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Chapter Eight 


 

In which the courageous Hellmantle of Normandy journeys north

into the Cordillera Mountain Range

Baguio City, Benguet Province

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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 with envy.

"Well, you know. A place to stay."

"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 mud.

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.

"Built?"

"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:

 
          BRIEF HISTORY OF ATOK-SAYANGON MISSION
            FR. ALBERT DE RHEUME                            1908-1912
            FR. LEON QUINTELIER                               1912-1916
            FR. SERAFIN DEVESSE                               1916
            FR. JOSEPH DESAMBER                             1916-1921
            FR. HONORE DAVID                                   1921-1924
            FR. MAURICIO DE BRABANDERE             1924-1934
            FR. GEORGE HANTSON                             1934-1935
            FR. JUAN PELSSERS                                   1935
            FR. ANDRES MARQUES                              1936-1937
            FR. JUAN DEKKER                                     1938
            FR. WILLIAM BRASSEUR                            1938-1945
            FR. VALERE VANDERDONCK                   1945-1946
            FR. ALBERTO BILLIET                                1946-1952
            FR. JOHN RIJPMA                                       1952-1962
            FR. LEO VANDE WINKLE                          1962-1963
            FR. JOHN RIJPMA                                       1963-1964
            FR. MAURICIO LIDWIND                           1964-1975
            FR. 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.

"Who 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 open-eyed wonder.

"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.

"He 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?"

"Yes. 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.

"Why was he here only one year?" asked D'Aqs, seeing what Hellmantle was getting at.

"He 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.

"Where was he from? The Netherlands?"

"Holland I think. He worked very hard during his stay. He baptized almost every baby born through the valley."

"Where was his posting after 1963, do you know?" Hellmantle took another step closer to the nun.

"It 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.

"Did it have a large red bell tower?" Hellmantle raised his right eyebrow. She laughed and said she didn't know.

"Would you know of a restaurant near by or a hotel?" D'Aqs was just about to rephrase his question when she answered.

"Rooms? Yes. Just down the street. They serve food and have rooms."

"It's not too far?" His shaky voice betrayed his shivering.

"Very 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.

"The 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 entered.

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.

  

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                             
          The Family of the Bible
FIRST PART
1.       Concerning the famous Hellmantle's position, character and way of life
2.       Concerning the ingenious man's visit with his uncle Jack Grosseteste
3.       Which relates to how Hellmantle is given his first adventure
4.       About what happened to our adventurer when he goes to the Philippines
5.       In which the story of our crusader's journey begins in earnest
6.       About Hellmantle's time in the city of sin on Christmas Eve
7.       About the brave Hellmantle's success on his adventure to Baguio City worthy of happy memory
 
SECOND PART
8.       In which the courageous Hellmantle of Normandy journeys north into the Cordillera Mountain Range
9.       About what happened to Hellmantle in the mission in the mountains and the crucifixion of Jesus
10.     Concerning Hellmantle of Normandy in the land of the headhunters
11.     About the required riding techniques to reach the destination of Sagada and the church organist
12.     In which the German artist is tracked to the Shamrock Café and dangers of the northeast of Luzon Island
13.     In which Catharine is tracked to the Shamrock Café and an eery coincidence of a reoccurring dream
14.     About Hellmantle reaching the rice terraces and finding a way to the northwest
15.     About what happened to our intrepid philosopher in the middle of the Sierra Madre Mountains
16.     In which a record is given about the brave Hellmantle through uncharted territory on his trusted dirt bike
17.     Which relates to Hellmantle of Normandy reaching the northern coast and the rubble of Aparri
18.     About the final day of the motorcycle journey and discussing the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel in Vigan
19.     About the sermon in Agoo Basilica and what they find at the church with the rouge bell tower
20.     Concerning the Dutch Padre and what he knows about the hidden map
21.     About the return to Manila and the coup that causes the Great Man from Normandy grief
 
THIRD PART
22.     Which brings Hellmantle of Normandy back to Hong Kong to re-evaluate the next step in his quest for truth
23.     In which their journey is related to Jack Grosseteste and a new task is set before the Man from Normandy
24.     Concerning the journey to northern Vietnam to track down the map hidden at a French prison
25.     About how Hellmantle and D'Aqs compare notes on their task at hand in Hanoi
26.     In which an account is given of the beginning of the journey of Hellmantle in Vietnam
27.     About how Hellmantle and his brave squire ride north to the place where the four rivers meet
28.     Concerning the French prison and what Hellmantle finds there
29.     Concerning the discovery of the bottle and what lies inside of it
30.     Concerning the journey to Dien Bien Phu in honor of their grandfather the Great Dane Hellmantle
31.     About what the motorcyclists see on the fields in Dien Bien Phu
32.     Concerning the motorcycling required to reach Hanoi via the other side of the Da River Valley
33.     Which tells of the final stage back to Hanoi and the discussion after their most beautiful ride
 
FOURTH PART
34.     Concerning the visit with the knowledgeable Jack Grosseteste and the sally to India
35.     Concerning the arrival and journey to Kashmir Valley
36.     In which the journey begins in earnest through the checkpoints to the foot of the Moghul Fort
37.     In which Srinagar is reached and how the houseboat was as it was hundred years ago
38.     In which Hellmantle reach their houseboat on the lake below the fort and beside the mosque
39.     In which Hellmantle sets out for the Tomb of Thome and his brother Joshua beside him
40.     Which relates to the agreeable history of the journey north to the monastery on horseback
41.     In which Hellmantle returns to Srinagar and finds the first translations of the black stones
42.     Which concerns the deciphering of the discovery at the monastery and the need to go to the Ganges River
43.     About Hellmantle of Normandy's meeting with the holy man after taking a dip in the Ganges River
44.     About Hellmantle's meeting at Jack Grossetests's place with D'Aqs and Catharine the artist from Sagada
 
o       Chronology of Historical Events
         
 
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