I’m a planner. I’ll have spreadsheets with notes, contact info, and costs with my transportation, lodging, and excursion logistics. There’s typically no doubt where I should be, how I’ll get there, and where i’ll be staying…… well, then your presented with an opportunity and so detour adventure begins.
Week 2 destination Sagada. I will be boarding a 8 hour bus ride from Manila to Banaue to catch another 2 hour jeepney bound for Sagada. Upon arrival at Banaue, we had a layover to wait for other passengers that may be headed the same direction. There’s a few of us that head directly towards the closest restaurant for a hot cup of coffee and breakfast. The normal order of conversation for travelers starts like this….. hi, my name is, where are you from, where are you headed, and where have you been?
I’d like to introduce you to Ben, Tabby, and Aaron from Singapore. I will certainly talk more about them later but for now let’s just say they were the catalyst that made me take a crazy detour in my schedule for the next 3 days. They began to talk about their plans to hike up in the mountains to a hidden village in the town of Kalinga to get a tattoo from a 92 year old tattoo artist named Whang Od. I knew of her from my son that told me of some tribal tattoo artist in the mountains of the Philippines that uses a thorn attached to the end of a bamboo stick and another stick to repeatedly tap the thorn in to your skin with the ink. As Ben, Tabby, and Aaron talked about making specific plans from Singapore to get tattoos, I had wished I made plans as well. Then suddenly I asked if I can tag along. They already had the lodging coordinated along with the person from the village that you need to hire to guide you in. They said YES! I thought… how in the hell am I gonna make this work?!
The logistics of the trip were a bit complicated because it involved a somewhat difficult hike around rice patties and up in to the mountains. This was a problem for me because I was carrying a 50L pack in addition to another 25L daypack. In order for me to be able to do this, I would have to find a place to store my main pack and carry only essentials for a couple of days. I also had to find an ATM to pull a bit more cash (this can be a problem in the rural parts of the Philippines). Both storage and cash had to pull through for this to happen.
First things first, found an ATM and was able to get cash! Pre-trip tasks 1 of 2 completed! Now it’s time to eat lunch. We had a bit of difficulty finding a place but was finally guided to the metal screen door to a hallway sized restaurant that appeared to be under construction to expand. Welcome to Amelia’s Cafe. The food turned out to be awesome and was also inexpensive. Full tummy and now I have to figure out where I can possibly store my bag. I asked Amelia if she had any idea if she knew of a place I could lock up my bag. I was basically prepared to rent a room for 2 days and just leave my pack. She then told me I could leave it with her. Yeah, right?! I proceeded to tell her that I’m on week 2 of my 9 mos journey and losing this bag would be disastrous. I don’t know why but she seemed sincere and honest. She refused my offer to pay and escorted me in to her home to show me where she would store it. She said…. “trust me” and I did. This was totally out of my character but I really wanted to meet this tattoo artist. Pre-trip tasks 2 of 2 completed! I’m in!!
The next three days were epic! I met, hung out, ate, rode on top of a jeepney, slept in a hut, and got tattoos with 3 Singaporeans which I now consider life-long friends. They adopted me and were some of the coolest people I’ve met. It also turned out we were headed to the same city of Sagada afterwards AND staying at the same hotel. We then hung out this week doing the same excursions and shared life stories over a couple bottles of brandy. Oh btw, upon return from the village in Buscalan, my bag was awaiting safe and sound. Amelia still tried to refuse my compensation but I dropped the money and ran. I was so grateful that a little restaurant owner helped out a total stranger.
At the beginning of my trip, I was repeatedly warned about cannibals in the mountains, the dangers of landslides, and not to trust anyone. The only cannibalism I saw were the village children on the bag of chocolate we handed out. Landslides and lightning… ah whatever! And trusting is tricky but I’d like to believe I’m pretty good at calling bullshit. Part of my journey is to disconnect from my routine and reconnect with humanity. I have reconnected this last week and feel very fortunate. I will say goodbye to my Singaporean friends this week but believe we will cross paths again. I will also find a way to repay my thanks to Amelia for her hospitality and she will hear from me again.
There are times when you take that detour, you will create some of the most memorable experiences in your life. This is one of those times.
My friends Ben, Tabby, Charlie (guide), and Aaron.