THE NORTHERN SKY LAND. The Grand Cordillera Range is the most imposing of the mountain systems in Luzon. It covers the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, Bontoc, and Kalinga. It is home to ethnic communities whose ancestors have been responsible in hand-building the world-famous rice terraces. It is in the northern sky land where there are still a number of tribal communities whose mountain lifestyle and traditions remain authentic and preserved.
After our two-night stay in Sagada, we were back in Bontoc early in the morning and rode a jeepney taking us further north to the town of Tinglayan in Kalinga Province. Among the tribal communities in Tinglayan are the oldest tattooed women and the last tattooed Kalinga warrior.
VILLAGE OF LUPLUPA.We skirted the meandering mountain road high up in the Cordilleras following the twisting Chico River below for nearly three hours. As soon as the road descended on a curve, the jeepney driver called our attention and pointed at the village of Luplupa snuggled upon the mountainside over the riverbed.
It was in Luplupa where we had the closest view of the Chico River as we cautiously crossed the narrow hanging footbridge that connects this Kalinga village to the national road.
HOUSES ON STILTS. As soon as we dropped our baggage at Luplupa Riverside Inn, we began exploring the neighborhood. We walked among the native black pigs gregariously wandering around the village or resting beneath the rough-hewn traditional houses that sit on stilts.
GOLDEN GRAINS. We then hiked up the steep and slippery stone-walled terraced rice paddies with its golden grains ready for harvest. We trekked our way to the neighboring villages of Ambato Legleg and Old Tinglayan to meet Attao and Liw’is Maldes. They are among the tattooed Kalinga women.
KALINGA BREW. We met Attao in the village of Ambato Legleg. She was preparing to attend a senior citizens’ party at the Poblacion. We immediately noticed the colorful heirloom beads slug casually on her neck that highlights the beautiful tattoos resembling snake scales.
It started to rain when we arrived in Old Tinglayan. We took shelter in the home of Liw’is Maldes. The kind and hospitable woman in her 60s showed us the impressive sleeves of tattoos down her arms. She invited us to climb up her wooden home where we sat on the smooth bamboo floor and served us Kalinga brewed coffee.
SOLE SURVIVING WARRIOR. Back in Luplupa, we were introduced to the only surviving Kalinga warrior. One hundred plus year-old Fa’wad Accad wears traditional tattoos that he earned from inter-village combat.
EPILOGUE. reparing early in the rainy morning so as not to miss our ride, we hurryingly crossed the iron bridge then took the first trip jeep back to Bontoc.