September 23, 2014

The Day Ely Fell

Tulong! Tulong!
Help! Help!

Cried a man from behind. I hurriedly turned around, and saw Ely fall.

Knife edge - part where Ely fell

I couldn’t believe my eyes. How could I? A man just fell from a height of almost 100 feet. The world stopped for a millisecond - even the strong wind became still. Suddenly, shouts can be heard from all parts of the mountain- above us, below us, everywhere.

Tulong! May nahulog!
Help! Someone fell!

Putang ina, wag kayo magbiro ng ganyan!
Fuck, stop making such jokes!

Tulong! Tulong!
Help! Help!

People running in controlled and uncontrolled panic crossed our path. I was dazed. 

A few minutes ago, I was just quietly listening to Ely’s loud remarks and jokes to his friends. I even took his photo just before the accident.

Why did that happen? I couldn’t accept it. Someone got seriously hurt (and potentially have died) doing something I love dearly. “Shit, I was the one who asked his mom to let him join this trip,” I heard Ely’s friend say.

My stomach curled. My initial reaction was to look behind me. There stood shakily, a little girl calling my name saying she’s scared. She was my newest recruit. I couldn’t let her out of my sight after that.

I got dizzy as I had flashbacks of people I invited before – people who had no experience and no physical inclination to handle trekking. I recalled how many times my friends used my name to ask permission from their parents, or how I personally talked to their mothers and asked permission for them.

I cleared my throat, “shit.”

Heaven forbid, but what if something bad happened to any of the people I invited. How will I deliver the news to their parents, to their mothers? What can I say to avoid breaking their hearts?

Nothing, of course.

I had been very irresponsible – asking anyone (everyone) to join climbs without even checking their ability to do so. My belief was that even if people cannot do it initially, they will be forced to do it once up there anyway. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Such activity is not to be underestimated.

“We have to go. It’s getting late."
"We don’t have enough headlights for a night trek,” reminded someone from our group.

And so, we continued the trip silently. No one talked. I stopped taking photos. From time to time we bumped into locals and mountaineers rushing to the site of accident to help the search and rescue team. I felt sick. I felt how incapable I am to extend help in times of emergency. The only thing I could do then was pass information.

The day Ely fell, I saw how reckless I have been. I saw how quickly conditions can change. And most of all, I  saw how dangerous hiking can be.

After all, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.


September 8, 2014

The Mark of a Warrior

A decade or so ago, people with tattoos are judged as previous inmates or menace of society. Even now, a slight stigma is still placed on those with visible tattoos. Personally, I still get disapproving looks from some church servants and old ladies.

But it was different in Buscalan. All the old ladies were heavily tattooed - traditionally done! After getting a small one for myself, I can't help but admire these people. Just imagining the physical pain they must have endured makes my stomach churn.

Among the ladies back then, tattoos were considered as ornaments. The more you have, the more beautiful. While among the men, tattoos served as recognition for doing something for your tribe. The most common of which is headhunting.

During those times, tribal wars were still common. And if you are able to kill a warrior from another tribe, then you've done a good job protecting your own - which gives you the right to get tattooed.

But since there are no longer tribal wars, the tattooing tradition of Kalinga people is dying (if it hasn't yet.) That is why I decided to visit Kalinga - while the last Kalinga tribal tattoo artist is still alive.

Apo Whang Od of the Butbut tribe is the last Kalinga tribal tattoo artist alive. Currently, she is training her grand niece, Grace to master the art.

A. Getting There

From Bontoc, you can ride a jeep to Tinglayan. Since the number of trips are limited, it can get really crowded - especially because deliveries to and from the town is also carried through that jeep. From Tinglayan, you can ask Kuya Francis Pa-In to accompany you to Whang Od's place. Francis Pa-In is a popular tour guide in the area, and is also a good friend of Whang Od and her family.

When I visited, Kuya Francis was already booked so he recommended me to his brother in law, Kuya Ronnie. He was a nice fellow. It was easy to get along with him without feeling the need to talk much or share much - it gives me the solace that I like.

B. Getting Tattooed 

Getting batok tattoo is probably the most painful "self inflicted" pain I've ever done just for the sake of it. In terms of pain, machine tattoo is nothing (at all) compared with traditional tattoo. I cannot even compare. I'm not even completely sold on the idea that it is safe.

Still, I do not regret getting tattooed.
Far from it, I want it.
It's no more a mark of a warrior.
But it is a mark I chose for myself.

I'll live (and die) with it.


By the way Grace will be attending this year's Dutdutan Convention!
See you around!

September 6, 2014

Up in Kalinga, You can See Forever

It won't be easy, but it is going to be worth it.

Sagada, Mountain Province

The road to Kalinga was extraordinary in itself - almost 11 hrs of freezing cold and cramped bus ride, 2 hrs of overpriced van ride, and 3 hrs of bumpy-topload jeepney ride along the edge of the cliff - with a dead buffalo and live chickens for companions. Phew. I almost lost my breath (literally.)

Topload all the way

All the while I was thinking that if ever this bus, or van, or jeepney I'm riding  is going to be another count in tomorrow's news on vehicle accidents, then I wish that all will be instant and peaceful. Que sera sera (whatever will be will  be.) No regrets.

But thankfully, I arrived one whole in Kalinga - uninjured and happy.

Mountain province is beautiful. There are clouds surrounding the mountains, and mountains surrounding you. The sun is warm, and the wind is cool. You look up and you see the infinite blue  sky. You look around and you see the horizon. It was as if staring staring at forever.

A. Getting There

There are Ohayami buses from Manila to Banaue. Check their website for schedule of trips. Upon arriving in Banaue, make sure to ask around for the schedule of trips to your other destinations as well. Sometimes only 1 trip per day is made for some places. Better be sure than stranded.

B. Nearby Points of Interest

Sagada - check out caves, hanging coffins, Mt. Kiltepan, and Bomod-ok Falls.
Bontoc - mostly a transportation hub for the travelers, not much to see around
Baguio - relax and stroll the Philippines's city of Pines.
Banaue - trek and wonder at the beautiful rice terraces.

C. The People

Traditions and  stories come to life because of the people that keep them alive. While in Kalinga, I've heard of interesting traditions and stories on coming of age, courting, marriage, divorce, the original meaning of headhunting, etc.

Witnessing love stories of people who are almost a century old is such an inspiring thing. Being welcomed to someone's home then being served breakfast and coffee is heartwarming. Being offered a ride by a complete stranger after missing the only trip back to the city is also a great blessing.

Obviously I had a wonderful time in Kalinga.

On my way back to Manila, I was all smile - thankful for everything. I realized that I'm not ready to be a casualty. I'm not ready to be another count in the statistic on deaths due to vehicle/travel accidents. No que sera sera please. I want to live long enough to see bits and pieces of forever.


"Sometimes I'm afraid of my heart. Its constant hunger for whatever it wants - the way it stops and starts "

See you around!