In which the courageous
Hellmantle of Normandy journeys north
into the Cordillera Mountain
Baguio City, Benguet Province
As we have seen in our first
record, we left the truth-seeking Hellmantle and his missionary cousin D'Aqs
Grosseteste slumbering in Baguio City, planning to take the old missionary
trail north to Sagada. For Hellmantle to live life was like riding a motorcycle
from one place in time to another place taking any route he wished, never
afraid to adhere to his sense of chivalry to find his woman in the far reaches
of Sagada. Many take the straight flat and fuel-efficient way straight to their
destination on the horizon traveling only six hours a day whereas some choose a
varied and meandering route, tropical and mountainous with valleys of hidden
treasures along the way. After all, the road on a motorcycle was for Hellmantle
a line of revelation. At all events the second part began like this:
Hopping on his motorcycle in
the morning without the restriction of a helmet gave Hellmantle a profound
sense of freedom, like an intoxicant flowing through his veins. He rubbed his
shin, the same bone that had been so fiercely kicked some days before, then
eased the throttle out, bolting away from D'Aqs. He felt the urge to take his
bike off road along the apron of the steep mountain range, similar in cut to
the Rocky Mountains. Despite its size the smooth grass surface from a distance
made them look friendly to the eye, his CR250 motorbike ideal to tackle the
terrain. It was difficult to mask his thrill of taking the trail, also known as
the Great Mountain Trail, a name given for its importance as a link to
the Eighth Wonder of the World. He regarded the other highway as antithetical
to the spirit of his motorcycle journey, thirsting instead for a challenge, not
an unadventurous point-and-shoot road. For D'Aqs the Halseema Mountain
Trail was the hallowed route of his professional brethren, a Holy
Pilgrimage where missionaries had once braved the elements and preached in
these distant lands.
With persistent drizzle and
rain gear on, the two cousins weaved through isolated mountain villages
peppered with small huts, the few Jeepnies they encountered tore down the road
with no regard for the dirt-bikers. Then they hit unpaved road: loose stones
covering a slippery surface of rock carved out of the mountainside. Believing
that most of the Halseema Mountain Trail was paved, they took the
first stretch like a hiccup along the way.
With D'Aqs following
timidly, his face showing alarm, Hellmantle bounced and slid from bump to rock
over water-filled potholes and streams that crossed the trail. The trail scared
D'Aqs but thrilled Hellmantle as they moved north towards Sagada into the
low-lying clouds, shin-deep puddles soon soaking legs and feet. Hours of
traversing the mountainsides, with his face showing determination and ease, it
grew colder the higher he climbed deeper into the interior. He was in his
element slaying gravity and overcoming rocks that tried to trip him with
precipitous drops that flanked both sides of the road where no guardrail
protected the careless motorist. Some moments Hellmantle literally caught his
breath looking down the ridges. Numerous times D'Aqs was forced to flirt with
the cliffside because of the grain of the trail, but not Hellmantle. Fear of
losing control of his high-revving dirt bike was not on the forefront of his
mind; concentration on the art of riding took center stage, extremism of
all sorts veiled under butterscotch-and-ripple hair.
Due to the slippery
conditions on the rocks causing them to slow their pace, it was soon clear they
wouldn't be able to reach Sagada. With clouds becoming thicker, D'Aqs feared
that they could be stranded on the trail after dark. Hellmantle pulled over to
the edge of the road falling away into an abyss of dark green. He had a smoke
and surveyed his unmatchable geography as he waited for D'Aqs.
"It's spectacular," he said
to his cousin when he arrived.
"We haven't passed one
vehicle in hours." D'Aqs studied his hands, red blisters forming, his feet
soaking wet while Hellmantle savored nature's beauty.
"I know we're close to Mount
Pulag. It's the highest point in the Philippines. I think we're over two
kilometers above sea level." Shacks on the slopes below vied for the last rays
of sun in an open-air theater dotted with caves.
"I cannot even count the
number of times I almost fell. This is not what I expected."
"Never is from my
experience. Let's stop in the next town and see if there's an inn."
"Inn?" D'Aqs faced
his fear, and tried to tighten his collar as he looked at Hellmantle's scarf
"Well, you know. A place to
"You mean someone's hut?"
D'Aqs couldn't suppress a shiver underneath his jacket.
"I thank God I brought my
waterproof army boots." He looked at D'Aqs footwear, soaked and covered with
With stronger winds, nightfall was only a half hour away.
Hellmantle led the way north along the rocky path, highlander tribes not hiding
their interest at the two Normans scaling their mountains, children sitting
under wooden roofs waving at the cousins riding the barren rock-strewn trail.
Inhospitable terrain was the cause of their isolation, and with the road so
difficult to ride, traffic was non-existent. Just as darkness fell they saw a
church spire poking up to heaven at a village. Warming his heart to see it,
Hellmantle turned down the dirt road where he parked his motorcycle. Made of
concrete and weathered from the elements, the church was closed, which
surprised him considering it was two days after Christmas. Walking to a little
office beside the church without waiting for D'Aqs, he entered a warm foyer
with handcrafted pine outlining several rooms. He heard footsteps upstairs and
a nun appeared on the stairs. She must have heard his motorcycle boots.
"Good evening," said the
nun, middle aged with a kind face. "How may I help?" She had the tranquil voice
nurtured by the Holy Spirit.
"Ah, we were wondering if
you could tell us when the church was built?" he asked, just as D'Aqs came in.
Her eyes were attentive from behind her thick eyeglasses. Hellmantle he saw her
take in his windblown hair, muddy boots, and his face covered in dirt.
"You see, we're looking for a Dutch
missionary who may have come through these parts some time after 1954." Hellmantle
removed his beret with a smile, encouraged her to say more about the church.
"Oh let me see." She looked up at a plaque on
the wall above the doorway. "Father
Albert de Rheume opened the parish in 1908 and was here until 1912," she said,
pointing at the wall and looking proud as pie at this fact. "Here's a list on
the wall." Stepping towards the oak desk at the entrance, he read the list
keeping his eye open for a Dutch missionary:
HISTORY OF ATOK-SAYANGON MISSION
ALBERT DE RHEUME 1908-1912
LEON QUINTELIER 1912-1916
SERAFIN DEVESSE 1916
JOSEPH DESAMBER 1916-1921
HONORE DAVID 1921-1924
MAURICIO DE BRABANDERE 1924-1934
GEORGE HANTSON 1934-1935
JUAN PELSSERS 1935
ANDRES MARQUES 1936-1937
JUAN DEKKER 1938
WILLIAM BRASSEUR 1938-1945
VALERE VANDERDONCK 1945-1946
ALBERTO BILLIET 1946-1952
JOHN RIJPMA 1952-1962
LEO VANDE WINKLE 1962-1963
JOHN RIJPMA 1963-1964
MAURICIO LIDWIND 1964-1975
JOSE WATERSHOOT 1975-
D'Aqs shook his head, amazed
at so many Europeans who had lived in such a remote place, so far away from the
turbulent wars of the twentieth century, right up to Father Watershoot.
is that?" Hellmantle asked, pointing to an enlarged black-and-white
photograph on the wall beside the list of names, which D'Aqs was reading with
"Father Vande Winkle
who was here in 1962 when I was a girl." She admired the image of the
missionary standing in is long white robe as if he were a savior from another
planet. With close-cropped sandy hair, spectacles, and weather-beaten boots
that could be seen peaking out from under his white robe, he held his posture
straight with his hands clasped behind his back, speaking. The villagers looked
at him with reverence.
was loved by the people," she said, looking deeply into Hellmantle's eyes.
"He's remembered for saving souls and for speaking Ibaloy dialect and
making songs, and teaching and caring for the sick after the war." Hellmantle
took a step closer to the portrait and noticed on the wall beside it a small
watercolor of a cross in a field with a scroll hanging from the right arm of
the cross. In the silence Hellmantle read it aloud:
You did not choose me,
I chose you.
"That was what he always
used to say to his flock," she said, wistful and slow. He stepped closer to the
nun as the rain became more robust.
"Only here for one year?"
He was one of the main reasons I became a nun." It looked like she might be in
her fifties, but it was difficult to tell with her ruddy mountain cheeks.
was he here only one year?" asked D'Aqs, seeing what Hellmantle was getting at.
filled in for Father Rijpma when he had to return to Europe for a personal
matter. So he was posted here for a year, then returned to the old church he
loved." He glanced at Hellmantle.
was he from? The Netherlands?"
I think. He worked very hard during his stay. He baptized almost every baby
born through the valley."
was his posting after 1963, do you know?" Hellmantle took another step closer
to the nun.
was on the west coast, I think," she answered, motioning to the northwest with
her hand. "He loved the church." A soft, dreamy look appeared in her eyes. Nothing
could be heard in the mountain village except for wind and splattering rain.
it have a large red bell tower?" Hellmantle raised his right eyebrow. She
laughed and said she didn't know.
you know of a restaurant near by or a hotel?" D'Aqs was just about to rephrase
his question when she answered.
Yes. Just down the street. They serve food and have rooms."
not too far?" His shaky voice betrayed his shivering.
close. I take you." Disappearing for a minute, she returned to the foyer
wearing a raincoat and carrying an umbrella, ready to show the wet
motorcyclists the way.
Outside, the pines and the
steep mountainsides made it feel like Switzerland.
"It's very windy here,"
D'Aqs said, when they were walking outside.
valley is very deep," she replied. "Sayangan is one of the oldest mountain
villages in the Cordillera Mountains." The rain aggressive, valley winds had
picked up, making it feel on the verge of freezing rain. The nun led the way
down a dirt path past a school and around a corner where they stopped at a café
on the main road. A mother and daughter behind the counter washing dishes and
preparing to close for the night stared at their muddy countenance when they
Just before the Good Sister
left, she handed D'Aqs an old booklet titled Fortes in Fide et Amore.
"There are some photos of
priestly life in Sayangan you may enjoy seeing," she said with a kind smile.