It was a morning on my last visit to the Philippines in April that I meet Michael over breakfast in Kabayan, he told me of a famous tattoo artist that at the age of 98 was still tattooing inside the Philippines in a remote village in the North called Kalinga.
It became a pilgrimage to get a tattoo by her, we got into a packed Jeepney and drove an hour to Bontoc, then boarded the roof of a bus. It's crazy how many people can fit inside and onto the roof of a bus here. A dog in a cage on the roof just close to me, my legs dangling off the side with rice terraces stretching for miles, following the route of the river. A sheer drop from the cliff under my feet.
After two hours we reached Bugnay, the road is damaged because of land slides so we jumped on the back of motor bike to get up the mountain, the wind in my face cooling from the heat from being ontop of the bus. Soon the road became so bad that even the motor bike could go no further so the three of us did the last part of the trek by foot. As we began the trek I started to feel the magic of the land, narrow paths with stone steps leading further and further up into the remote mountains, far away from civilisation. The climb up was hard, sweat poured from us, but the excitement of meeting Whang Od kept us going up and up and up.
It was time to meet Whang Od, her eyes smiled without her mouth moving, I was a little shy, in awe really to be there in front of the last traditional Kalinga tattoo artist.
Soon I was perched on a tiny wooden stool in front of her tiny body, her own skin decorated with the native tattoos she was about to put onto my back. My tattoo was the LingLing-O the symbol for fertility to hopefully bring me one day my own children. She placed an orange tree pine needle into the end of a wooden stick and placed a mixture of ash and water from the fire onto her fingers and then she began tapping it into my skin over and over again. The pain for me was drowned out by the euphoria of being there being tattooed by this special woman. I felt blood trickle down my back and I felt alive, more alive then I've ever felt in my life. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀