About what happened to our
adventurer when he goes to the Philippines
Manila, the Philippines,
Arriving in Manila was like
stepping into a sauna full of dust bunnies. Fighting mid-afternoon traffic
through exhaust-filled wisps of smoke didn't bother Hellmantle because he was
fully cocked for his quest, but D'Aqs suffered. Hundreds of Jeepnies
leftover from the war picked up people wherever they waved, never signaling.
Non-stop beeping of horns, potholes, squalor, rivers of mud and excrement,
stilted shacks falling down and odors pungent to make him gag.
After unpacking and
consulting his Manila map, he and D'Aqs took a taxi downtown to a motorcycle
rental shop near the US embassy. Security guards with guns poised, soldiers
half-leaning against the embassy's front wall, half-sitting in open lorries
spanning the block that kissed Manila Bay, it was a peculiar time in Manila.
The night before two bombings, one in a mall in the vicinity and the other an
American-owned oil company headquarters, but even this did not deter the
Walking past the military
chest out and conspicuous, Hellmantle heard the hum of a two-stroke engine,
like a beaver to the sound of flowing water. D'Aqs had ridden a motorcycle once
when he was young but Hellmantle thrived on two-wheels. Knowing precisely the
equipment required for their excursion, when he saw the red Honda CR250 plastic
fenders curved over the front wheel with motor-cross hyperbole, he reached for
the throttle to seize ownership.
"A man without a
motorcycle is a man in prison," he said matter-of-factly. From a cluster of
motorbikes shaded by palm trees a man handed Hellmantle the key, the extent of
the salesman's pitch. He could recognize a motorcycle enthusiast when he saw
one. As soon as Hellmantle felt the ripples of revs permeate through his wrists
up to his heart, his passion to explore surfaced with oomph.
tried to sit on a CR250 but the bike was too big and unwieldy. Pointing to the
smaller Honda XR125, the salesman handed the key to him.
one's better," he said. At first glance the bikes looked like they were in
sub-par condition but upon close scrutiny the chains were tight and oiled,
brakes crisp and clutch easy to clasp. Both engines purred. He knew the
salesman was on the side of the rider, not out to exploit a man with a peppery
bug for a bike.
To prepare for what lay
before them, Hellmantle bought motorcycling gloves and bungee cords for D'Aqs.
He had brought his compass, waterproof boots and eyewear but was forced to rent
a small helmet. Hellmantle shrugged, attaching it to the strap on his knapsack
preferring not to wear any headgear. With everything rented they rode away from
the shop to the oceanfront. D'Aqs heard hysterical laughter coming from
Hellmantle when riding side-by-side past the Yacht Club and palm trees that
lined the waterfront. Then, to calm the raring winds of his spirit that was in
high alert at the pilgrimage before them, Hellmantle yelled:
"Routine of the ordinary is
the bane of the philosopher! All that is mundane is that which the dynamic
innovator despises!" D'Aqs could not hear the words that his cousin said,
the outburst swallowed by the Manila Bay breeze, lost to all but God.
For D'Aqs to get his
bearings and some practice, they went on a tour around Manila, any adjustments
needing to be made better tweaked in the city before departing tomorrow.
Hellmantle only saw rot and decay that had pulled down this once pearl of the
orient. Old architectural gems and colonial arches fell slow as molasses in a
scrum of thousands of motorcycles in a noisy cloud of pollution, an infrastructure
underutilized by neglect and mismanagement. They had overlooked the ingenuity
and example left by the Spanish Visigoths, bringing the city to its knees.
Since Hellmantle had lived in the Philippines in the past, he knew something
about its culture and history, it governance of over 7100 islands a near
impossibility, a region where corruption was rife. He thought LeGazpsi, the
read-bearded founder of the Far East Spanish colony, built these architectural
masterpieces to stun the indigenous peoples when they left the country and came
to the city. Ornate buildings and intricate churches dotted the urban plot with
parks and trees lining streets spoke once of a utopia.
For dinner Hellmantle took
his cousin to Heckles and Jeckles, a biker bar where the Mad Dogs
Motorcycle Club hung out. Roused and thirsty sitting on bar stools, they
ordered a round of cold beers and talked strategy for finding the church with
the rouge bell tower.
"This is quite a place,"
said D'Aqs, eyeing some big bikers drinking beer and playing pool in their
leather vests showing their tattooed arms. Hellmantle nodded at a few of them.
"Better a full
cheeseburger than a plain hamburger, if you know what I'm getting at."
Hellmantle, when working in Manila for another magazine, had been asked by a
member of the motorcycle club to write a documentary about its initiation,
working with a filmmaker to record the ceremony. He had come to know some of the
members, many regarding him with suspicion. The music blared from the corners
of the car.
"I used to hang out here,"
he said, casually scanning the bar, face a number of shades darker from dirt
and dust and sweat. Two more bottles of beer arrived from the bartender who
pointed at the billiards table. A massive bald man nodded at Hellmantle, who in
turn raised his bottle and nodded.
"You know him?" D'Aqs
unaccustomed to this rough milieu. One of the prostitutes approached Hellmantle
and spoke to him in Tagalog, which he understood. Twenty pounds under weight
and also thirsty, she asked for a beer and Hellmantle, perhaps forgetting that
he had just received a free round the bald biker, ordered another round of San
Miguel beer. She left him to talk shop with a new customer.
"Do you remember Ncik Patton
from Lakefield?" Hellmantle was still distratced by the woman.
You mean the thick guy in the corner with all those motocross posters on his
that guy. A few years after he left he lost his arm off-roading somewhere in
Coburg where he lived." Hellmantle thought back twenty-five years.
saw Asselstine running a chairlift during my university years. Stain
looked the same."
when you put that dead fish in Kerber's bed? My word, that was funny! He didn't
notice until he climbed into bed."
his head slowly, "So much Tom Foolery those years." D'Aqs could see his eyes
recollecting like a Rolodex of exploits and mischief. He wondered if he thought
of the night they went out to play Space Invaders at the local pizza hangout
and Hellmantle was the only one not be caught, but then Hellmantle's brother
came into his mind.
thought you were the greatest after that dare."
He's probably living in Spain off his trust fund."
was a great nickname. Too bad he was only at Lakefield for one year. That guy
needed a brother." The words slipped out. They hovered there, tense. Until
there was a break of the billiards balls.
"Dane Hellmantle is why
we're here, is it not?"
"Yes. It is," said D'Aqs.
Hellmantle pulled out his map of Luzon Island, D'Aqs studying the layout with
"We should ride up the
middle through the Cordillera Mountains to Baguio City and Bontoc,
and then around to the east if we can get through the Sierra Madres. If
we can find a way across the mountains to the east, we ride north to Aparri
and then west along the northern shores to Laoag City and down back to Manila."
Voice calm, even and dispassionate, as if talking about what kind of cereal to
buy at the supermarket.
"It's a long slog," said
D'Aqs, to get it out in the open and on the table.
"I don't know if you as good
as me on two wheels, but since you're a Hellmantle, er, a Gross Testicle,
I'm guessing you're not too bad on a motorbike. You seemed pretty steady
"I think I can handle it,"
an assured tone.
"Let me never beat around
the bush. I have to say that I am among the best in the world when it comes to
motorcycling in foreign lands with maps and a compass." The directness and arid
objectivity of his volley had D'Aqs wondering if it were a joke.
"So you won't slow me down,
"I have lived here before
you know. And these roads are different than the roads you're used to. Debris
and those Jeepnies can be dangerous."
"It's an opportunity not to
"As long as you don't slow me
down then things should be groovy. I strongly dislike waiting for a fellow
rider. I don't particularly like going fast. Going too fast on two
wheels is like quaffing coffee. Better to savor the ride, like a good
cup of the java bean. But for this I can only take a week off work so we will
need to hustle."
"And you speak the native
"A small hit."
"May come in handy,
particularly in the north."
"If we head to Baguio City
then we can ride to the rice terraces, one of the Seven Wonders of the World,
or actually the Eighth Wonder of the World. We should try to ride
through it to the eastern highway if we can. Our only stop that isn't part of
our quest is in Sagada." He pulled out a cigarette and ordered another
round of San Miguel beer. D'Aqs located Sagada on the map.
I met a woman a few months ago from Germany who lives there as an artist. I
said I would visit her. The only problem is that she doesn't have a telephone
so she won't know I'm coming. She told me she could be reached at a place
called The Shamrock Café."
"It's good that it's on the
Now, our seeker of truth had
perhaps mistaken the beer for water. He drank bottle after bottle with alarming
rapidity that resulted in his voice growing bolder. It was this that attracted
the large biker from the billiards table over to the bar where the cousins sat.
"Hellmantle! You're back."
The biker was three hundred pounds with scars on one of his cheeks, like a
cascade of pink tissue. Not the prettiest face.
"I am though I am on a
mission, my brother."
"You're not my brother," he
replied. "I saw that film that you wrote. You said some rough things, man."
"Sometimes the truth must be
laid bare despite the hue of color," he said. The large biker didn't like
hearing that, and so motioned for another biker to come over, but Hellmantle
continued and spoke thus:
"Fear of convention and
normalcy is an ongoing impetus for drastic change. It is the cause for the
manifestation of extremism - extremism in the evolution of self. Don't
you see, old man, that this is in the deepest nature of the philosopher?
Evolution of self is that which motivates one to excel. A philosopher needs his
space, his visual piece, and his sounds of nature to feel a sense of
belonging to his environment. He needs his hue and his visual theatre
to flourish!" The last words gaining volume and enunciated with relish that
only offended the biker. His friend was big too and had more tattoos.
"I ain't got no fear, man!"
"Of course you don't my good
man," he replied, as if unaware of the danger brewing in front of him. "I am
from a Grail Family of particular note and bear a coveted bloodline. We
can trace our line back to the days of 925AD, when Rollo led the Danish Vikings
to the Siege of Paris! His army surrounded the city for a year until the French
king said ‘Enough! We'll give you a little piece of land and call it Northmandy.'
The Hellmantle coat-of-arms still hangs in Rollo's original castle in
Normandy!" D'Aqs stood up in fear of the situation since he was now implicated
with the last statement.
"Who cares?" said the biker,
pushing Hellmantle. But he regarded the shove as a pat on the back among
non-conformists and motorcycle brothers.
"You know sometimes I just
don't get it. When I look at the world, I cannot fathom why so many choose to
be ignorant of their past! It is only in our past that we can make sense of
where we are and where we're going. And indeed where we should go. It's
incredulous when I think of all the people who never ask themselves: where did
I come from? I believe it is the most fundamental question a man can ask. Where
did Abraham come from? Who was Joseph? What happened to the Ten Lost Tribes of
Israel? Where are they now? Who are they? Why isn't-" He didn't see it
coming because the fist appeared in a flash of bones and skin and knuckles.
To the biker's credit it was
only one punch, enough to shut him up. If they had not known Hellmantle before,
they would have thought him mad but they did know him and he had been the one
who used dubious words to describe some aspects of their initiation that did
not paint the Mad Dogs in a good light. When they saw the claret from
his nose the only other jab was a kick in the shin by the other biker. They both
needed to contribute. D'Aqs stood motionless with his cousin lying on the floor
by his feet.