It was one of those spontaneous trips I wasn’t sure it would push through. The Philippine habagat (southwest wind) has been whipping up mean rains in the metro it takes some effort to bypass the floods and the traffic. But I had my eyes set on Kalinga province for sometime, particularly to see their supposedly dying Batok (tattoo) art. So when the rains abated, we got a signal from our guide in Tinglayan of good weather there. I quickly packed my bags and prepared for the long road to Tinglayan, the jump-off for exploration on the province of Kalinga.
The Road from Tabuk to Tinglayan
The direct way to Kalinga Province is by bus to Tabuk, the Capital of Kalinga Province. We took a 7:30pm deluxe Victory Liner bus from Kamias, QC which had its own restroom inside. But I have to remind myself not to choose the seats behind the restroom as there was little legroom here. The trip was faster than expected and we arrived in Bulanao, Tabuk in 10 hours. When I saw the monument with a water buffalo, we alighted the bus.
5am was way too early, good thing we chanced upon a half-opened shop owned by the amiable Derrel Estrañero (who turns out to be the brother of the vice mayor) and was gracious enough to accommodate us for coffee and mini-siopao. We passed time chatting, enjoying the cool morning air and watching locals jogging and biking on the main street. By 630am we were on the move.
The jeep to Tinglayan was large and heavy duty, ready to take in passengers and cargo at the same time. While the jeep was already parked and ready to take in passengers by 6:30am, the we did not leave until it was a little past 8am going by the Filipino’s Alas-puno (we move when its full) system. The ride to Tinglayan was reminiscent of the other rides in Cordillera regions, winding, with view of lush mountains, the occasional rice terraces but a community more rustic than the popular destinations in the area. We even had some stops to refill our water bottle with Kalinga’s free flowing drinking water – a luxury I may say when you live in the metro where a bottle of water has a price. We were lucky to only have 1 jeepney breakdown on the road which was remedied only in a few minutes. But it gave me a chance to see that most of our fellow passengers are women along with their young. By 3 hours we finally reached Tinglayan.
The Road from Tinglayan to Bontoc
Heading back to Manila, we decided to go the other way, which is via Bontoc. This road stretch is the same route to Buscalan via Bugnay where the legendary Apo Whang-Og (Fang-Od) lived. It’s a really beautiful stretch parallel to the mighty Chico River. For a time, the mountain and ridges felt very similar to Batanes as we rode a narrow road close to a ravine with one side the rugged mountain terrain. I felt this was much better route (but I may be biased as I was too sleepy when we passed by the route from Tabuk). It was also much faster as we reached Bontoc in a little over two hours.
Going to Kalinga from Manila via Tabuk:
- Ride a Bus to Tabuk. Victory Liner has buses heading to Tabuk every evening. The De Luxe Bus that passes SCTEX leaves 7:30pm with a fare of Php 675 one way. Travel time is 10 hours. Regular bus schedule for the evening are 7:45, 8:45 and 9:15pm with a fare of Php 550. Travel time is 11-12 hours.
- Tell the bus driver to drop you off at Bulanao. Once you see the monument of a farmer and a water buffalo opposite St William’s Church you are already there.
- Walk a short distance at the wide Cagayan-Kalinga Road and you’ll see the Jeep going to Tinglayan there as well as the Bus to Bontoc.
- Jeeps usually leave at 7am if its already full. The next jeep is at 1pm. Jeep fare is Php 120 per person one way. Travel time is 2.5-3 hours.
- You can also ride the bus to Bontoc which also passes by Tinglayan. Leaves at 9am.
Going to Kalinga from Manila via Bontoc:
- From Manila there are several ways to Bontoc. The Cable Bus Tours departs 8:30pm inside the Trinity University in Quezon City straight to Bontoc. Fare is Php 600. Ohayami Bus (Near UST) has nightly trips to Banaue (Php 450) 9 hours travel time then take a jeep to Bontoc (Php 200) for another 3 hours travel. From Baguio there are buses going to Bontoc like GL Lizardo (Php 220) departs 8am, 10am and 2:30pm and D’Rising Sun (Php 220) starting from 5am to 1pm. Travel time Baguio to Bontoc is at least 6 hours.
- From Bontoc take a bus going to Tabuk found near the Mountain Province State Polytechnic College. Bus usually leaves the terminal at 9am. Fare is Php 110.
- There are also jeeps to Tinglayan and Tabuk in the area and leaves at 8am and 1pm. Fare is Php 110.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.