Hike, Pray, Love: How Batad, Banaue Ifugao Renewed My Tired City Heart

The bustling traffic and smog of the city made me realize that I needed a breather from all the chaos. I quickly called my good friend and travel expert, JP of Vagabond Pinas Travels and Tours, if he has a trip bound to the mountains the coming weekend. The universe was kind to me on that fateful day when I  got news that there is still room for Banaue, Ifugao trip. I quickly confirmed a slot and prepared all the things I needed for the 15 hour land trip up north.

Good Morning from Mother Nature

IMG_20180428_074421I woke up from the glinting sunlight touching my face, it was 7 am. I squinted to check  where we are exactly and I was greeted with breathtaking blue skies,  sprawling hills, and towering mountains. I hopped out from the van and headed towards the small cafe where the rest of the group was eating breakfast. I cupped my hands with a warm mug of freshly brewed coffee and marveled at the view that lay ahead of me. The coldness of the mountain breeze and warmth of the fresh brew was indeed comforting. I savored every moment of peace and  thanked Mother Nature for waking me up in her own fashionable way.

 

We transferred to a huge jeepney where a local guide led us to a viewpoint by the highway. Our guide briefly discussed the history of the rice terraces and how it was able to withstand time. We were able to learn that the terraces are around 2,000-6,000 years old and cultivates an heirloom rice called, “Tinawon Rice”. “Tinawon”,  meaning “annual or yearly”, does live up to its name because this particular type of rice is only harvested once a year. I was able to try in one of our meals and it was indeed very filling and delicious.

 

Hike

Batad Rice Terraces is part of the UNESCO Heritage List, a stairway to heaven at 1,100 meters above sea level. I was in awe when I first laid my eyes on this monumental site. It was a dream seeing it upclose because I used to draw it as homework for Social Studies class way back in grade school. As I stood before it, I had more respect with the ancestors of Ifugao, who painstakingly built and maintained each level of the amphitheater terraces for generations.

As I hiked Batad, I breathed in clean fresh air and exhaled negativity. My lungs have never thanked me this much before. The behemoth rice terraces embraced our group, making us look like tiny ants all lined up. I ran my fingers along the tall stalks of rice which painted the amphitheater in lush vivid green. I eagerly weaved through the path that led to Tappiya waterfalls, the main source of water in Batad rice terraces. I discovered tourists and locals flocking together and enjoying the hot summer sun.  I immediately joined in the fun and giddily waded in the cool streams nearby.

 

Pray

I remember holding my breath underwater to muffle the rumbling sound of the falls and chatty crowd. The silence and coldness of the water was cathartic, renewing my weary heart and tired mind. I looked for a sweet spot away from the growing number of people and sat there for a while in peace. I later found myself thanking the heavens for the gift of life, nature, and this trip.

By the time we got back to our bed and breakfast place, local masseuses approached our group and offered massage services. I easily gave in since my legs have been aching from the day-long hike. As the masseuse kneaded my tired muscles, I happily dosed off for a good one hour and woke up very refreshed. The massage was cheap for its price so I decided to give my masseuse a generous tip for a job well done. I capped off the night with a cup of hot green tea and a few chapters of a good book before completely retiring after a long day.

 

Love

I woke up early the next day to catch a glimpse of the sunrise then I hurriedly scoured the area for some fun activities. I found native huts adorned with animal bones and excitedly took photographs of every nook and cranny I can find. I even tried pounding rice just for the heck of it and my newly found friends laughed at how much I struggled. From there, I became conscious of the mere existence of nature, resources, and community and it made me realize that these things are enough for one to live a happy and contented life.

 

 

The Big Reset

My journey to Batad was like a huge reset button, it took away the weariness I felt prior to the trip. The breathtaking views, fresh air, and good company was a big break from city living and the stress that goes along with it. I will definitely go back here because its grandness  became the antidote to my dysphoria, a quick fix to my adventure-seeking soul. I don’t mind spending another 30 hours traveling by land to reach Batad and then coming home with a happier disposition. As long as I am able to tame the wanderlust within me, everything is just fine.

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Tips When Meeting a Legend, Apo Whang-Od

Ever since Apo Whang Od gained tremendous popularity because of her exquisite hand-tapped tattoos, tourists from around the world flooded her home in Buscalan, Ifugao. It took me 5 years to actually meet her in person, until my good friend JP Cruz of Vagabond Pinas Travels and Tours, invited me to participate in his soup kitchen/ outreach program in Apo Whang-Od’s village.

The Long and Winding Road

I met with JP and the rest of the volunteers in Cubao at around 8:30 PM. I was informed that it takes 12-15 hours (depending on the traffic) to get to Buscalan. I suggest that you prepare the following items so you can be comfortable in the long haul.

  • Inflatable pillow: inflate or deflate for easy storage and usage; will save you from getting a stiff neck or resting your head on somebody else shoulder
  • Bonamine/ Serc: the zigzag road is really dizzying. Better consume a tablet of Bonamine or Serc to prevent yourself from getting motion sickness during the trip.
  • Sarong/ Small blanket: It tends to get very cold in the van and in Buscalan at night. Bringing an extra sarong/malong/blanket can make you feel warm and snug during the trip.
  • Mints: will keep your breath smelling fresh (your fellow traveler will talk you in the van and you don’t want to smell like morning breath)
  • Water for hydration and snacks for fuel
  • Earphones: because boredom sucks.

 

Hike For Your Life

Most of the tourists visiting Apo Whang-Od’s village gets surprised with the hour-long IMG_20180701_094452hike. The old path is currently closed and the new one is quite challenging especially for first timers. I suggest a little bit of conditioning exercises two weeks before the trip to prepare your body for the hike. I did cardio, squats, and lunges to strengthen my leg muscles and increase my stamina. You can also eat bananas and trail food such as nuts, granola bars, chocolates for that extra energy boost. Do not forget to bring your own water bottle to keep yourself hydrated at all times.

IMG_20180630_095943Another thing I observed with unprepared guests are the type of clothing worn during the hike. Most of the tourists were wearing the wrong type of footwear (slippers, LEATHER SHOES, fashion sandals, sneakers etc.) .  Please make sure that you wear shoes that are meant for hiking, those with good traction, heavy duty soles, and excellent support. Also, wear breathable clothes that won’t limit your range of motion and prevent your skin from rubbing. I have seen guests wearing jeans, skirts, and even a DRESS and they all had trouble traversing the trail. Always remember, function over fashion.

 

Hiking Etiquette

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Photo by Thea Austria using Huwawei P20 Pro

You will be surprised on how many tourists are lining up in the trails just to meet  Apo Whang Od. It is good to know a little bit of etiquette so you can enjoy the trip. Here are 5 tips on how you can keep the peace and order in the trail.

  1. Stay to the Right, Pass on the Left. – If you want to overtake someone, make sure to politely inform the hiker before you so they could prepare themselves for a quick stop. You don’t want to accidentally push someone of the cliff just because you are in a hurry.
  2. Yield to uphill traffic.
  3. Leave no trace
  4. Use technology safely. Avoid hassling other hikers just for one photo or selfie.
  5. Greet one another. – You’d be surprised on how polite regular hikers are to anyone they come across on the trail. Just return the greeting and smile.

 

When Meeting the Legend Herself, Apo Whang Od

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Finally getting Apo Whang Od’s Signature! Photo by Thea Austria

I was told by JP that Apo Whang Od tends to have mood swings because of her old age. As visitors , we should all be wary of our actions. Avoid crowding around her because she gets irritated with unecessary movement and noise. She also needs natural light so she could see where she is tattooing. The village has already developed a systematic way of lining up guests if they want to have a tattoo with Apo or with her two grandchildren Grace and Elyang. Make sure you register yourself so you will be included in the cue. Apo Whang Od can only do her signature which consists of three dots because she already has poor eyesight. In case you want to have the elaborate Kalinga tattoo, ask Elyang, Grace, or Liezel to do it instead.

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“Liezel” Photo by Brayan Maglalang of Vagabond Pinas

What to Prepare and Expect in Getting a Traditional Tattoo

The Kalinga tattoo uses thorns and soot which makes it quite unhygienic. Be prepared with wipes and an anti-bacterial ointment in case you want to get one. My friend Aimee of Aimee’s Premium Soaps, developed a natural coconut-turmeric balm which I carry in my purse wherever I go. This balm work wonders because of its soothing and anti-bacterial properties. My tattoo was extremely swollen the following day and just a rub of this wonder balm made the inflammation go away in a jiffy. If you want to get yourself one, just check out her IG @aimeesoaps and most of her products are handmade and very affordable.

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Kidding around with Liezel. The pain is tolerable, I am just being OA! haha!

I got myself an arrow head tattoo from Liezel, one of Whang Od’s grandchildren. Honestly, the tattoo was really cheap at Php 200 so I made sure I doubled the donations given to her. It pains me to see people haggling for the price (while others run away without payment) because these artists depend on these tattoos for a living. The price of the tattoos do not cost an arm and a leg so, I am quite confused with the other visitors who ask for a lower price as if they are in some public market. Please, please, please, do not do this if you are getting a tattoo in Kalinga. What you are given is a piece of their culture and not just merely ink. Try to ponder on that.

 

Make the Most Out of Your Journey

Going to Buscalan for a tattoo may sound like a pilgrimage. To make the most out of your journey, try bringing extra donations to the people of Buscalan. What really fascinated me is their appreciation for matches. Yes, M-A-T-C-H-E-S! It is because they still use the primitive way of making fire! Giving them a box of matches changes everything  because it makes their life easier.

There are also plenty of kids in the area and most of them are school-aged. Vagabond Pinas had pouring donations from friends and family and they were able to provide basic school supplies to at least 80 kids in the village.

Medicines and sanitary napkins are also needed in the area since these are all hard to acquire. I was also surprised with the requests for condoms because the people here are very much aware of responsible family planning! If your friends are going, try to individually carry a box or two of these things and then give it as a group. You’d be surprised on the overwhelming happiness of the natives once you hand it over to them.

Photo Credits: Brayan Maglalang

The Humble Brag

My Kalinga tattoo became a conversation starter and people are very fascinated on the story behind it. I always tell them that the tat was secondary because my main priority was to extend a helping hand to our katutubos. This piece of art imprinted on my skin will always be a constant reminder on how beautiful and rich our culture is and that there is pure joy in giving.

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The many faces who visited Apo Whang Od.

If I were you, the best time to visit Apo Whang Od is NOW.  Our National Treasure may be 102 years old but, she is still kicking it! She is a sweetheart and tends to get cheeky with the boys after getting a tattoo with her. Go pack your bags and hurry up in the mountains because we’ll never know when she’ll officially retire.

It was surreal sitting beside Apo Whang Od. Looking through her eyes, the windows to her soul, showed me how her life is filled with depth, memories, and a rich cultural heritage that took the world by storm. I am proud to have met a legend, the last of her kind, Apo Whang Od.

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Volunteers of Vagabond Pinas Soup Kitchen July 4-5, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fly Me To The Hoops

Last May, I was looking for that perfect birthday treat to indulge myself and being a regular customer of Deal Grocer, I stumbled upon a good deal with Yoga Hive’s Hoops Classes headed by Beast House Aerial Studio. I’ve always wanted to try this aerial sport and see if I’d get the hang of it. The impulsive shopper in me was triggered and I immediately purchased 11 coupons, unaware on what truly lies ahead.

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Baby Steps

On my first day of class, I learned the straddle mount. I tried aerial silks before and this particular basic move is something I dreaded because my core wasn’t strong enough. Since I have been working out regularly for the past six months, I was surprised that I was able to execute it. After the straddle, I learned how to mount myself and sit prettily on the hoop. The first day wasn’t so bad after all so, I went on with my second class the following week.

The succeeding classes taught me strengthening exercises such as pull-ups, suspended ab workouts, and basic mounting. It was very challenging since you have to exert plenty of effort and look very pretty all at the same time. Teacher Lance, one of Beast House’s head instructors, taught me mid-air splits, hoop poses such as Delilah, Scarab, Shoulder Stands and many more. Oh, these tricks look very beautiful if you do it properly with locked knees and pointed toes! I was very happy with my progress until one of his students invited me to join the annual anniversary show happening in the next few weeks. I found myself in a limbo of wanting to join and not joining since I am a newbie in this craft. However, again, the impulsive behavior in me won and I gave in, not knowing what I had to endure in the next couple of weeks.

Recital Season

The anniversary show called  Beast House Year 4 had plenty of perks. I received a goodie bag packed with a ton of cool stuff like an X-Pole’s sports bra (I always wanted to have one!), Beast House souvenir shirt, and a complimentary ticket! Aside from the goodie bag, the studio arranged a professional photo shoot for their students and respective groups. I was so ecstatic to have my photo taken by a professional and it was surreal posing beautifully on the hoop. My classmates and I had a group photo as well and damn we all looked nice! (Credits to Photographs By Dar)

 

Damsel in Distress

IMG_20180524_185215.jpgI found myself in a dilemma when I counted the days before the big event. My husband and I were scheduled to fly to Singapore for our wedding anniversary and because of that, I will be missing out three rehearsal days! Since I am a beginner, I was so nervous because I needed to polish my moves and memorize the dance routine. Teacher Lance helped me out by letting me record the dance number so I could practice on my own. I also booked a private class with him once I get back from Singapore. When I was in Singapore, I signed up for a practice class at Starz Aerial Dance Studio and had the chance to meet other aerialists as well. The practice class are for students who would like to rehearse on their own and this was extremely perfect since I was already cramming.

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with Mei Zheng Founder of Starz Aerial in Singapore

Honestly, my anxiety got worse as the big day approached. There were a number of last minute changes in the routine and a couple of bumps along the way. I was nursing bruises in my body and I tell you they were huge! My family and friends were a bit worried because I looked like someone who just stepped out from a fighting arena. However,  I was proud of these battle scars because it made me strong, graceful, and disciplined. I complained a bit but continued to remind myself that this is MY choice. I made sure I practiced well and even promised myself that I will put up a good show along with my group mates.

 

Evolution Through Time

Beast House Year 4’s theme was evolution through time of dance and music. The song assigned to my group, Yoga Hive, was ”  Iris”, an alternative rock song popularized by the band Goo Goo Doll’s. Our dance was choreographed by our very own teacher Lance Santiago. The event culminated at RCBC Theater and ticket sales were sold out weeks before the show!

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I was very nervous during the dress rehearsal since students and teachers were watching. Also, this was my first time performing an aerial dance number in front of an audience. Both two runs of the rehearsal went well and the next big thing was about to happen, our actual performance.

Everything went so fast during our performance and for me, it was a blur! All I remember were flashes of lights, loud music, and the pinch of the  lyra hoop on my skin. I won’t forget the roar of the audience when we finished our number and it felt so good! Everybody was just so supportive backstage, cheering anyone who is performing on stage.

 

The Verdict

I guess my impulsive shopping went well because I got something out of it. My 8 sessions of aerial hoop classes paid off. I am more confident, graceful, and I have never looked so good in a pair of leotards my whole life. The journey towards the show was life changing because I became a better performer and team player. I even gained new friends along the way which I can enjoy aerial hoops with.  If you are to ask me if I’d do this again, the answer is a quick yes because it made me believe that we have the ability to fly and reach new heights!