Getting Inked by the Mambabatok of Tinglayan, Buscalan

I still can’t believe that I now have a permanent ink on my skin! The younger me would never have wanted one. She would surely ask me, “Why would you want to pay for wound and pain???”. But the “adult” me wanted this! Sooo badly! I tried getting one back in 2013 and 2015. But I failed! I was not even able to see Apo Whang Od, the oldest mambabatok in the village. I promised myself that this year, I will not add up another year on my age without getting a tattoo. Cliché as it may sound, but third time’s a charm!

Before I start my story, I apologize for the low quality pictures. They were all taken using a mobile phone as my camera was still at the service center for some repairs.

On the second week of January, I packed up my bag, set my out of office reply, and hopped on a bus bound for another bucket-list trip, together with my former officemate, Tessa.I decided to stay overnight in Bontoc so we can catch the 7AM jeepney trip bound for Tabuk, which will pass by Bugnay, the jump off point if you are going to Tinglayan, Buscalan. I have always believed that Bontoc is the hottest town in Mountain Province, even at night. But that weekend proved me wrong. It was a chilling 8°C during the night and 17°C in the early morning. Such a perfect weather for a 2-hour top load ride! 😎😎

Habal-habal ride followed after the topload ride. It took us 20 minutes to reach Tinglayan turning point from Bugnay. We paid 75.00 for the registration fee before we start our trek to Butbut Village. It will take 30 minutes or less for a mountaineer to get there, as for me, it took me 50 minutes. I am not in a hurry anyway 😁😁

As we passed by a house, I recognized right away who the person feeding the chicken was. It was Apo Whang Od! Kuya Pedro, our guide, stopped to talk to her in their local dialect. While they were talking, I took the chance to snap a few pictures of Apo. I swear I was trembling when I was taking my phone out of my bag! FINALLY! I SAW APO WHANG OD! When they were done talking, Kuya Pedro, our guide, told us Apo was not feeling well and won’t have tattoo session for that day. That’s fine. I really planned to get one the next day, Monday.

Kuya Pedro suggested that I get a tattoo from Rhenalyn, Apo’s relative and apprentice, and that’s what I did. After taking a bath, Tessa and I went to Rhenalyn’s tattoo hut. It was lunch time and she had no customer. Most of the guests wanted to get inked by Grace, Apo Whang Od’s grandniece. I actually checked Grace’s hut before going to Rhenalyn’s, and there was a long queue.

Rhenalyn gave me the wooden board and asked me to choose the design that I want. I asked for the meaning of each design. I would like to believe that I have “Courage”, “Freedom”, “Strength” and I love to have “Heavenly Guidance”, thus I chose the Standing eagle and the Serpent Eagle. Actually, I really thought the fourth picture was just one design! It was only when I was giving my payment to Rhenalyn that I discovered I actually have two tattoos!

Rhenalyn drew the pattern on my skin. My heart was pounding so fast when I saw her inserting the thorn on the bamboo stick. I’ve anticipated pain. So, when I saw her lift her hand for the very first tap, I took a deep breath and prepare myself for the twinge. I FELT NONE! OK. I was told by people who know me that I have a high pain tolerance, I think I believe them now. Also, there were some blogs that said pain depends on the part you’re placing the tattoo. In my case, I had it in my forearm where lots of my fats were stored. There were times that I felt a little twinge specially when Rhenalyn was tapping on the part that is already bleeding. But it was tolerable.

In exactly 23 minutes, I got inked the traditional way! Wow! I’ve been wanting for so long to use that caption. I stared at the designs on my arms and it felt so surreal seeing a permanent souvenir I can carry everywhere. Another item checked out on my list!

It was only 1:30PM and I already have my tattoos. I asked Tessa to come with me and check Grace’s hut. I want another tattoo! Haha! That Faith, Hope and Love design caught my eyes when I was looking at Rhenalyn’s board. Grace was still busy with the guests wanting to be inked by her. I stayed in her hut and fell in line. Well, there was really no line. I just asked who will be the last person to get tattooed and said I’ll go after her. The sun was almost down, marking Grace’s “end of shift” but there were still 2 guests before me. I told them I’ll just come back the next day.

At 3:30AM, I was awakened by the loud snoring of one of the guests I couldn’t go back to sleep so I just, once again, stared at my tattoo and contemplated on where would I ask Apo Whang Od to put her signature. By 6:30 AM, Tessa and I went back to Grace’s hut, she was not there. After an hour, I overheard a local guiding a group and said that Grace went to Bontoc and another apprentice will be doing the tattoo for them. Some of the guests decided to go to Rhenalyn instead. I asked another local if Whang Od will be having a session, she said she’s not sure cause Apo was still sleeping. By 8:15 AM, I gave up and told Tessa to go back at the homestay and pack up our things.

Kuya Pedro told us he’ll pick us up before 9AM. It was already 9:10 but he was still MIA. Knowing how slow I walk, I got worried that we will not be able to catch that 11AM jeep. Kuya Gaspar, the owner of our homestay, asked his son to check if Whang Od was in her hut. Luck is still on my side and happily she was there! I got excited. I picked up my bag and told Kuya Garsper to tell Kuya Pedro to pick us up at Apo’s hut. There were almost 20 people lined up to get Whang Od’s signature — the three dots. Good thing Ate Ecel was there. She was the one who greeted us in Bugnay and was supposed to guide us the day before. She asked me if I want to get signed by Whang Od and I said yes. She then talked to Apo’s assistant in their local dialect. When she turned to me again, she said I’ll be the next one after 3 more persons. YES!! I don’t have to wait until the other guests got tattooed.

Seeing Apo whang Od the day before, just few meters away, made me shake. This time, I almost dropped on the ground when I was told to sit on that small chair in front of Apo. She held up my arm and put it on her knee! It felt so surreal! Tracing a straight line at the bottom of my serpent eagle, I asked Apo if she can put her signature where I pointed it. But Apo knew better. She dotted 3 small circles forming an arrow. Compared to Rhenalyn’s tapping, Apo’s was a bit harder abd heavier. But it was still tolerable. In less than 3 minutes, her sign was inked on me.

Ate Ecel guided us back to Bugnay. We missed the 11AM jeep but it was all worth it! By 11:50 AM, the jeepney from Tabuk bound for Bontoc came, it was the same jeep that we rode from Bontoc to Bugnay. By 2 PM, I was on my way to Sagada.


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