Noni Abdullah is a participant of our PMPE – Hill Tribes Photosafari trip from 23rd to 27th Oct 2013. Here is her personal experience about the stay at Buscalan village, Philippines.
Story and pictures by Noni Abdullah
A couple of weeks ago, we were lucky enough to go on a short photo trip – 17 of us, led by Maxby and Yusuf + the incredible Filipino hosts, Dexter, Henry, Kenneth, Batchoy, Ruel, Dada, who not only showed us their hidden country gems but saved me from being lost finding my way back to the hotel (well, that’s another story), lending me a walking pole and cooking for us too! From the Unesco World Heritage Site of the Banaue Rice Terraces to the Sagada Hanging Coffins, nothing beat the more memorable journey to stay the night in Buscalan, the home of the Kalinga tribe in the Cordilera mountains.
In 3 coaches bound, the long ride, peppered by coffee breaks and leg stretches was suddenly off the mark, as a landslide occurred on the way and the diggers and heavy machinery were still compacting the rocks and debris. Ooops! that delayed our journey somewhat to the bottom of the track that would lead us to the village – where we had to get on by foot. They told me it takes an hour to trek up. They lied. And more scarily the sun was setting and that meant meandering in the dark. I am not good in the dark. It creeps me out. So anyway I plodded along with DH behind me to shine the light as the so called trek – which is essentially 8 inches of worn out cement slabs at best, but usually what seems like 5 inches worth of slimy mossy fragments. Didn’t help that the light was shining from the back which couldn’t pass my butt and I could only see glimmers of light passing through the legs. So DH had to walk in front and shine the light to the back. Bless him. On hind sight, the next morning going down the same trek, it was a good thing too, because it would have freaked me out more to find out that if I had tumbled down, it would easily have been a 50 – 100 feet roll down the terraces. This so-called hour trek up which took me a good 2 hours (or was it more?), with a lot of huffin and puffin and shakey knees. No pictures were taken as the camera and overnight bags were whisked off by the able bodied villagers who shot past us all, up the hills, out of sight. We were put up with host families, and mine was extremely nice, her name was Joice and she had a very nice house with garden and an outhouse for the loo. So I noted mentally not drink any water after dinner. Her husband was a quiet man and didn’t talk much but had a pretty sister who was a pastor in the village. Our welcome drink tasted like a 3-in-1 Nescafe, which was very appreciated.As the night wore on, their kids, Princess and Lonchess were on a sugar high from the Chupa Chups I gave them but I think the parents managed to put them to sleep after us.
Our bed was a planked platform in the middle of their hall, which she was so kind as to put a thin sponge and bedsheet to cover the open slits. We even had curtains for privacy. Next morning my body creaked from the frozen muscles from the painful hike up as well as from the chilly night under the thin blanket. The crisp morning air made me very hungry and out came my Maggie Noodle cup. Hot water was boiled somewhere in the kitchen and was given to me in a rubber dipper.
The morning was spent exploring the village and its 128 homes (according to the village elder) and its pets, mainly pigs (or are they boars?) chicken and dogs. I did not see any cats though. They say they keep cats on the rice terraces to take care of the mice.
The children all ate rice for breakfast. I see a big heap of rice and nothing much on it. Judging from last night’s dinner, I would safely assume they take it with salted fish too. The village was clean, eventhough I see the pigs peeing every so often anywhere and everywhere, it doesn’t seem to smell. Is it because of the cold weather or the food they are fed with?
There were lots of children and babies. The women were feeding the pigs, washing up kids, clothes, plates, sweeping, cleaning, carrying, pounding, and the men were all squatting, sitting around, looking surly. Maybe it was a Saturday and they don’t know what to do. The younger boys play basketball, while the younger girls help with the chores.
The main reason for a number of people visiting this remote village is to be tattooed by the master tattoo artist mamabatok Fang-Od herself . At 93 years she looks spritely and still holds a steady hand. Using traditional bamboo and a pomelo thorn she had etched many skins and hopefully her grand-niece (?) Grace will carry on the tradition, otherwise it will die with her.
Before we left, a contribution of medicine, foodstuff and matches were handed over and ceremonial dancing took place amidst the smell of a roasting pig.
Thanks again everyone for the memories.
Note : if you want to see the breathtaking mountainous backdrops going up, maybe a sit up on one of the passenger buses would be a good idea, but not for your butt nor your back