Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Kalinga and Mr. Baculi...

As the bus chugged along the mountain road winding itself through the mountains the landscape became more and more intense. The scenery was stunning and I just couldn't wait to arrive in Kalinga. I had been eager to travel there as it seemed - according to the stuff I'd read anyway - to be in stark contrast to the 'touristy' towns of Banaue and Sagada in that it was almost completely untouched by tourism. In this day and age I think it is a far cry to be able to say that for almost anywhere that you visit but considering that Tinglayen only has two guesthouses and that anywhere else in the province requires some level of travel with a fair amount of walking in the mountains then I guess this is one of the least 'touristy' places that I have ever visited.

We arrived in the late morning after about 3-4 hours on a rickety bus but it was fine as there was a cool mountain breeze coming through the windows and a decent view wherever you looked perhaps with the only exception being the driver... Anyway after arriving we saw the rapids of the Chico river and the suspension bridge that crossed it and that was where we assumed we needed to go. At the foot of the bridge I looked downstream of the river and saw that there were some children holding automatic weapons. These guys were probably about 12 and I guess it is a bit scary that children so young are placed in charge of such powerful killing tools but this was a different world and I wasn't here to judge as my knowledge of tribal politics in the area at this point was non-existent. We crossed the bridge and saw a short man with a scraggly white beard grinning a half-toothed smile at us. He announced that he was the local tour guide and village chief and that his name was Victor and that he'd meet us at the guesthouse in the village later on which seemed like a fair deal considering he hadn't had chance to attend his usual Sunday mass. So head to the guesthouse we did and after a lunch of vegetable soup and rice we got chatting. Victor said that it was too late in the day to leave on a hike and that we would have to wait in the village until the next day but that there were a few closer villages than where we would inevitably be heading. The destination for the next day would be to visit the village of Buscalan to see the village and meet the tattoo artist Whang-od of National Geographic fame. So with that basically decided for us - as we were informed that travelling to other parts of the region was unsafe due to tribal disagreements - we were content with spending some time in the local village. Unfortunately we had just missed the killing of a pig for Sunday dinner but I was pretty happy that we were included as guests and not just relegated to eating in the guesthouse. We walked into the village centre and met some of the local men sat around and for what of a better term just basically shooting the shit as guys the world over do. Luckily there were plenty of English speakers and after a somewhat tense few minutes we managed to break the ice as soon as we started to drink shots of gin with them. We got tipsy fairly quickly and were treated to "polutan" which I think is just a Filipino term for drinking snacks which were absolutely delicious. From what I can remember - and being slightly drunk probably helped the taste - we were given a salted pig-skin that had been deep fried with garlic and chilli. This was followed by pork broth and rice with what I think was boiled pork and it was absolutely fine. Before we knew it we were drinking gin in the home of one of the guys whose name was Fasim, it was really cool and I remember thinking how nice it was that these people were so open and friendly. Two of the guys we were drinking with soon decided that it was time to go for a walk and trot merrily - or drunkenly - around the villages but not without a locally brewed coffee first. We walked through some rice fields with absolutely stunning views of the mountains and in particular one known as "Sleeping Beauty". We were lucky enough to meet some of the local older ladies and see their amazing tattoos and they were kind enough to speak to us through one of the Tinglayen villagers whose name was Bobby and seemed to love gifts of matches and brown sugar but were more than happy to provide us with coffee and chat. It soon got dark though and after the second or third village in the loop we had to find our way back to the main road and head to the guesthouse. It proved to be a great day but I was glad to eat yet again with the Filipina at the guesthouse and her German husband. We had a meal of Spezle (I have no idea how to spell it and I feel a bit ignorant towards German cuisine writing this) and it was lovely but proved to make me pretty tired and helped to send me off to sleep but not before Victor came to see us to finalise details of the next day and tell us how drunk Pedro and Fasim were by this point.

Early the next day we met Victor and headed towards the main road to catch a jeepney to the trail head that we were to hike from to get to Buscalan. The jeepneys here are few and far between and so we had to sit on the roof - this was my first time doing so - but it was a splendid way to enjoy the views without the dust of the road or the smell of fuel slighting the crisp mountain air. We got to the trailhead and I remember the walk for the first hour and thinking that it was lovely and that the pace was not too bad. Eventually we got to a hut with a lady and her kids - presumably their home - and we had a rest there and chatted for a bit before continuing for a little while longer and meeting some more people that were resting in little more than a shelter. It turned out that they were villagers from Buscalan and one of the guys joined us for the rest of the walk. It was at this point that the trail thinned dramatically with little more than a few inches between the path and a sheer drop and considering how many times I've fallen while hiking on trails in Taiwan I was feeling a little bit dubious at the prospect of hiking for another hour or so along this trail... I was particularly comforted by Victor's sage advice however: "This is the dangerous (bit)... You fall... You die!"

After only about another forty minutes or so which felt like longer due to my unfitness we were in the village of Buscalan and having coffee with the villagers there. It was at this point that I was presented with the opportunity to get my first tattoo. There was a book with lots of potential designs and so I was browsing for quite a long time as to what I permanently wanted to put on my skin.There was little in the way of pressure though as another guy whose name I later learned was Gio was being tattooed. He seemed to have an affinity with the local culture here and I guess what is deemed a traditional part of the culture in The Philippines. I can imagine how amazing it must be to live in a country with such socio-economic and socio-polital differences in such short distances from one another. Regardless I decided that I liked one of the designs that Gio had and so that was what I got. It was a pattern based on the skin of a local snake and named Finac-Fa-Oo. It looks cool and to be able to say that I have a tattoo from possibly the last traditional Kalinga tattoo artist - Fang-Od - is something pretty special to me. She was a really nice lady and loved making fat jokes as I sat there topless with my belly hanging out while she tapped away and my new tattoo. Of course this was made obvious by the cacophony of chuckles from the locals but Victor felt it necessary to translate exactly what was being said anyway. While this was going on Jules and Chris went off with some of the local girls to chat and walk in the fields. After chatting for a while with Gio we went off for a walk around the village and to see where the other guys might be and we failed to find them but did find a girl who was happy to sell us some pancakes she was cooking and so we sat with her for a while. Upon arriving back at dusk as the sun was setting over the mountains we found Chris and Jules and they were looking quite happy with themselves and appeared failry baked from the consumption of some local herb. They had the giggles and we ate a modest meal of corned beef stew and rice with beans which when your hungry tastes much better than it sounds. As the night progressed Victor produced a couple of bottles of gin that we had bought after breakfast and we consumed that with the locals who produced some more 'polutan' this time being a cooked and marinated brand of dog meat which as it goes is pretty tasty. I'd never eaten dog before and as I'm writing this I haven't since but I would again if the opportunity arose but ultimately I won't be looking for soi dogs to murder and eat here in Bangkok anytime soon. After the gin had gone we walked outside and sat around enjoying the night air and watching the stars as Chris and Jules were pissing themselves laughing at Victor and his rather promiscuous stories which have to be heard to be believed and sound ridiculous coming from my mouth or written in my words but when coming from his mouth and with his enthusiasm it's hard to believe that they aren't true... After that though we went to sleep, well myself and Victor did in the spare room of Whang-Od's hut. We were essentially sleeping on the floor but it was a fine place to crash considering the other option was to sleep outside. As it turns out Victor was snoring extremely loudly and by the sounds of it I was trying pretty hard to match it but all is well that ends well I suppose and as it happens I had a great night's sleep. And the next day we headed south towards Bontoc to part ways after what proved a great few days in the province...


No comments:

Post a Comment