident. She was washed ashore in the land of Illyria. She disguised herself as a man named Cesario and worked for the Duke Orsino who was in love with Olivia. Olivia, who was still grieving over the death of her family, did not want to see any suitor for the next seven years. Orsino asked Cesario to work as a messenger of his love for Olivia. In the end, Viola fell in love with the Duke Orsino who was in love with Olivia who found herself in love with Cesario (who was Viola in real-life). This confusion is where the story revolved.

The VIP tent
Before the intermission, we saw Sebastian showing up on the shores of Illyria. Too bad we did not get to finish the next act but here's how the story goes: the twins Sebastian and Viola meet and everything is cleared up. Orsino married Viola and Sebastian married Olivia. And they all lived happily ever after.

After watching Twelfth Night, I realized that theater is an entirely different world that can suck you in completely for the time being. For someone with a short attention span like me, watching a stage play meant focusing and taking it all in. The venue probably was a huge factor, the park made it seem more intense. Watching something on the screen does not require much because it can easily be put on rewind, but watching a stage play demands more attention, missing a word or looking elsewhere can easily sidetrack you from understanding the story.

So maybe.. I'll start to delve into the arts this time. Maybe I can start with watching stage play versions of movies I saw (watch Sound of Music for real). I could start to include catching cultural shows in my next trips, take virtual tours of museums (like this of Louvre for the meantime), and spend more time taking in details of sculptures and architectures... to not be in a rush. To take everything in one at a time.

And maybe... it's not too late for a crash course on Arts Appreciation.

Have you always had an inclination to the arts?

Photos by Aaron Arvin Manila.

This post is part of the Singapore Series.

Lessons from Long Weekends and Even Longer Bus Rides

There is absolutely nothing that could go wrong with a 12-hour bus ride. Or so I thought.
Earlier this year I took a smooth 13-hour bus ride to Tuguegarao. I boarded the bus and slept all the hours away. This time around, it was a different story.
It all started with a plan to go to Kalinga with a new friend we've met at Batad. I called Victory Liner a day prior to the long weekend and the representative said that there were plenty of seats in all four trips to Tabuk. For the life of me, I don't know what prompted me to think that pretty sure there will be seats for four. Tabuk is just too far for a 4-day weekend, right?

So there we were. 8PM on a Friday night. Four people standing at Victory Liner Kamias Terminal begging for seats along with a hundred more chance passengers bound to Tabuk.

Most looked like they were seeing their families and they deserved a seat on the bus more than we did. I wanted to kick myself for not getting our tickets. I was racking my brains for Plans Bs. Cross the street to JAM Liner, ride a bus to Batangas and take a ferry to Romblon? Or to Puerto Galera and party all the 4-days away? Or why not go home and try again the next day? 

None of the Plan Bs worked for us. Not when you have an American who flew all the way from Cebu (technically from Minnesota) just to be in the mountains of North Luzon. Besides, what will she do with Puerto Galera's White Beach when she has seen some of the best beaches down south? This time I was sure that I really messed up. What have I done? 

Lesson #1: Always buy tickets in advance. Never, ever assume that they can always squeeze you in. Remember that there are no aisle seats in provincial buses. 

We stood there with long faces while we waved goodbye to the third bus. The last bus pulled up in front of us. It was our only hope. I was grateful that we had a foreigner with us who told people that she really wanted to see the mountains and the rice terraces. In a country where everyone can suddenly turn into a tour guide, it was definitely a good idea to work on. Plus it's not everyday that you see a foreigner pleading for a seat on a bus to Tabuk.

Lesson #2: When stuck in a situation like this, remember that the bus conductor is king. You can plead all you want with the ticketing personnel, the security guard, or any one who looks powerful enough to squeeze you in but at the end, the bus conductor gets to decide. Appeal to the conductor's compassionate heart early on!

And the bus conductor happened to be Mr. Tourism himself. He was nice and we felt that he really wanted to get the foreigner and her companions in the bus so she could tell her friends how lovely our country is. Finally, he called the four of us in. The "It's more fun in the Philippines!" ploy worked.

And just when I thought things were looking up for us, there's a catch.

There were no more seats. We can ride the bus we had to figure out how to spend the next 12 hours without a seat. We were so desperate we agreed to sort ourselves out on the floor. I was dismayed but half of me was laughing at the humor of things.. how often do you get to sit on the bus floor? For possibly 12 hours?

Lesson #3: If you really want to get to your destination bad enough, you'll never know what you can give in exchange for that. Like taking the floor seat. The point is, give in!

Photo from here

I wanted to smack myself for not planning the trip well, leaving everything to chance. For hours we were sitting on our bags on the floor. Our foreigner friend even curled up on the floor sometime during the night. I would have warned her about the crawling insects but she slept like a baby. We spent eight hours on the floor, trying hard to get some sleep, leaning our heads on someone else's armrest, and trying to keep ourselves warm. It's specially colder and a lot bumpier when you're sitting on the floor. The passengers were nice to us, lending us their luggage to lean on. It was  dawn before finally, some passengers started to get off the bus.

Lesson #4: Prepare to bundle up for the bus weather (that's the third season BTW). And if you plan to take some floor seat, layer up. Even Westerners don't get our relationship with air condition. Why does it have to be always turned ON, full blast?

Finally, seats! They felt like bum-heaven. I hurriedly caught on my sleep.

I woke up a couple of hours later to a sweeping view of Kalinga. Less than fifteen people were left on the bus. A lady was kind enough to assist us in finding Bayle's Supermart in Bulanao, Tabuk.

We were set to ride a jeepney to Tinglayan at 8AM, but since we did not catch the 7PM bus, we arrived in Tabuk at 9:30AM. We had to again try our luck in catching a jeep to Tinglayan. Forunately, a jeepney came by around 10:30 in the morning.

Before leaving for Tinglayan, we booked our tickets going back to Manila. I don't think we can ever risk the floor meeting our tushies again.

Lesson #5: Learn from your booboos. There is always time for your.. first time. 

A few hours and a 3-hr jeepney ride later, when we finally reached our destination, the whole unfortunate bus scenario was simply tucked into our minds. We all deserve the bragging rights for being the only person we know to take the elite floor seats.. for eight hours.

What's your bus horror story?

Photos by Aaron Arvin Manila

Cooking Frustrations Can Lead to a Bucket List

This post is the result of Thursday night's thoughts on cooking.

Photo from  http://www.zazzle.com

You see, cooking, next to dancing well, is at the bottom, of my skillset. I have cooked a few dishes in my life but I would rather eat it by myself than share, except for some some occasions when I prepared something more than a bowl of instant noodles for others. 

Yesterday, in an attempt to lessen dining out and make my food intake a little bit healthier, I decided to make a meal plan, cook what's on the plan, and stick to it. Somewhere in my planning I realized it would be really nice to whip up a nice dish and invite friends and family over for food and drinks. I adore my friends who are good in cooking, plus points for friends who magically come up with great dishes while camping
And so I thought that this should be added in my bucket list. (Which, by the way, does not exist in an actual written list.. until now.)

Photo from here
  1. Master a dish and invite friends and family over. Pick a dish and do it well!
  2. Go solo overseas. - DONE! Jan 2013 - present - Assigned in Brunei for work, Sarawak for a deliberate Chinese New Year solo trip
  3. Go someplace where it snows and make a snow angel.
  4. Board a sleeper train. Or board the Eurail and cross out two items.
  5. Step foot in a different continent (Or push it to all continents if I can)
  6. Travel solo locally.
  7. Skydive. Skydive. Skydive.
  8. Learn to converse in a new language. In progress. Catching up with my Spanish lessons on Duolingo.
  9. Be published.  - DONE! Aug 2012 - Published in View Travel and Lifestyle Magazine's August 2012 issue!
  10. Watch the Olympics live in the flesh.
  11. Walk on a desert.
  12. Dive. And try to get a license if you can.
  13. Jump off to the sea - DONE! Dec 2011 - Jumped off the top of a cave in Sohoton National Park -- Aiming to do it higher next time!
  14. Safari experience
  15. Go biking in Vietnam - DONE! Nov 2011 - With a scar to prove!
  16. Cross a border via land travel - DONE! Feb 2012 - Crossed the border from Brunei to Sarawak
  17. See pandas - DONE! April 2011 - Too bad they were in a zoo though.
  18. Travel for 6 months (or a year!)
  19. Learn HTML, CSS, and create a layout from scratch
  20. Attend a huge music festival (SXSW, Coachella) 
  21. Swim with dolphins
  22. Experience a festival (La Tomatina in Spain, Oktoberfest in Germany, or Masskara in Bacolod)
  23. See cherry blossoms in full bloom
  24. Visit at least 20 sites in UNESCO's World Heritage List - Count: Nov 2012 - 5
  25. Actively support a cause

Plus the crazy long list of the places I want to see in this lifetime which I purposedly took of this one. Mine looks pretty much doable as long as I work on my saving skills.

Putting these things in a list is a great exercise to check where you are and the things you want to do before you kick the bucket (hence the name). People change as well as their dreams so this list can be updated any day of the year. Who knows? Tomorrow I might change my mind on cooking and stay out of it.
How about you? What's on your list?