A Chance To Meet Apo Whang-Od in June 2017

In a far away land of Kalinga Apayao, in a place called Buscalan, a 101-year-old woman named Apo Whang-Od (pronounced as fang -od) is known to be the new Filipino National Artist. Apo Whang-Od belongs to the Butbut tribe and she was their warriors' tattooist. Fast forward to today's time, people from the lowlands are unceasingly climbing up to the mountains of Buscalan just to see Apo Whang-Od and if fortunate enough, to be marked by the only living tattooist of the Butbut tribe.

I never stopped dreaming of seeing her, I pursued and endured the 17 hours and 30 minutes to be there.

me enjoying the green rice field of Buscalan


* From Cebu to Manila flight:   
   1 hour and 20 minutes

* Pasay to Baguio City:

    6 hours (we traveled from 10:30 pm to 4:30 am) for  Php 455.00

* Baguio City to Bontoc:

    6 hours (leaving Baguio City at 7:00 am via GL Trans, arrived at 1:30 pm) for Php 212.00

* Bontoc to Buscalan: 

    1 hour and 30 minutes (leaving Bontoc at 2:30 pm, arrived at 4:00 pm) for Php 100.00

**** Trek starts at Buscalan junction for at least an hour to an hour and 30 minutes.

Yes, the trip is exhausting yet challenging. As for me since I came straight from Cebu, got no sleep except for power naps in the bus. But it never crossed my mind to not continue with the journey that I started.

After the inclined trek in Buscalan, I was about to enter the haven of the Butbut tribe, the home of the legendary Apo Whang-Od. 

At the entrance, they would ask you to sign in their logbook for record purposes and a Php 50.00 fee for the visitors.
Starting my trek to Buscalan

 My view from my homestay
 The magnificent sunrise
My view while treking to Buscalan

My tour guide, Rustom in kuya Gilbert's home stay


If you are planning to visit Buscalan, I would recommend you to contact a tour guide first for safety and convenience as they would be the one who would look for your homestay.

Here are my tour guides:

Gilbert and Rustom (they are brothers and nephews of Apo Whang- Od)

Contact numbers:  Gilbert:  0908-479-2012
                                  Rustom: 0908-165-3810

Kuya Gilbert owns an impressive and very comfortable homestay for just Php 250 per night with unlimited rice and the famous Buscalan coffee. At this time, the tour guide fee is Php 1000.00

                                                                           Playing with the kids of Buscalan

You might see them as innocent, but with their young age, they are already "mambabatok" as learned from their great grandmother, Apo Whang-Od.

                                                              Holding the lemon thorn that is used for tattooing


I did not wish for a tattoo, my goal of this trip was simply to meet Apo Whang- Od in person and to have a picture with her. But the plan suddenly changed when I met her in the early morning of my second day in Buscalan. Rustom, my guide woke me up at 6am to get ready as we will be going to Apo Whang-Od's shop and to get my priority number as I am planning to go home before 12 noon which would be the last trip to Bontoc.

                                   A Portuguese woman who became my friend after convincing me to seize the day!

Kuya Gilbert's homestay is just a five minute away from the shop of Apo Whang-Od and I was surprised with people having their tattoo that started as early as seven in the morning. Luckily, I had Rustom who helped me communicate with Apo as I asked for a picture with her. She gladly agreed.  I was satisfied with one picture with Apo but when I was asked by the foreigners if I will be getting a mark and replied NO to them, their eyes grew big in disbelief.  They told me I should be eager to get a tattoo from the legendary artist and should be proud to have one from Apo Whang-Od as much as they would love to have it. Provided that I am from the Philippines and that they have traveled days compared to my long hour trip, could not disagree.

                                                               Whang-Od's signature on my left wrist

                                                                               My Eagle mark on my back


So comes my journey of getting my first unplanned tattoo. As Apo Whang-Od asked me of what I am doing and I replied, I am a blogger, a digital influencer. Hence, came a decision of my eagle tattoo which means a messenger and freedom. I have my eagle tattoo on my back inches away from the nape. And the second tattoo with Apo Whang-Od's three dot signature on my left wrist.


Apo Whang-Od uses a thorn from lemon fruit(calamansi in our term); the pain is just bearable. But that would also depend on what part of your body you would have it marked. For me, the eagle on my back is not that painful. If  I were to rate the pain from 1 as the least painful and 10 as the most painful. I would rate it as 4. You might think I have a high pain tolerance, well, the answer is NO. I faint when I see blood. I even fainted when I had my blood extraction during physical exams.  So as you know, It is really not that painful as you think.

                                                                          Me with Apo Whang-Od

Grace, the grand daughter of Apo Whang-Od and the next mambabatok


The Butbut tribe are known to be warriors. These people fought for their tribe and the tattoos on their body symbolizes their strength. They are from the tribe of headhunters and now, they are the most known tribe because of Apo Whang-Od.  Since they have opened their portals to tourists who want to see the last mambabatok, quite a number of people are going up to the highlands of Buscalan especially during weekends and holidays. So I hope this blog can help aspiring artists and tourists to visit Apo Whang-Od and be inspired of how she consistently followed her passion in the field of arts, not just to encourage the Filipinos but the whole world in general.

                                                                     Me enjoying the beautiful view of Buscalan

Loving Buscalan, wish to come back here soon

You may watch the video on how the process of the traditional tattoo is done by Apo Whang-Od.