Kannao - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

Beans and rice — that was our first square meal the day we arrived in Buscalan, a tiny village in Kalinga. It was offered to us by Kannao, the 70-year-old sister of Whang-od, Kalinga’s famous mambabatok.

We met Kannao just as she was making her way up the ladder to her hut, plastic plate on one hand. We had just deposited our bags in the house where we were staying and knew nobody in the village. Our guide made the introductions, and she smiled and motioned us to come up, speaking in the Butbut language we did not understand.

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

Kannao’s house stands on a mix of wooden and cemented stilts, underneath which were several native pigs. Inside were a clay stove, a table for pots and plates, and not much more.

She was wearing a polo shirt and animal print pants that clung to her thin frame like a tattoo. But these were nothing compared to what she had on her arms: both of them were covered in the familiar dark patterns of traditional Kalinga scars: snakeskin, ladder, and rice fields, from the wrist all the way up. She had another on her collar too—a beautiful, thick band of even more snakeskin and rice fields, curving from one shoulder to the next.

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

Kannao - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

Kannao - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

Although we couldn’t stop staring at the tattoos, we tried to make conversation. She kept smiling, nodding, and talking, but we did not understand anything she was saying.

Finally, we attempted the only thing left that can help us understand one another. We spoke in Ilocano, telling her we are from Baguio.

It worked.

Well, sort of. It turns out, Kannao—and most of the other tribespeople—understood Ilocano quite well. Turns out we wouldn’t have to make do with feeble sign language after all.

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

She sat on the floor right next to the stove, picked up a thin iron rod, poked the cinders, and started tracing the base of the plastic plate with the end of the rod. She seemed to have been working on this before we arrived, because a rough letter K already shone on the green plastic, and she was halfway through what looked like the letter A. She was writing her name on the plate ‘so nobody will get it,’ she laughed.

Kannao - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

People would regularly pass by her hut and they would converse in the Butbut tongue. I tried making out anything that resembled Ilocano, but it still sounded too strange. It was already noon, and we could hear the chatter of more and more people next-door—the house of Kannao’s daughter, Abuk, the mother of 18-year-old Grace. This is where Whang-od usually tattoos visitors, and the day’s sessions will most likely be starting soon.

Buscalan, Kalinga - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

‘Mangan,’ she told us (‘mangan’ is Ilocano for ‘eat’). Owen and I didn’t really know what to say. We didn’t want to bother her, but we were famished since we haven’t had anything else the whole day apart from water and coffee.

She didn’t wait for a response and busied herself with the plates. Soon a bowl of what looked like beans in clear soup and more rice than we can eat were on the floor in front of us. We thanked her and dug in. The beans, which, despite looking plain and pale, were actually quite excellent. We ended up finishing everything rather shamelessly (and over the next few days, Owen and I would be eating more than our usual intake, thanks to their family’s excellent cooking).

Buscalan, Kalinga - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

We would talk about her tattoos and her sister a bit later. “Whang-od is not pretty because she has a small nose,” she joked. When I asked her what she thought of my tattoos, she shook her head and told me they were pangit. She then pointed to those on her arms. ‘Napintas,’ she smiled (napintas is Ilocano for ‘beautiful’).

In the days of her youth, Butbut women had tattoos done because they believed these made them more attractive to suitors. It was rather different for the men, who had to earn theirs from victories in battle.

I asked Kannao how much she had to pay for them. She raised two fingers: two pesos for each sleeve. Each sleeve took one day to finish.

Kannao - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

She looked at the photos of her we had taken all that time, but mostly she would just shake her head and tell us she looked ugly in them. We insisted on the opposite, even offering to give her copies when we return, but she wouldn’t hear any of it.

Buscalan, Kalinga - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

The day before we left—our fifth day in Buscalan—we decided it was time for a tattoo. Later that day, after returning from her farm duties, she asked to see my forearm, where Whang-od has tattooed two jagged lines of the karayan (river), representing constant movement.

’Napintas,’ she smiled.

A little later that same day, while we were sitting on the steps to her hut watching Whang-od tattoo more visitors, she asked us to take a picture of her and Hunter, the family’s dog, who was then nursing a bad cut on one of his paws.

We did, and she smiled a smile for the camera we have been waiting for since we arrived.

She looked at the photos, laughed, and told us to bring a copy when we come back.

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

 Words by Nikka, Photos by Owen and Nikka

Coming home

It was too early for sunset, but we went anyway. The concrete uphill path was glistening in the afternoon sun after a brief shower earlier. It was, as it has been for the past week, biting cold in Batanes.
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Encounters in Sabtang

“You have to go there tomorrow because they’re celebrating their fiesta,” our host told us matter-of-factly as we settled at her two-storey lodge that would be our home in Batanes for the next few days. We were in no rush to plan our days, but we couldn’t blame her: Batanes had just come from a very strong typhoon, the strongest in more than 20 years they say, and our host seemed hell-bent at making us enjoy whatever sunshine we could.

She was referring to Sabtang Island, one of the only three inhabited in Batanes province. Thirty minutes by boat, she said, and more stone houses than we could count.
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Photos: 24 hours in Donsol

Small, quiet, uncomplicated–well, at least on the surface. That’s how Donsol in Sorsogon province seemed. Coconut trees rose above the concrete, and small fenced resorts lined up the coast, which, to anyone who didn’t know better, could easily look unremarkable.

TWO2TRAVEL | Donsol, Sorsogon

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Portraits from Ifugao

There are some places you can easily go back to over and over again.

Banaue is not one of them.

Our first and last trip (so far) had been almost two years ago for an assignment for AsianTraveler magazine, and back then we were quite apprehensive of the uncomfortably long bus ride, the intermittent drizzles, and the fact that the rice terraces didn’t look their best.

It had been the first week of March, just after Panagbenga weekend in Baguio where it was sunshiny and all, so it was quite disheartening to arrive to wet roads, muddy tracks, overcast light, too much fog, and mountain air that’s waaaaay too cold.

That said, Banaue still surprised.

two2travel banaue

For one, it wasn’t like the technicolor mountain city that is Baguio we see everyday, considering they’re practically neighbors. On those three days, we shuttled via tricycle along one road that snaked all the way to the other towns, a whole community clinging to its both ends, giving way to vast valleys (and of course, rice terraces) down below and to as far as the eyes can see (that is, if it’s not covered in a thick wad of fog, which then was like a pesky fly that wouldn’t go away).

Treading slippery roads and hugging cold mountain air weren’t exactly new, but somehow they put everything in better perspective. We saw a community brimming with life, not so much because it really had to live up to expectations from having a so-called world wonder around, but because that’s how the people have always been in the first place. Its people, after all, are Banaue’s true treasure.

two2travel banaue

two2travel banaueMen clump in front of stores at the Banaue market seeking shield from the rains

two2travel banaueA man in a traditional hut, called fal-e, in Hungduan

two2travel banaueOne of the curio shops in Banaue’s town proper

two2travel banaueAn Ifugao woman wearing traditional accessories

two2travel banaueA seller of moma (betel nut), which could very well be their version of the cigarette

two2travel banaueSouvenir shop owner polishing off a wooden pig tray. The Ifugao are such fine craftsmen and artists, and the Rice Terraces are perhaps their biggest work of art

two2travel banaueThe Ifugao man is both a hunter and a warrior. Beaks, horns, and whole animal skeletons adorn their headdresses and neckpieces like medals of honor.

two2travel banaueCrates of dried fish transported from the lowlands

two2travel banaueYoung girl manning a souvenir shop passing time with sungka

two2travel banaueOur guide showing us how the moma is consumed. One folds a betel leaf, with a piece of betel nut inside, and then chews the whole thing. This is an age-old tradition in the Cordillera, practiced until today by both men and women.

“In the Cordillera, aside from helping one pass the time, it ‘oils’ conversation as San Miguel beer would carry barkada talks long into the night and as mugs of steaming barako would bridge several years’ gap between friends…While chewing, the men get to know each other, maybe find a common relation or two and ask about on what’s going on in each other’s side of the mountain. Over moma, the talk extends to an invitation to each other’s ili (town/village), and, in some cases, even contemplating a marriage of their children!” [source: Chewing moma, swallowing culture]

two2travel banaue

two2travel banaue

two2travel banaueFarmers taking a break from tilling the terraces. Yes, they’re chewing moma as well.

two2travel banaueThis girl speaks conyo English when selling. Yes, with a twang that would shame all your English teachers. English, next to their local languages, is the most widely spoken language in the Cordilleras.

two2travel banaueChicken trade

two2travel banaueChika in the middle of the street, under the rains

two2travel banaueAn old woman noiselessly sitting in one of the viewpoints. She was, I think, reaching for a packet of moma at this time.

two2travel banaueA stone carver in Hungduan

Have you been anywhere in Ifugao? You should.

POSTCARDS: Hinagdanan Cave, Panglao, Bohol

We reached Hinagdanan Cave in Panglao Island in Bohol after circling around the island on a motorbike and getting caught under a downpour along the way. The cave is about a 10-minute drive inland through an unpaved road, and as is typical with tourist spots, there are more souvenir shirts near the entrance than needed, although a good consolation is the yummy green mango shake for sale just in front.

Hinagdanan Cave, Panglao, Bohol, Philippines

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Sinulog sa Sugbu 2012

The carousel parade of the Sinulog Festival in Cebu City was the LONGEST we’ve had to take photos of: 10 grueling hours, more than half of which under the scorching heat of the sun!

Sinulog Festival, Cebu, Philippines

It also didn’t help that, although we had IDs, we were clueless about the best spots to position ourselves!
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