The Colors of Ati-Atihan

Hala Bira!The Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo is just one of many similar feasts* in the province of Aklan honoring the Santo Niño.

“Ati-Atihan” means “to be like the Atis” — the original settlers of Panay Island — and is characterized by a town-wide merrymaking and revelry, led by various “tribes” in colorful costumes and weapons and dancing to the beat of loud drums.

The Barter of Panay

Participants smear their bodies with soot.

Participants smear their bodies with soot.

Popular lore tells of a group of 10 Malay “datus” or chieftains fleeing from their homeland of Borneo and seeking refuge in the island of Panay. The group’s leader, Datu Puti, appointed Datu Makatunaw to negotiate a trade with the Ati chieftain: a golden salakot or kudong (native hat) for the Ati chief Marikudo, a long pearl necklace for Maniwantiwan, his wife; and brass basins and bales of cloth,in exchange for a parcel of land by the seashore for the 10 datus and their families to settle in.  Thus, the Barter of Panay was struck — a pact that transcended cultures and skin color.

Grateful for the Atis hospitality, the Borneans smeared their bodies with soot and ash from their cooking utensils to mimic the Atis complexion and to show their appreciation for their kindness.

The Infant Jesus and Ati-Atihan

The Ati and the Sto NiñoThe Ati-Atihan was originally a purely pagan festival practiced by the Atis and neighboring tribes.

When the Spaniards came, they began colonizing Panay and converted the natives to Roman Catholicism. The new faith was embraced enthusiastically by the Atis, where thousands came to be baptized — hence the town’s name, “KALIBO”, meaning: isa ka libo or one thousand, referring to the number of Atis baptized.

The event was celebrated with dances and loud banging of drums, with the Sto. Niño as the central figure.


The Ati-Atihan Today

Currently celebrated in honor of the Sto. Nino, the Ati-atihan has become a very lively and colorful fiesta!
* The towns of Ibajay and Makato also have their own Ati-Atihan Festival.

Born to ride!

A young Kalinga girl with her sibling riding a wooden scooter.

A young Kalinga girl with her sibling riding a wooden scooter.

The long road to Apo Whang-od…

Buscalan owes its popularity to Apo Whang-od, the last living practitioner of Kalinga tattoo tradition.

Buscalan owes its popularity to Apo Whang-od, the last living practitioner of Kalinga tattoo tradition.

Buscalan, a quiet village in the hinterlands of Tinglayan in Kalinga Province, has been — literally and figuratively — brought to the mainstream consciousness by the tri-media. Home to a small community of about 200 Butbut households, Buscalan has opened its doors to “lowlanders” — tattoo enthusiasts, artists, weekend hikers, curious travelers, and adventure seekers — most, if not all, wanting to commune, and get inked, by its very famous resident, the centenarian Apo Whang-od or Fang-od, the last living practitioner of traditional Kalinga tattooing or batok.

(Updated: 08/22/2016) Guides ARE (now) required when going to Buscalan. A No-guide-No-entry policy (1 guide:5pax) is now being implemented by the LGU of Tinglayan. A PHP1000/day guide fee is collected from guests of up to 5 pax. In excess of 5 pax, you may need to get another guide. If you haven’t secured a guide in advance, you can get one when you arrive at the “turning point” (locals call the jump off point that).

Your guide will be the one to assist you in the queue during the tattoo sessions. They will also assist you in securing your lodging for the night (homestay rate is PHP350/pax).

[I will update this post with the list of “accredited” guides.]

Also, a community tax (CT) of PHP75 per person is being collected in Buscalan. The CT is a “one-time” payment and is only applicable to first-time visitors Returning visitors are exempted from the CT.

There are five (5) options in getting there. For Options 1-2-3, make sure that you reach your initial destination (Tabuk, Banaue or Baguio) at the earliest possible time, say around 5AM, as bus/jeep/van schedules from there are very erratic.

On the return trip, make sure you leave Buscalan as early as possible (around 10AM would be the latest) to catch the bus/jeep going to Bontoc (if you’re returning via Banaue or Baguio) or Tabuk.

1. Manila-Tabuk, Kalinga route

Apo Whang-od in action

Apo Whang-od in action

Take the Victory Liner to Tabuk in Kalinga. From Tabuk, you can take a bus bound for Bontoc, then get off at Bugnay junction. For more convenience, you can ride the one with the “BUGNAY” signboard, which will take you directly to the “turning point”.  From there, it’s an easy (or difficult, depending on your physical and psychological condition) trek to Buscalan Village.


2. Manila-Banaue, Ifugao route
Take the Ohayami bus to Banaue. From Banaue, you can take the jeeps (or vans) bound for Bontoc; and from Bontoc, you can take the jeep (or bus) going to Tabuk; get off at Bugnay junction. Similarly, you can tell the driver that you’re going to Buscalan, so that the driver can take you all the way to the “turning point”.

3. Manila-Baguio route
Ride a Manila-Baguio bus that will take you to the City of Pines before 5AM. From the terminal, take a taxi to G. Lizardo (GL) bus station and take the Bontoc-bound bus. From Bontoc, you can take the jeep going to Tabuk. Get off at Bugnay junction. Similarly, you can tell the driver that you’re going to Buscalan (see Option 2).

4. Manila-Bontoc route via CODA Lines
Take a CODA Lines bus bound for Sagada (8PM and 9PM trips), then get off at Bontoc Public Market (ETA is around 8AM, depending on traffic and road conditions). from Bontoc, you can take the jeep (or bus) going to Tabuk; get off at Bugnay junction. Similarly, you can tell the driver that you’re going to Buscalan, so that the driver can take you all the way to the “turning point”.

CODA Lines is located at E. Rodriguez Ave., Quezon City (in between St Luke’s Medical Center and Trinity College). One-way fare is around PHP600.

5. Join travel pools
If you’re not the outdoor-sy type or you just don’t like the hassles of chasing around commuter transport, this option is for you. You can check out some organizers and travel groups on Facebook (DIY Travelers, Tattooed by Apo Whang-od) offering group trips to Buscalan.


Please do bear in mind that to be tattooed by Apo Whang-od is a PRIVILEGE afforded us, and it is not a RIGHT we can demand of her. Just because we are paying for the tattoo means that we are ENTITLED to it outright. Remember that Apo Whang-od ALWAYS has the last say as to who gets a tattoo and who doesn’t.

To the tour organizers out there, make your participants aware of that fact. Take time to orient them what to expect. DO NOT promise them anything you cannot deliver.

A trip to Buscalan DOES NOT guarantee you’d get tattooed by the great Apo Whang-od.


Talakudong Festival: Wear Your Hat

The Talakudong Festival in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat is a neo-ethnic cultural extravaganza celebrating the city’s rich and diverse cultures and tradition. The spectacle is highlighted by streetdancing and a field demo competition, participated in by various elementary and high schools across the region. Dancers in colorful costumes don the traditional “kudong“–the Ilonggo term for salakot–adorned in indigenous trimmings, and comes in various hues and sizes.

Celebrated every 18th of September, this week-long festivity opens with a float parade and agro-industrial fair, showcasing Tacurong’s best agricultural and industrial products.

Aliwagwag Falls: Inspiring Awe

Aliwagwag Falls

2012. When I first saw a photo of Aliwagwag Falls from an airline’s in-flight magazine, the ONLY word that I was able to summon was: AWESOME.

“Awesome” is a word I stay away from as much as possible. I generally file it in my “for-lack-of-a-better-term” folder, and only pull it out in “emergency cases”, where I ran out of adjectives: Last night’s party was “awesome.” Your new Fujifilm X100T is “awesome.” The extensive coverage given by the tri-media to the presidential bid announcements of Binay, Roxas and Poe, while ignoring the masses’ call for a Duterte presidency, is simply “awesome.”

My reluctance on the use of “awesome” stems from a purely semantic point of view. Isn’t it strange, if not weird, that we describe such profound beauty that it inspires awe as “awesome”? Shouldn’t it be full of awe; therefore, awful? So, last night’s party was in fact awful, as was the camera and the media coverage.

But in the case of Aliwagwag Falls, I make an exception.

This beauteous stairway-to-heaven-like cascade is definitely awesome! I was mesmerized. Scanning the pages of the magazine, I excitedly searched its location, mouthing an inaudible “Whoopie!” when I found where it’s at: Cateel, Davao Oriental.

2013. Typhoon Pablo happened… and Cateel was among the badly hit municipalities in the region: and. Aliwagwag Falls was severely damaged. My hopes of seeing her was dashed.

#TeamBAMid 2014. I got a call from a friend who works at the Davao City Tourism Office that they’ve just recently visited Cateel, and that efforts to “restore”  Aliwagwag Falls is “well underway”. The news got me excited–and sad at the same time, because I wouldn’t be seeing the falls in all her natural splendor. Nevertheless, that didn’t dampen my desire to visit Aliwagwag a single bit.

Fast-forward to 2015, I was finally able to make the trip with these awesome people…

Aliwagwag Falls
Cateel, Davao Oriental

Aliwagwag Falls is a series of 84 falls, mimicking a stairway with various heights in between steps, ranging from 2m to 33.5m (7ft to 110 ft). The highest cascades are about 22m (72 ft) and 20m (66 ft). Overall, Aliwagwag Falls is 340m (1,120 ft) high and 20m (66 ft) wide. If upright, it is undoubtedly the highest waterfalls in the country!

The Philippines is such a beautiful country; and the fact that I can enjoy its beauty is wonderful. Life, indeed, is full of beauty and wonder.


To Cateel by Grab Taxi-DavaoThere are two routes leading to Aliwagwag Falls: through Compostela Valley (which we took) and via Mati, Davao Oriental. The latter is the more practical option, as there are many trips going to Mati (via Bachelor Bus Lines), compared with only one trip (via Mallen Express) if going by way of Compostela Valley. Travel time varies from 6hrs to 8hrs.

Since we were pressed for time, we opted to hire an AUV for two (2) days: Davao-ComVal-Cateel-Mati-Davao route.


Seek and you will find… Asik-asik.

The island of Mindanao is blessed with rich and bountiful natural resources, not to mention majestic land- and seascapes. It is home to three of the highest peaks in the country, several marine and wildlife sanctuaries, and hundreds–if not thousands–of waterfalls, explored and unexplored. No wonder it is called the Philippines’ Final Frontier.

Hitting two birds…

When we talk about Mindanao waterfalls, Tinuy-an in Bislig and Maria Cristina and Tinago, both in Iligan come to mind. But there still exist some equally-glorious-yet-seldom-talked-about cascades in the island of Mindanao: Limunsudan in Lanao del Norte; Asik-Asik in Alamada, North Cotabato; and Aliwagwag in Cateel, Davao Oriental–my Holy Grails of Philippine Waterfalls!

Much of the allure these waterfalls possess is due to their reputation as difficult-to-reach destinations, coupled with stories of brigands and other lawless elements patrolling the roads leading to these natural gems.

On my most recent trip to Mindanao, I was fortunate to have visited two of these three breathtaking waterfalls in Mindanao: Asik-asik and Aliwagwag.

Asik-Asik Falls
Brgy. Dado, Alamada, North Cotabato

“Discovered” only in April 2012 by local students on a field trip, Asik-asik Falls opened its doors to visitors in September that same year.

At 140 meters wide and about 60 meters high, this natural formation resembles a vast jade wall veiled with silky smooth curtains. Unlike most waterfalls, Asik-asik does not have a visible water source at its top, instead, water flows out from the mountain’s side, more like a series of springs.

According to some locals I chanced upon, this phenomenon may have been due to strong typhoons that ravaged the area a few years back, where clumps of trees were uprooted… and from these, cracks appeared which allowed the water to spring forth. A flowing natural pool formed at the base of the cascades where visitors can swim in the cold, clear waters.


Still as magnificent as the first time I saw it in 2012.

Still as magnificent as the first time I saw it in 2012.

After an arduous trek to Asik-asik, you might wanna visit Cotabato City’s Grand Mosque.

The golden mosque or the “Masjid Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah dang Brunei” (Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque) is located a few kilometers away from the main highway, Sinsuat Avenue, in Barangay Kalangalan, on a parcel of land donated by the Dilangalen clan. Nestled beside Tamontaka River and the Moro Gulf, the masjid is a sight to behold from the air, as it is near Awang Airport.

The golden masjid is partly funded by the Sultanate of Negara Brunei Darussalam as part of a bilateral agreement with the Philippines. Designed by world-renowned Palafox and Associates, the mosque incorporated domes and minarets of the Arab-Islamic influence.

To Cateel by Grab Taxi-DavaoNext:

From here to eternity… that is Cateel, Davao Oriental…

Going Solo in the Land of Promise (Part 2)

This is the continuation of my travel log for my week-long Mindanao Road Trip.

Mindanao Roadtrip

What to see in Marawi City

What to see in Marawi City

Day 04: Marawi City. With my Limunsudan Falls trip going bust, I was left with an extra day in Iligan. Feeling a tad adventurous, I decided to make a quick visit to Marawi City.

Aware of the fact that Marawi is 90% Moslem (that is why it was named as The Islamic City of Marawi), I heeded the advice–more like a warning, though–of the hotel keeper in Iligan to be wary in asking directions from random people; instead, I should go directly to the Tourism Office at City Hall.


It is as if I was transported to UP Diliman, waiting for the UP-Ikot jeep.

However, the “Armak” that I took was bound directly for Mindanao State University, which, in a way, was a good thing; because, from what I have read, some of Marawi’s prime spots are located here: the Aga Khan Museum, the King Faisal Mosque, and of course MSU Campus, with its stunning view of Lake Lanao or Meranau in the local dialect.

After chatting up a friendly campus police, who gave me some of the low-downs on Marawi City life–including what to tell the jeepney driver to get “maximum cooperation”: Ibaba mo ako kay Mayor sa City Hall–I headed for downtown. Well, the phrase worked wonders indeed, as the driver was not only very courteous but also greatly helpful in pointing me to the right direction: the city tourism office [looks like Mayor Fahad Salic is either well loved or  extremely feared].

The tourism officer was also very helpful, and overly “protective”. Upon learning that I was travelling alone, she insisted that I take a tricycle driven by someone she knows.

Around lunchtime and midway through the tour, a man approached me and introduced himself as “from the tourism office”. He told me that it is in my best interest to cut short the “tour” and head back to Iligan, as “a man taking photos of buildings” has caught the attention of “some” people.

Without asking further questions, I hurriedly left, taking the first available van to Iligan City. Whew!

With nothing else to do, I decided to segue to Balingoan Port in Cagayan de Oro, hoping to catch the last ferry to Camiguin Island.

Day 05: Camiguin Island via  Brgy. Kinoguitan.

Solo travel is indeed a wonderful and fulfilling venue to explore little known places in the Philippines and get to experience first-hand the vibrancy and diversity of the Filipino culture.

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