Wednesday, 1 October 2014

DIY Nail Decals (Manicure Hack!)

Though I enjoy doing free hand nail art, it can get pretty frustrating at times, especially when I applied the base coat perfectly, only to be ruined by a careless mistake, and I have to do everything all over again. 

Shit like that happens a lot, so sometimes, I just resort to nail decals. However, nail decals look generic. Mass-made. And, there's a big chance that somebody else in the world is sporting the same nail art as yours. 

Fortunately, there's a way to skip all the frustration (and un-originality), while keeping the raw and handmade effect that comes with free hand nail art designs, and in this post, I'll show you how. 

Text too tiny? Simply click on the photos to enlarge. :)

1. With a fine tip brush, draw the design on the stamper. Make it thick, but not goopy.

2. Since nail decals are tiny, you can paint more than one designs on the stamper. See how I made three birds fit?

3. Let the design dry and set. You can place the stamper in a bowl of icy water to help the design set quicker.

4. Gently slide the scraper under your design and lift a tiny portion of it.

5. Use tweezers to carefully pick up the decal.

6. Position the decal on your nail.

7. Lightly press the decal onto your nail.

8. Brush on your top coat.


Sunday, 28 September 2014

Captured in Kalinga: My Adventure in Photos

Early morning arrival in  Kalinga

Good morning, Tabuk!

On a Bontoc-bound bus, writing in my travel journal

Our bus stopped to give way to this more than fully-loaded jeepney.

Someday, I'll pick up the courage to sit on top

Tinudok! Yummy sugar-coated rice and coconut treat!

Can you spot the "Sleeping Beauty"?

Li'l girls pretty in pink!

One of the narrow paths we had to pass through to get to Buscalan

Sweaty yet smiling!

Hello, Buscalan!

It was cold in the mountains, which gave this cutie
every reason to wear a snow suit and look
adorable in it! Haha!

The great Apo Whang-Od's "tattoo shop"

Preparing my ink


All the pain and blood... Worth it.

Of course, a photo with the legend is a must!

With Grace, Apo Whang-Od's grandniece

Weapon of choice

Dawn in the mountains

Good morning, Buscalan!

#WokeUpLikeThis in the mountains :D
#Selfie #NoMakeup #Chos

Grace pulls her shirt down to reveal her tattoos

Early morning coffee

In the jeepney back to Tabuk

Hang loose

-More from my Kalinga trip here: Braver in Buscalan
-Planning a trip to Buscalan to get inked by Apo Fang-Od? You might wanna read this: 
A Guide to Buscalan and Getting Inked by Apo Fang-Od


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Guide to Buscalan and Getting Inked by Apo Fang-Od

You’ve probably come across the name Whang-Od (native: Fang-Od) by now. Well, the 95-year-old Kalinga traditional tattoo artist is quite a celebrity.

Local and international media have reported about her unconventional method of tattooing, travel bloggers introduced her to netizens, and Filipinos and foreigners alike seek her just to get inked with the use of soot and thorns, instead of today’s high-tech tattoo machines.

If you’re a true daredevil who’s ready to take on the challenge of getting a fatek (tattoo) from Apo Fang-Od, this post might be able to give some answers to the questions bubbling in your head.

***Just a little reminder, though, this adventure is not for the faint-hearted.


Where will I find Apo Whang-Od?
Apo Whang-Od’s ancestral domain lies in the Cordillera mountains, and she lives in a remote village called Buscalan. She’s part of the But-but tribe.

How do I get to Buscalan?
Assuming you’re coming from Manila, take a Tabuk-bound bus. Victory Liner-Kamias has nightly trips to Tabuk. One leaves at 7:45 PM (deluxe: P710.00 – this was the trip we took), while the other (regular air-conditioned) leaves at around 9 PM.

The trip takes 9-13 hours, so you’ll arrive at Tabuk at around 5 AM on the average. Step down at the stop in front of St. William’s Cathedral.

Now, take a Bontoc-bound bus or jeepney at Dangwa Station. First few trips arrive at 6:30-7:00 AM. We took the bus (P130.00).The ride usually takes 3 hours. Feeling more adventurous? Ride on top of the jeepney or bus!

Step down at Barangay Bugnay, Tinglayan – a village at the foot of Buscalan. This is where your 2-hour hike begins.

There’s a trail that leads to Buscalan, and all you have to do is follow it. Locals also pass by often, so if you can chance upon one, you can ask them to accompany you, or you could simply follow them. But get this, they walk really fast!

Can I hire a guide?
It would be great if you could hire a local guide, especially if you don’t speak the Kalinga dialect. I highly recommend Francis Pa-In. He’s a registered tour guide, who speaks English and Tagalog, and has been accompanying tourists for over 20 years now. You can reach hi through his mobile: +639157690843

From and until what time does Apo work?
As soon as the sun rises and until it sets.

How do I pick a design?
There are two books available at Buscalan written by anthropologists who studied the Kalinga tattoo, which contain images of the designs with elaborate descriptions. OR, you can pick a pattern on Apo’s skin, and that’s what she’ll ink on you. The most famous design people request for is the centipede, which gives the wearer guide and protection.

Can I have my own design inked on me?
Sure, you can! But our guide told us that there was this American tourist who brought her own design and was trying to take control over everything. Whang-Od got really annoyed and didn’t give her a tattoo. Always remember to be polite and patient.

Does getting a fatek hurt?
It hurts, yes, especially when I started to feel the thorn hitting my wrist bone. But, overall, I wouldn’t say it hurt so much. Probably because my fatek is just a small one and because my adrenaline was on an overdrive when I got my tattoo (I hiked for over two hours and was way too excited to get inked). Also, I believe that the pain highly depends on the person’s tolerance. There have been people who have fainted during the session, and Apo Fang-Od told them to just return some other time. Haha!

Will it bleed?
There will be blood. (Oooh, a movie reference!)

What are the tools used by Apo to ink skins?
Pine ashes mixed with spring water – ink
Straw – used to draw the pattern on your skin
Pomelo thorn – needle
Soft wooden stick (not sure if it’s a bamboo stick) – used to hold the thorn
Hard wooden stick – used to hit the other stick holding the needle

Weapon of choice

Are they hygienic?
Let’s just say they’re organic. Haha!

How much do I pay for a fatek?
The tattoos don’t have fixed prices, and Apo will gladly take anything you give her. For my tiny tattoo, I paid her P500.00, plus beaded bracelets and boxes of matches. I also paid Grace P250.00, plus a box of chocolates.

Can I stay the night in Buscalan?
Yes! It would also be a great way to sneak a peek into the humble lives of the But-but tribe. You can stay at Apo’s house or at Grace’s room. We stayed at the latter, and it was a great choice, because Grace’s room has this terrace which gave us a spectacular and boundless view of the Cordillera Mountains. Your host will also provide you with food. I’m telling you it wouldn’t be much of a feast, but your heart will melt in their kindness.

How much do I pay for accommodations?
Like getting a tattoo, the accommodation doesn’t have a fixed price. So, what we did was pay P800.00 (P200.00 per head), and joined Grace’s family for breakfast. We offered them some of the food we brought.

Aside from getting a fatek, what else should I try while I’m in Buscalan?
THEIR COFFEE!!! God, you gotta try their coffee! It’s the best! You can also help the tribe by buying some packs of coffee and/or knives. Buscalan boasts of blacksmiths, too.

Now, how do I get back to Manila?
Hike back to Bugnay early in the morning. At the turning point, you can rent a motorcycle (P70.00 per head) to cut your travel time. Take a bus or jeepney back to Tabuk (P140.00). And finally, take a bus back to Manila. There are three trips daily. One leaves at 4:00 PM. The second one leaves at 4:30 PM. And, the last one leaves at 5:00 PM.

Some more notes:
-People in Buscalan – young and old – love sweets! Bring some (if not loads of) candies!
-Someone I was able to get in touch with before my trip also suggested that I bring pencils for the kids. Yes, they study and there are schools nearby.
-Bring matches! They still use firewood when they cook. Say “Isopoyo?” as you hand them out.
-There’s electricity in Buscalan, but don’t expect mobile reception.
-No matter how tired, or hungry, or tired (hey, didn’t I just say that?) you are, never forget to enjoy your trip!


Braver in Buscalan

I've always wanted to get a tattoo. A real one. But then I didn't want the experience to be a meaningless ordeal. I wanted my first tattoo to be something that I earned. Something I’m worthy of.

A little over a year ago, I came across an article in a travel magazine written by a guy with Igorot blood running in his veins. In his write-up, he said that his greatest travel bucketlist moment was meeting the great Apo Whang-Od (native: Fang-Od), the only surviving mambabatok (traditional tattoo artist) and getting his back tattooed by her.

The name Whang-Od never left my thoughts after reading that article. I would google stuff about her, think about her, and imagine what it would be like to get inked by her. I knew I just had to meet Apo myself. And since she wasn’t getting any younger, I finally picked up the nerve to travel to Kalinga and seek legend I’ve been longing to meet.

Last Saturday evening, I headed to Tabuk City, the capital of Kalinga, with my mum and dad, who were surprisingly game for this adventure I planned. We arrived the next morning at around 4 am, and had some coffee at a local shack.

Killing time...

God, Starbucks will be put to shame by the Kalinga coffee! I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a brew as rich as aromatic and as good as Kalinga’s native coffee. It’s something you wouldn’t like to miss if you’re going on a trip to Kalinga.

Dawn in Tabuk

Since we arrived way too early, we got to have a little chat with some travellers and locals who were chewing on and spitting nga-nga, while waiting for the sunrise. We also dropped by St. William’s Cathedral, which was across the street, to attend a part of the mass (it was already Sunday).

It was 6:30 when the jeepneys and buses going to Bontoc started to arrive. We took the first trip, which left at 8:00.

The trip from Tabuk to Tinglayan was a crazy 3-hour ride. Although the view from my window was breath-taking, I couldn’t help but feel bothered by the rough, treacherous, and narrow roads that we had to pass through. I found myself clasping my hands together and breathing a prayer whenever the bus we were riding tilted.

Check out the Chico River

Oh, you know, I just didn’t want to die right at that moment and land on tomorrow’s news.

Anyway, we soon arrived in Tinglayan, where we met our guide and translator, Francis Pa-In. Our bus stopped over at an eatery so we can have a quick lunch. My taste buds were still overwhelmed by the tinudok (rice and coconut balls coated with sugar) I had earlier that I didn’t have the appetite to eat just yet.

Yummy tinudok!

The stopover lasted for about 20 minutes, and it was time to leave again. On the way to Bugnay, Tingalayan, a barangay at the foot of Buscalan, I kept hearing people saying “sleeping beauty”. Turns out, one of the most popular mountains in Kalinga is Mount Patukan or the Sleeping Beauty Mountain, and it’s called so for a reason.

The silhouette of the mountain’s northern ridge resembles the features of a woman who seems to be sleeping.

I spy Sleeping Beauty!

Legend has it that there was once a tribal warrior who set out for battle, leaving his beloved woman behind to fight. The war lasted for a long time, but the woman just kept waiting for her dear warrior’s return. It wasn’t long until she fell into a deep sleep and never woke up. The locals say she will never rise from her slumber until her true love comes back for her.

We reached Barangay Bugnay at around 1 pm. That’s also when we began our 2-hour hike.

From the starting point of the hike to Buscalan, you'll get a view of indigenous
hero and activist Macli'ing Dulag's village.

Here's a quote from the late hero: "If the land could speak, it would speak for us."

I honestly was not ready when I found out that the first step I had to take was a step up this huge rock. It’s been a while since I last went wall-climbing (never mind mountain climbing), so I found the remaining rocks really exhausting to climb.

Throughout the hike, my parents and I kept pausing to fill our lungs with air or take a sip of water. Francis, on the other hand, seemed indifferent to the climb, and just kept telling us stories about the foreigners he guided before. He was patient enough to wait for us as we took our much-needed breaks, though.

I don’t think I will ever get to put into words how difficult the hike was. The paths were moist, slippery, and narrow, the rocks would crumble, the bridges didn’t have rails for us to hold on to, and one stupid slip would send us hundreds of feet down. We also crossed creeks and passed by falls.

If you’re up for a nature trip that’s not in most people’s travel lists, I highly suggest you take a hike in the Kalinga mountains.

One stupid and careless move, you're dead.

The last bout of hiking we had to endure before reaching the remote village of Buscalan were narrow (OK, almost everything we had to pass through was narrow!) but cemented stairs.

Instead of Francis’ 2-hour hike estimate, we took two hours and 20 minutes.

Upon our arrival in Buscalan, there were three kids who met our way, grinned at us, and screamed – no, demanded us– “CANDY!!!” Their gapped and cracked teeth were showing – obviously, tourists have been spoiling them, and I was about to do the same. Of course, I brought sweets! People I got in touch with prior to my trip told me to pack some.

Francis handing out candies to the kids

Facing the kids, I let out an exasperated and almost breathless “Mamaya,” as I forced a smile. We took a few more steps up, and crossed a low bamboo gate.

It began to drizzle, but I didn’t care. I threw my hands up in the air and laughed. I don’t know why, but despite my throbbing thighs and legs, despite my dry throat and airless lungs, I felt happy. Relieved. Above all, fulfilled. At last, we arrived in Buscalan!

Houses in Buscalan

It didn’t take too long until my ears caught the tap-tapping sound I’ve been waiting to hear. Not far from my right was Apo Fang-Od, the very person I had been so anxious and excited to meet, working on a hiker’s centipede tattoo in front of her tiny house, which serves as her tattoo shop.

Apo Fang-Od - busy mode

After the butt-flattening bus rides and the bloody hike I had to take just to see Apo, there was no way I was not getting a fatek (tattoo).

While waiting for my turn, I snapped photos, asked the tourist Apo was working on (who we later found out was a lawyer named Vic) how much the tattooing hurt, and met Grace, Fang-Od’s 18-year-old grandniece, who learned the way and the art of traditional tattooing at the age of ten.

We discussed a bit about which tattoo I should get. Stacked on an unfinished concrete wall were well-thumbed books written by foreign anthropologists, who studied Filipino tattoos, including the fatek. Each page had pictures of tribal leaders and warriors proudly showing off their tattoos.

Back in the day, men could only get a fatek as a reward for bringing home decapitated heads of enemies from other tribes. Women wore tattoos as a sign of beauty and to bring fertility.

There were countless spider, centipede, and snake designs (popular choices) in the books, but I didn’t like any of them, because there was a pattern that spoke to me: the kinilat or lightning.

Grace told me that its meaning varies from one tribe to another. The people in Mt. Province believe that it signifies the divided child – the son of a god and a mortal; in short, it’s the symbol of the demigod. For the But-but tribe of Buscalan, it symbolised the mountains and wild fern.

It was perfect. Not only was I getting it on top of a mountain abundant of wild fern, it also connects two of the fandoms I’m part of: Harry Potter (lightning) and Percy Jackson (demigod). I decided to have the design inked on the side of my wrist, where I’ve always wanted to have my first tattoo.

After taking a break from tattooing Vic’s arm centipede and washing pots and pans, Fang-Od took another stool, allowed Grace to start the lawyer’s second tattoo, and invited me to sit in front of her.
It was my turn.

Preparing the ink

In the Kalinga dialect, Francis told Apo about the design I picked, where I’d like to have it, and how big I wanted it to be. When she realised how little the tattoo I was requesting for, she laughed and said something in Kalinga. Francis told me that Apo said I’ve travelled all the way to see her and all I want was a tiny tattoo on the side of my wrist. “Lugi,” she said.

In my defence, I’ve always been charmed by tiny tattoos. I think they’re pretty. Besides, I don’t feel the need to put a huge tattoo on display to show how brave I am or how cool I am.

With a piece of straw and soot, Apo Fang-Od began drawing the kinilat on my skin. She then inserted a pomelo thorn through a stick – the needle.

The level of concentration of Apo had before the session showed on her tiny and aged face. I don’t think any modern-day tattoo artist will ever compare to Apo’s grit when it comes to inking. And, guess what? She’s already 95 years old and yet her eyes are as sharp as that of a hawk’s.

After a few moments of silence, Apo Fang-Od lowered the thorn on my skin, raised a stick with her other hand, and made her first strike.

A jolt of pain surged in me as the thorn penetrated through my skin, pushing the soot into my flesh. It didn’t take another second for Apo to make her second strike, her third, and so on.

Tok-tok-tok… That’s a sound I will never forget in this lifetime. Wood beating wood; thorn hitting skin.

Indeed, getting a fatek hurt. I felt the thorn piercing through my skin, hitting my bone, lifting my flesh, as Apo drove it, following the pattern she drew. She was also way too meticulous, striking one spot twice or thrice, making sure the ink really entered my skin.

I’ll say it again: Getting a fatek hurt, but not once did I pull my hand away.

I was getting the tattoo I’ve long wanted. The tattoo I knew I earned. The tattoo I deserved. “This is it,” I said to myself. All the pain, the blood, and swelling… Everything was worth it.

Almost done!

It did not take more than fifteen minutes for Apo to finish the first part of my tattoo. Before she stood up to prepare the food for her pigs, she wiped away the ink and my blood with a wipe, and left Grace to complete my kinilat.

Grace worked on my tattoo almost as skilfully as her grandaunt. She was also drawn to her work, tap-tapping her time in perfect rhythm.

Just before the sun began to hide behind rain clouds, my tattoo was finally done. Grace wiped off the ink and blood once more, opened a bottle, and dabbed some coconut oil on my fatek.

I paid Apo Fang-Od and Grace with sweets, beaded bracelets, boxes of matches, and cash. But in a place like Buscalan, money is almost irrelevant. Apo cried in delight upon seeing the matches and bracelets, while Grace smiled from ear when I gave her the box of chocolates.

It truly was amazing how simple items could make them so happy. I guess I was wrong when I said that everyone had a materialistic mindset.

We decided to stay the night in Buscalan, and Grace was more than thrilled to open her room’s door to us.

Like other teenagers, Grace had some old toys, accessories, and photos in her room. But her tiny space was out of the ordinary. Her room had this other door that leads to a terrace, which gave us a spectacular view of the Cordillera Mountains. I don’t think a lot of teenagers, no matter how rich they are, have that kind of viewing deck in their bedrooms.

I could get used to a view like this.

Later in the afternoon, rain finally fell from the skies. It got cloudier, colder, and I also started to feel a bit ill. Fatigue had finally taken me over.

After having a little dinner (Grace’s family provided us rice and boiled pork), I took some meds and slept. It was only 6 in the evening.

I gotta say, that was the best sleep I’ve had in months. I usually sleep at two in the morning, 12 midnight the earliest, because of schoolwork and intrusive thoughts. Guess those two don’t have an effect on me in the mountains.

It was a little bit past five in the morning when I (finally) woke up, and I was feeling much better. The rain had finally stopped pouring, so I opened the door to the terrace and watched the sunrise.
Remember when you were in kindergarten, how you would draw two mountains side by side with a semi-circle in between them as the sun? Well, it’s not quite like that in real life.

Good morning, Buscalan!

In reality, there are just lights and colours everywhere. Shades of white, blue, purple, and yellow played with the mist in the horizon, creating a sight to behold.

We had breakfast at Grace’s with her family and some tribesmen. We brought some bread, while they offered us coffee. It was one of the most humbling meals I’ve ever had. There we were, talking, exchanging stories, telling jokes, and laughing.

We left a few minutes past seven, shaking hands with people, thanking them for their warm welcome and hospitality. I gave Grace a thank you hug.

Our last stop before taking the hike I’ve been dreading since last night was Apo Fang-Od’s tiny tin-and-wood house. She was busy with early morning chores, but she waved us over, inviting us for coffee. It was a pain to decline her offer, but she smiled anyway.

She has this childlike and playful smile etched on her face that never wears out. She truly is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.

As we bid her goodbye, she joked and called me “bas-sit” or tiny (because of my tattoo) before wrapping me in a light embrace with her bony tattooed arms.

My short adventure in Kalinga sure is one for the books. I know I will always get this sense of warmth, humility, and belongingness whenever I think of Buscalan and its people who welcomed me and my family, and gave me the opportunity to bear a mark of their tribe’s heritage and the great Apo Fang-Od’s legacy: my fatek.

Manjamanak, Apo Fang-Od! Manjamanak, Buscalan!