Thursday, May 2, 2013

Chronicles of Summer: I Got a Tattoo, But This is NOT Just What It's All About

Tinglayan, Kalinga | March 2013

The fascination started with an fb message: You want to go with us to Kalinga and see the last (traditional) tattoo artist? Maybe get one?*

Even before curiosity sets in, I said yes. That's one thing about me: I rarely say no to far-away and exotic trips. Another thing: give me a chance to touch a distant past in any way and I'd dive right in-- even when it involves getting a tattoo in a way more painful than the usual.

But reasons why you shouldn't call me brave:
1.) I had no idea it would hurt sooo much; and,
2.) Even if I've seen bloody pictures of the process, I still had no idea it would hurt so much.
3.) Also, even if I watch people getting the tatt and wincing or grimacing in pain; or read an account of the process in flowing and graphic prose, I still wouldn't get an idea of how much it will hurt. Not until I try it myself.

In conclusion, it was lack of information, and not absence of fear, that made me so 'brave' in getting the tattoo.

But (spoiler alert), boy did it hurt.

The main pasimuno, Girlie, had the forethought of acquiring the bus tickets two weeks ahead of our sched, and thank God she did. It was set on Holy Week after all, and people would be going home to their provinces in droves.

We left Manila at around 8 in the evening and arrived in the sleepy town of Tabuk more than 12 hours later. We asked the conductor where we could purchase our return tickets, and he said we could get them at their terminal in Dagupan (this dear, is a very important piece of information, and yep, there's a place called Dagupan in Tabuk, Kalinga). So we got off at the terminal, bought our tickets, freshened up a little, and boarded a tricycle to the Tinglayan-bound jeep terminal. When we arrived there, we found out that the last jeep had already left. Oops.

One of the multicab drivers suggested we go to another terminal (the one near the town center. I forgot the name of the place. I remember the white carabao, though) and hope that we can catch our ride there. He dropped us off a waiting shed, where several people were also waiting for jeeps. None of them were bound for Tinglayan, though.

Our prospect wasn't very encouraging, given that it was Holy Week. The locals in the area weren't very optimistic that there'd be a Tinglayan-bound jeep that would pass the area. Our last straw of hope was the one from Bontoc, but it wouldn't arrive until 11, and our guide was already expecting us (we were scheduled to trek to the village that morning). An hour later, a Tinglayan-bound girl arrived in the waiting shed and we cheered up considerably in her presence: we now have a karamay in our waiting. Haha.

The hot and humid weather wasn't helping at all.

A few hours later (one hour? two hours?), our multicab driver showed up again. He was concerned that we wouldn't be able to get a ride. Aww. This is what transpired in the next few minutes: two vehicles-bursting-with-people appeared, the driver hailed it and negotiated with it for us (I really couldn't understand what was going on; the language barrier was so thick), our new friend told us she'll do the talking so that we won't get shortchanged (another awww...), and then... we found ourselves on top of a jeepney off to what we hoped would be Tinglayan. Yay!

It was only when the jeep was happily rolling along the scenic Kalinga highway that it occurred to me to direct this question to Girlie: do these people know where we are supposed to be headed? We both laughed at my question and shrugged it off. Hello adventure!

A few stop-overs  later, we made a discovery: we weren't riding a PUJ, we were hitchhiking on a privately-owned jeep. Hah! They were a family off to Tinglayan for some private affair, and they graciously allowed five (four of them lost) girls to crowd their already too-crowded jeep. That's another awww. Only Queenie was aware that we were hitchhikers and not passengers. Haha. Oh well, at least I got to experience hitchhiking, albeit accidental. :))

After three hours of hot, butt-numbing (I cannot stress enough how numbed my butt was), and soul-enriching  top-load ride, we reached the even sleepier poblacion of Tinglayan. We paid our ride the same fare we'd pay a legit PUJ, bid our new friends goodbye, and went inside Sleeping Beauty restaurant, eager for some lunch.

Our guide, kuya Francis, greeted us while we were in the middle of wolfing down our overdue lunch. We found out that there's already a couple who arrived earlier, and that we are waiting for a group from Bontoc. Kuya Francis informed us that we'd start the trek as soon as this group arrives.

It appeared that it'd be some hours before they reach Tinglayan, so each of us chose a space in the spacious restaurant and tried to sleep our exhaustion away. I woke up some time later, and feeling bored, decided to explore the poblacion. Girlie went with me. We decided to walk to the direction of the bridge, stopping at some stores, taking picture of the mountain view (and the famous Sleeping Beauty). There wasn't a lot of people around, probably because it was siesta time.

We were past the bridge when we spotted a jeepney slowing to a stop. I heard my name being called and was very surprised to see Malen, a college friend, atop the jeepney. We haven't seen each other since grad, so it was quite something to be meeting in a place as remote as Tinglayan. I asked her (loudly) if kuya Francis was also their guide, and she said yep.Kuya Francis, who I didn't notice was nearby, turned to me, proffered his hand, and said automatically, "Hi, Francis here." That made me and Girlie laugh, since we've already all been introduced in the inn beforehand.

Girlie and I hurried back to the inn, because we thought that we'd all be leaving as soon as the group gets off the jeep. We found the others already awake, and a little bleary eyed. Few moments later the rest of the group arrived, and kuya Francis informed us that they wanted to do the trek tomorrow. We protested a little,  since we've already spent almost a day just waiting (specially the couple I've already mentioned. They've arrived in the morning, and we were already speculating on the status of their relationship given that they were waiting since morning. Haha, peace kuya Joseph and ate Myra :)))) In the end, it was decided to just spend the night in Sleeping Beauty and trek the next day. Ana immediately sprang into action and booked a room for all four of us. Yey for admin people :))

A funny incident occurred while we were waiting as to what would happen next. Malen ordered a couple of beers from the resto, paid for the bottle's deposit, and asked for the beers to be put in plastic. The girl in the counter did just that: put the beer, sans the bottle, in plastic-- and topped it off with a straw. :)))) The poor girl looked so frazzled when they explained that they wanted the beer in the bottle to be put in the plastic, not the just the beverage itself-- and who drinks beer with straw anyway? We couldn't help laughing, and adding hilarity to the situation was a drunk person inside the resto who was throwing random comments. At least someone would be happy with a beer in plastic ala softdrink. :)))

When the itinerary had been ironed out, we all retired to our respective rooms, still in Sleeping Beauty. We got the one with it's own CR, yey! Good job, Ana! ^^ We freshened up for a stroll down the poblacion, and also to look for dinner. We chanced upon a hanging bridge, met kuya Francis' tattoed mom, and failed to find dinner. Luckily we had canned tuna paella, and we had that for dinner inside our room. We discussed sleeping arrangements (since nobody wanted the middle spots, can't we each occupy a side of bed and sleep in a square position? :)) ) and finally slept the way normal people sleep. :))

We woke up early in the morning, eager to finally trek to the village. Kuya Francis had rented a jeep for our group and I signed up for topload again. It's uncomfortable, yes, but nothing beats the view. After an hour ride (with a short stop over at Sleeping Beauty viewdeck), we reached the jump off and commenced the trek.

Wait, did I say trek? Scratch that, I meant crawl. With my energy being at its lowest point in the morning, I dragged myself up the village of Buscalan. Thank God I had Queenie as company in my huff and puff state. :)) Girlie and Ana, of course, were in their best nanay mode and were cheering us on. Ate Myra also joined the laggers club. Haha :)) We made it, of course.

Hello Whang-od! Hello Buscalan! Finally!

She welcomed us with her warm smile-- this almost centenarian, yet still sprightly woman. She had been in the presence of fearsome warriors, had beautified countless maidens; she had climb innumerable mountains; she had doodled into miles and miles of skin with thorn and charcoal-- and she is the last. While there is something sad and poignant in the realization that I am looking at the final chapter of a story, it still fills me with awe to know that I get to a character in that story before it ends.

I watched a few people get their traditional tattoo (most of them chose the centipede design. You can also draw your own). The sight of blood weakened my resolved a bit, so I decided to go ahead and get mine before I totally chicken out. I oscillated between an owl (nope, can't draw), a moon (nope again, as the meaning stated in the book seemed ominous) and then Grace (Whang-od's grand niece) suggested ferns. Kuya Francis backed her up with his "yes, ferns. Plenty in the area." O--kay. Fern it is. :))

Grace started the process by drawing the design in my hand. After a quick consultation with Whang-od as to whether a fern tattoo needs a base or not (it does), disisitpansit! Grace pulled an inch-long thorn from a bunch, put it at the end of her wooden tool, and... (deep breath).

Hey, it doesn't hurt at all! That's just the zen in me talking. :)) Okay, it hurt, and it was very painful, but also very, very tolerable. I wish I can explain better, but the reason why a wimp like me can handle that much pain is because it was a pain that didn't linger. Sure, it hurt so much while the thorn was piercing the flesh, but  only for a fraction of a micronanosecondbastasandalilang or as they say, pretty much like ant bites x 10 in magnitude-- until the next piercing that is. Also after a while, my hand felt numb already and I can easily replace the hurt signals in my head with something far more innocuous. Time after time the thorn hits a bone and that's like ouchX100, but that wasn't frequent, so still good. Believe me, you are imagining it worse than how it really is. :)

The whole process took a little less than an hour-- and in such a short period I had put something in myself so permanent, it is likely that it would outlast any memory associated with it. That's a sobering thought, isn't it?

After that we had lunch. We had freshly harvested rice c/o Whang-od's family, and the canned goods we had brought with us. Later in the afternoon, kuya Francis took us for a tour in the village and in the padded rice fields. We saw a pig with a wooden triangle in its head. It is being punished for eating chickens. Hehe. Kuya Francis called him "the criminal pig". We saw tattooed old ladies and graveyards beside houses (they bury the dead near their homes); we saw maryjanes being dried out in the open; we saw verdant fields and bright-green rice stalks. Kids waved and some called for candy. Locals smiled and nod at us. We navigated narrow pathways while kuya Francis pointed something of interest. We asked questions; joked about pigs acting like dogs (and what active pigs-- totally the opposite of the usual ones we have in mind), and wondered if we could bring home a cute little piglet (can't). After that, we went back to Whang-od's place.

The mist descended at around four in the afternoon, signalling the start of day-end activities for the village. It has gotten a little chillier, too. A few hours later, the sun descended quietly without much of its color-splashing fanfare, and suddenly, the moon has taken center stage: bright and round up in the sky, with the silhouette of the mountains bordering it from below.

We had our dinner, and after that went to the room we'd be sharing with Whang-od's sister. Whang-od came up, and sat by the door, looking like she's up for some chat. There were plenty of questions we'd like to ask, stories we'd like to hear directly from her. But there was an almost impenetrable language wall; we could only communicate through our smiles and gestures.

She pointed to each of us (there were five of us girls in the room- Ana, Girlie, Queenie, me and Ate Myra. Kuya Joseph was the thorn among the roses, so to speak.), and then to Kuya Joseph, with an expression in her face that I can only describe as "teasing". We all burst out laughing when we realized that she thought we were all his girlfriends. Haha :))

Kuya Joseph called out to her, "Whang-od, beautiful". She laughed out loud at that and waggled her finger at him, as if to say, "now you're just teasing me." But she is, indeed, beautiful. And we told her that, too. It just made her laugh again.

Time to sleep. I wrapped myself in my malong and curled to sleep. It was really chilly. I twisted and turned (and babbled in my sleep) all night, in an effort to find a little more warmth. Thank God I managed to sleep after some time.

I woke to the coldest morning of my year, so far. After a little freshening up, I went and waited for the sunrise at the yard with the best view. Lucky owners. :)) The sunrise was spectacular. The sun looked like it was coming out of the lips of a sleeping giant.

After that we had coffee, packed up, said our goodbyes and promises of returns, and started our descent from the village. It was infinitely easier to get down than up. Unfortunately for us though, the only bus bound for Tabuk had already left, so we had to trek another 5 kilometers to catch a ride from the next village. >.<

I'm not sure how long we had walked, but we made it. Never had halo-halo tasted that good (and interestingly, it had macaroni as one of the ingredients) but it was cut short when the bus to Tabuk arrived. We hurriedly boarded the bus. I got seated next to a lady who asked about our trip. After a while we were already talking about places-- turned out she was well-traveled too. ^^ (I wanna go to Apayao next!)

Three-winding-semi-bumpy-ride later, we finally arrived at Tabuk. We had plenty of time to kill (bleh) before our 530pm trip back to Manila, so we decided to go and grab something to eat. We ended up in place that sells lomi and a dish I've never heard of before: pansit batil patong. I'm not the adventurous foodie specially when it comes to veggies (and the dish looked so colorful) so I decided to pass up and order the good, old familiar lomi. Turns out their version of any dish involves a nice, heaping serving of veggies. Oh well. :))

After a while we decided it's time already to go to the station and wait for our bus. We chanced upon Kuya Joseph and Ate Myra in an air-conditioned food shop. Aircon! Yay! We decided to go in and wait for our boarding time there, all the while wondering why we didn't go to this place sooner. There was still quite some time for us to spend, and Queenie had even gotten her hair shampooed.

Finally, it was 5pm. We walked to the station, saw our bus and noticed that it does not look like deluxe at all. We asked the conductor, is this the 530 bus? He said yes. Is it deluxe? He said no. We look at each other indignantly and wondered why we were told the bus would be deluxe when it wouldn't be. We turned to the conductor and whine, "kuya, we reserved for a deluxe bus seats". The conductor shrugged his shoulders and repeated, "this is not a deluxe bus". Two people were seeing red by then. :))

I asked a waiting passenger nearby if he, too, made a reservation for the deluxe bus. He said nope, he made a reservation for that bus, indicating the 530 bus. And I was, is there another bus? Kuya said nope and then realized something. He looked at our tickets, and asked, where did you reserved your tickets?

Oh golly. THERE IS ANOTHER VICTORY BUS STATION. watdaep. We looked at each other and panicked big time. We only had less than half an hour to make it to that station, that one in Dagupan, and no trike driver could promise to take us there within that time. Malas of all malas, it was too far away.

Should we try and make it? What to do what to do? Lucky for us, Girlie had saved the ticketing office's number and that they picked up when we called. We told them of our predicament. The ticket lady seems confused about the date, and apparently, she had also give our seats to someone else. It is now occupied. Wow. Haha :))

But we weren't totally cursed as there were still vacant seats in the bus. We were told to wait by the white carabao, as the bus would be passing there. They also gave us the bus' body number.

The trike drivers told us that it was more likely for the bus to pass by the spot almost a kilometer away than by the white carabao, since that area was under repair. After some discussions (and thankfully, due to Queenie's insistence), we split into two groups: one that would wait by the white carabao, and another to that other spot.

And so we waited, nervous and anxious not to be left behind by the bus. Minutes passed, and Ana caught a blur of red in the corner of her eye-- almost a kilometer away. watdaepagain. ._. IT'S THE FREAKIN' BUS! We sprinted towards it, Girlie and Queenie waving frantically at us. While we were running, we were laughing at our luck: we really could have a seamless vacation, but these things have to happen. What kind of luck do we have?

As we clambered up the bus, finally going home and finally (hopefully) out of misfortune, it occurred to me: if I can go back, I'd change nothing, not a single bit of this 'adventure'. It maybe tiring and nerve-wracking and not smooth but it was fun, and in hindsight, full of pleasant surprises.

So there. March 2013. I got myself a tattoo, but it wasn't just that. <3 p="">

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