Asia Philippines

Kalinga Tattoo Gone Wrong

After I published my story about Getting Inked by Whang Od a couple of years ago, I’ve received numerous e-mails and private messages from people from around the world asking for more information about Buscalan and the famous tattoo artist, Apo Whang Od. I am glad that tattoo enthusiasts have found their way to Buscalan and have received their precious ink. But not all experiences are created equal. While some tattoos heal quickly, some get infected. For instance, it didn’t take long for my tattoo to dry up. But my husband’s took a longer time to heal. He also had fever for a couple of days and the swelling only subsided after about three days. Still, others have gotten it worse. Take for instance Elizabeth Nuckey, an avid traveller whose tattoo almost cost her her life.




Wait, before I continue, I just want you to know that this post is not meant to scare you. In fact, it is meant to remind you to be extra careful when getting your own tattoo.



So this is the story of Elizabeth who loves indigenous tattoos. Her first one was given to her by a 68-year old monk in Chiang Mai. She was intent on getting her second from Apo Whang Od last February. But she never expected the unfortunate situation she found herself in after her tattoo got infected.





“Feb 6, I arrived in Buscalan Village with my friend Haydn and our tour guide. Since we arrived a bit late, we had to wait till the next day, February 7, to get our tattoo. That morning, (we) got centipede tats on our foot. Mine was lower, his was a bit higher around the ankle… I was really excited. I just kept smiling. Whang Od is very cute and small. She’s always smiling and very nice… After our tats, we had to go down already because of the weather and the bus times to head back to Bontoc. ”


As Liz and her friend began the arduous trek down, it had began to rain. She thought nothing of it at first but felt something was wrong.

“I noticed it already when I was on my way down. It was throbbing because of the pressure. I am aware that you’re not supposed to get it dirty or wet but I had no choice because I was wearing slippers.”


Liz says she had to go barefoot. Unfortunately, her tattoo became vulnerable to the elements.

“So we walked down for the 2-3 hours. (We) hopped on a bus to Bontoc , then Baguio, then Pasay. When I arrived home (in) Biñan, Laguna, my foot was swelled up same as my friend but mine was a bit worse. I thought it would go down if I elevated my foot and rested. Made it worse.”


For several days, the tattoo remained swollen. She also had fever and bowel problems. Finally, after days of feeling very sick, she went to the Las Pinas Doctors Hospital emergency room at 4am.


“They told me I had cellulitis and that I needed antibiotics so I got admitted and around 7-8 pm everything just went wild my doctors were telling me that I’m in shock. (I had) sepsis, which was life threatening. My BP was 60/40. And they were just in a hurry to get me in the ICU. So after all the injections, steroids, et cetera—too many medicines to remember already—I was in the ICU for 2 days.





Then i just signed a waiver to get out of the ICU which the doctors really didn’t like but I thought I felt better already. Stayed in the hospital for 11 days that time. Got discharged because they thought the bacteria was gone and it would just dry up and fall off. Wrong! Ended back in the same hospital March 9. Hooked again on IV meds. Got a debriment 2 days after. Next day my foot was attached to a vacuum assisted closure machine to help build up lost tissue which lasted 9 days.





Then afterwards I got split thickness skin grafting. The donor site was supposed to be my tummy but later on, after one slice, they opted to get the skin from my thighs.





I got out of the hospital just yesterday and have to wear a cast for 2 weeks. Then back to the doctors for a check up (take of cast/ see if I can walk). I haven’t stopped my antibiotics yet sooo pretty much not good for my kidneys. But it’s ok. Worse is over now, I think.”




Meanwhile, Liz’s friend also had an infection and had to be confined as well. The doctors said it might have come from the thorn, the ink, or the rain as they were walking down the mountains.


Despite going through such a difficult, life-threatening experience, Liz remains positive.




“(I’m) doing better now. Just glad my foot never got amputated. Haha. Even though this happened,  I would still do it all over again in a heartbeat! My advice is don’t get a tat on your foot! Haha! It’s the most prone to get an infection. And if they plan to get one on the foot,  bring a plastic wrap and take antibiotics afterwards.”


And what of Whang Od and Buscalan?


“Have a good time! People from that village are very nice. Bring medical supplies or school supplies when going there. They will appreciate it. Food and candy would be fine as well.  Bought that for them, all the kids where so happy with the candy. Whang Od appreciates the food as well.”







*Many thanks to Liz who graciously shared her story with us. I deliberately did not post the photos of Liz’s infected foot here as they are too graphic. But if you’re a curious cat, you can visit her FB page here.


*Thanks to tattoo artist Kalaw (@LupangHinirang on FB)  for sharing the story on his FB page and The Hubby who relayed this story to me and made initial contact with Liz.


*All photos courtesy of Elizabeth Nuckey.


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  1. whoa! Ang intense! But I’m glad that she came out of her ordeal na positive pa din. 🙂

    1. PinayTraveller says:

      I know right?! She’s such an optimist! 🙂

  2. That’s one hellacious lady. Grace under pressure 😀

    Love the story, I had hankered for a Whang-od tattoo too….
    But I didn’t want to get inked, I would love to visit her part of the world though.


    1. PinayTraveller says:

      Yes, do visit! It’s quite a beautiful place and the people are really nice.:)

  3. Scary. Good thing it ended up well. If ever I decide to have a tattoo, I’ll go to Buscalan. Hope Whang Od will still be alive then :p

    1. PinayTraveller says:

      Hi Aleah. Have you seen the photos of her infected foot? Grabe, really scary! I hope you can go, even if you don’t get a tattoo. It’s a very interesting place.

  4. I’m glad she’s still smiling. Such an optimistic person. She even has good hopes for the people. I like her.

    1. PinayTraveller says:

      Yup! Me, too!

  5. Steve says:

    The moral of the story: if a tattoo, or a wound, or anything else feels wrong or infected, get it treated RIGHT AWAY… don’t wait for days.

    1. PinayTraveller says:

      I agree!

  6. Tats says:

    Our group had tattoos from Apo Whang Od. The healing period surely takes longer than usual but we NEVER had any problems with it. Took extra precautionary measures to make sure it won’t get infected. I hope everyone do the same whether they take it locally or in tattoo shops.

    1. PinayTraveller says:

      Thank you for that very sensible advice. People should really be more educated in tattoo after care.:)

  7. Got mine too as well but it was okay and I didn’t experienced any problem. Just make sure to be careful with infections and put petroleum jelly for faster recovery and healing. 🙂

    1. PinayTraveller says:

      Thank you for the advice, JB!

    2. Catherine says:

      You might not see this message or awnser but i hope u’ll see it anyway and could awnser my question or give me advies. I was wondering when you start applying the petrolium jelly (like for example right after u got your tattoo or like the next day,…?) and for how long should you apply it?
      Im thinking of getting tattooed by her this year if i get the chance to though and i just want to be sure that everything goes well. Im kinda worried eventhough i know its going to be a really nice experience so if you have more advies for taking care of the tattoo or about the trip or anything else i would be so glad to hear it!
      Im so jealouse you got your tattoo done by her and im sure it was a great experience.
      Anyways thank you!
      Ps: i want to appologize if my english is bad im not an english speaker. And i have to appologize for asking or writing so much im just excited 🙂

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  9. Tatiana Lopardo says:

    Hi! I was wondering if you have the information of the monk in Chiang Mai? I will be living there in a few months and would love to find him/hear your experience with him:) Thanks in advance!

    1. PinayTraveller says:

      Hi Tatiana! Unfortunately, we don’t have the information. I hope you’re able to locate him. Happy travels!

  10. Shanon Cloe says:

    Good day, I am a nursing student from the University of the Cordilleras in Baguio City Philippines and we are currently conducting a research about the people who have been tattooed by the traditional tattoo artist in the Philippines and since Apo Whang Od is the famous one I just want to seek help if you can be one of our respondent in our study, I will just ask some questions about your experience when having tattooed. I am hoping for your response. Thank you

  11. chimpoy says:

    1st of all ur guide will tell u hoe to care for it if u dont follow a simple guide then its ur the way i get a tattoo from apo whang-od on her 100th bday last february of 2017 and its worth it even it have a dangerous path the people are tattoo was fully healed for 2months in that two months time i really cared it i dont eat foods na malansa or even i dont make kamot to it and dont even think to put any lotion or petroleum just as is and make sure you dont go to beaches…basta lahat ng alam mong hindi ped kapag may open wounds ka wag mo ng gwin kahit mabilisan lng or saglit or paminsan wag na…im only one of thousands of people around the globe who get a tattoo from apo whang od the living legend and its good…???

    1. PinayTraveller says:

      Thank you for the helpful tips!

  12. John Spencer says:

    Results and reactions to tattooing is as varied as tattoo designs. Everyone reacts somewhat differently; however, when things go wrong it usually results in trauma.

    Your actions immediately after receiving your tattoo helped facilitate what happened, and the final results are not super surprising. The one thing I find heartening is your positive attitude.

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