Tattoos & Terraces: Northern Luzon Adventure

On this road trip, you get whisked up to hill station Baguio in a comfortable van taking the expressway from Manila past the deposits of lahar–a legacy of the 1991 eruption of Mt Pinatubo–the twentieth century’s biggest explosion when 13 cubic kilometres of the earth’s crust was spewed into the air to settle on the plains which you pass. In Baguio, you link up with Tribal Adventures founder and former foreign correspondent Greg Hutchinson and together we’ll check out the central market with its vast array of fresh produce before seeing what it can deliver at Hill Station restaurant on your first evening. Accommodation is in a central Baguio hotel, just a short stroll to Burnham Park: There you can try the massage!

In his Land Rover, on Day 2 Greg drives us along the Halsema Highway to the second hill station, Sagada, stopping for morning tea, lunch and a panoramic view or three.  Sagada in Mountain Province is our base for day explorations by 4×4 and on foot: Accommodation is in a private cabin, and the piece de la resistance is a dinner prepared by a Michellin-rated chef Philippe –Aklay is his native name–using a variety of local ingredients.

On Day 3 we stretch our legs hiking out of Sagada to observe the lives of the Kankanay people: We see the Dapay, a physical semi-circle of stones and the centre of local government; we walk through rock-clad rice terraces, past fast-flowing streams, to a waterfall: Pack your swimmers for a refreshing swim!

On Day 4 we drive to Whang-Od, reputedly the oldest traditional tattooist in the world. A petite and pretty woman, this centenarian hails from a tribe in mountainous Kalinga province renowned for taking heads, but now best known for dispensing tattoos to tourists. Yes, you can join the cue for a souvenir, but we’ll also take you deeper, hiking further into the picturesque hills and valleys beyond Buscalan village, through other ancient villages with their characteristic pyramid-shaped rice huts, a hot spring, fast rushing streams, magestic waterfalls. En route we have been known to be invited into rice huts. Two decades ago an old man, plied with strong native Robusta coffee, waxed lyrical about his headhunting exploits. Alas the headhunters are gone but their descendants have entertaining tales to tell. Here and elsewhere in the Cordillera–the mountains famous for the UNESCO World Heritage listed Ancient Banaue Rice Terraces–we’ll get to the soul of a vibrant and unique indigenous culture.

On Day 5, we wander around Sagada, visiting Echo Valley where there are hanging coffins–the traditional form of burial of the native Sagadans. We can, with your concurrence, explore the Big Cave–a limestone cave with sensual formations, hike to Kiltepan with its panoramic view. On the list is also visiting weavers and potters–and yes you can try your hand at pottery! That evening is the feast a la Aklay.

On Day 6, we drive out on a little-used but extremely picturesque road through Bessang Pass, a last stand of the Japanese in World War II. We finish up at the coast, on a beach with a popular surf break. Take a dip or get on a surf board. We’ll arrange it. That night we will have a farewell dinner.

On Day 7, after a morning on the beach or at the hotel pool your mountain guide will bid farewell: You’ll take the coastal highway to the Expressway in your comfy van and you should be back in Manila, punctuated by a break for dinner at Clark or Angeles, late evening.

Level of Difficulty: 2/5

Age: 2 +