It only took four months and I found myself face-to-face again with the legendary Fang-Od in Buscalan again. This time, my friends and I caught her building a fence for her new-born piglets and their mom once we got up the stairs to the village. At 94-years old now, it’s amazing she can still pound on the wooden post to sink deep into the ground. She greeted us with a glance, disappeared and shortly gave us a book where we can choose a design. I could see both anxiety and excitement painted on my friends faces as they pore through the pages. Probably wondering how painful this traditional tattoo is.
The Trek to Buscalan
[pullquote]Kaya nya siguro mag tattoo hanggang sampung tao sa isang araw! (She can probably tattoo up to 10 people a day!)[/pullquote]
We left Riverside Inn early to get a good head-start. We learned there would be a number of group going up to Buscalan for the holidays and we want to be the first in line for her. Fang-Od’s still human and at her age, she can get tired too. ” Kaya nya siguro mag tattoo hanggang sampung tao sa isang araw! (She can probably tattoo up to ten people a day!)” Our guide, Abdon Maliwag, told us.Abdon, our guide is a relative of Victor Baculi, he was referred to us by Johnny since Victor was currently guiding a group as well.
We caught a jeep heading to Bontoc by 8am. We top-loaded our way to Mar-O, just a few hundred meters past Bugnay where we originally climbed before. Abdon told us this route is more manageable. With all our bags in tow this was a good decision. The trail hasn’t changed much as before, I even learned that there are jeeps from Bontoc that heads straight to Saclit, the end road and jump-off to the narrow pathway to Buscalan. So if people want to go straight to the village its possible.
Fang-Od the Mambabatok at Work
It’s a good thing that I have two not-so willing models to take pictures at and observe the tattooing process this time around unlike before where I was the one under the “thorn”. I found the tapping sound I’ve heard before still soothing and meditative. Erick chose a gayaman (centipede) design for his forearm. I could see his initial look of pain but got used to it after a while. Rocel chose a nilawhat (fern plant) which is common to women as it is believed to bring good health and well-being. Here we could see different people with different type of skin, Rocel’s was more bloody as blood easily drips of her skin. I’m sure Fang-Od is already discerning of different skin types. I remember her telling us that it’s better if blood drips out than none at all.
I got somehow tempted to have another tattoo after seeing them both enjoying the process. This time I had a centipede design on my left shoulder. For some reason, I find the tattooing process more painful the 2nd time around or was she just tapping more forcefully since she’s a bit tired having me as the third client already.
A Nights Stay in Bugnay
Despite invitation to stay overnight at Fang-Od’s place we decided to head back. Since it was mid-afternoon already we’ll just see if we can catch a ride back to Tinglayan. I thought we made good decision as we head down, we crossed paths with two groups heading to the village. I’m sure it would be pretty crowded up there and Fang-Od will have her hands full. Good thing Grace (her niece) is there to help out. As for us, we found a friendly homestay in Bugnay where we spent the night. And surprisingly, Rocel, kicking me and Erick’s asses in our Pusoy Dos games. We didn’t know she could play cards that well. That’s a painful hit to our ego, more than the lingering soreness from our new tattoos.
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.