Concerning Hellmantle of
Normandy in the land of the headhunters
D'Aqs enjoyed the pungent
smell wafting up from a freshly poured cup of coffee in front of him, but his
mind was busy. To honestly consider that Jesus survived the crucifixion had
left him tossing and turning all night. He had to admit to himself that he had
never considered it as a real possibility but now, having given it some
thought, he wanted to remain open-minded to see how much there was to this
In the meantime they ate a
plate of twelve cold fried eggs stacked on top of each other. This, and the
five cups of coffee he had consumed, appeared to have an effect on Hellmantle,
making him philosophical about his mission.
"When one has earned a
certain crystallization of knowledge and has attained an exceptional
degree of life experience, the only way this body of insight can be delivered
and appreciated is by being objective. Without an impartial delivery,
all spouted knowledge must necessarily be held suspect." D'Aqs listened and
sipped his coffee. He couldn't eat cold eggs like his cousin.
"When the young student of
history and philosophy is first making their foray into the realm of truth,"
Hellmantle continued, "subjectivity appeals to their sense of individuality,
but as years go by and he hears others spout their own version of history, the
young student realizes that only the unbiased voice can hold court. One must
present facts as only a regurgitator of what was and what is, without
partisan inclination. Otherwise one is rendered a simple propagandist. At times
there's an irony at play so that the facts are presented objectively yet the
recipient is in a state of disbelief. This is why knowledge experts feel the
thrill of study: to shock the ignorant and unsuspecting. It enables
them, these impartial deliverers, to feel a power that makes all their
efforts worthwhile. For the amount of time they have expended harvesting the
knowledge of the past, this opportunity to shock and thrill the listener makes
the endless solo effort of learning worthwhile."
Some locals were beginning
to enter the café but Hellmantle kept eating from the plate of eggs, and spoke
"So a personal journey is a
selfish pursuit unless it can be shared, but too often what one acquires
through study is only an exercise in solipsism until it can be communicated to
the outside world. When one is so rich in knowledge, one has a hidden
responsibility to present it to those too occupied with their endeavors to put
in the requisite effort. The key is to present without personal proclivity. One
must not taint their presentation in order for it to be listened to and taken
to heart. To learn the art of objectivity is not easy but it is
necessary for all communication."
knew full well what he was referring to. He was about to tell his cousin that
he had presented his knowledge objectively last night and that it did shock,
but Hellmantle was too absorbed in his eggs and coffee.
It was still overcast but
the view in the morning light was stunning. The ruggedness of the rocky trail
prohibited tourists from reaching these heights and enjoy the glory of the
Cordilleras, a unique terrain that had been left to nature, free from the
exploitation of modernity. It hadn't changed since the time the American
missionaries first trekked through the mountains a hundred years before.
After letting the engines
warm up for a minute, Hellmantle hit the Halseema Mountain Trail for
Sagada thinking it was easily reachable in the course of a day's riding, and
half expecting the road to regain its paved sheen. He worked through his aches
and pains of yesterdays long ride, particularly his shin, and then stopped for
D'Aqs at a sign that read:
HIGHEST POINT IN THE
2225 METERS ABOVE SEA LEVEL
"See? I told you," he said
to D'Aqs when he caught up. Just as he had said this he took off down the road
again. He vacilatated between the beauty of the view and the demands of the
immediate terrain but it didn't take him long to find his groove in the
mountains that gave his heart free range.
Passing alongside an
ice-blue reservoir, it was plain to see how high up they were, as if scratching
at the rooftop of the world. But despite the surrounding beauty, the Halseema
Mountain Trail was still a surface of stone worn away to rock blunted by
time and wear. Loose rocks on solid stone with no sand or mud cutting along the
mountain slopes was what Hellmantle traversed on his knobby tires, curving
around sharp corners hugging a continual precipice. Small waterfalls fell
overhead onto the road that created washouts, which caused the most
sliding on his bike. Knobby tires had little traction on the wet stone, one of
the most challenging of all types of terrain for a motorcyclist. But it was
freedom he felt stirring within his breast that trumped his attention. He was
on the frontier where the word "civilization" was some obscure and misunderstood
term. The view became so breathtaking he almost hit one of the few oncoming
D'Aqs, who was behind
Hellmantle, passed him and then cut him off. He motioned to pull over so they
was on my side of the road!" replied Hellmantle.
that's how it is here. There is no sanity on the roads. Be careful cousin. Jeeze!"
D'Aqs drank out his water bottle while Hellmantle lit a smoke. The sudden
bottleneck with the Jeepney had shaken him up.
"I have never been pushed
onto the outer boundary of a road that falls off a precipice as I just was," he
said to emphasize how unusual it was for him to have a close brush with death.
Back on their motorcycles
Hellmantle took the lead, cross breezes blowing his hair sideways, his helmet
dangling below his arm from the strap of his knapsack. They passed a
spectacular ridge where the mountainside changed from the east to west that
gave Hellmantle of Normandy such delight that he began talking to himself while
"The degree of contentment
in man is dependent on the perspective he holds in relation to his present
situation. Man has the capability to endure unspeakable hardships in the face
of adversity if armed with a perspective that things could be worse. But man is
also burdened with the capability to turn heaven into hell by adopting a
foolhardy perspective that things should be better when they are grand.
It is the key to mental health and the secret to enjoying some degree of
happiness regardless of circumstance!"
His pace grueling and his
arms and legs aching, he pulled over when he found a small hut by the side of
the road at the end of a very long stretch of challenging rocks in one of the
nameless villages along the trail. Overlooking the Cordillera Mountain Range,
he gazed at the tops of the mountains protruding upwards to the blue sky above
from the bellies of the clouds.
"Tea," he said to the man
under a wooden plank that acted as a roof. The man nodded and served him piping
hot sugary tea with thick cream. It was so thick that it was like a food. Then
D'Aqs caught up.
"Did you see how the road
went from one side of the ridge to the other along that stretch?" he said, not
bothering to hide his boyish enthusiasm. "It was like a world balanced atop a
middle line elevated a thousand feet above anything on either side of you."
"Yeah, it was good."
"You know what it was? That
ledge just after the highest point was thrilling!" Flush on the cheek,
cheekbones defined, root-beer-colored hair disheveled, D'Aqs looked like a new
"That's the one. With
the clouds so low, it was surreal."
it shifted from one side of the range to the other with the clouds swirling
right on top of your head. That image will stick with me for a long time to
"I hear ya on that one Big
Teste. Yes, it was the kind of imagery that will reappear in dreams." He
nodded and sipped his sweet tea, which warmed his center. "It was a tremendous
morsel of motorcycle memory." D'Aqs was starting to understand his cousin's
strange world of motorcycling in far-off vistas looking for the thrill and the
A dozen hungry-looking
Philippinos sitting near the tables tried hard not to stare at them.
know about the mountain tribes around here?" asked Hellmantle. He bent his head
over the cup of tea to let the hot steam swirl into the back of his raw throat
in an attempt to moisten a persistent dry spot.
"No, I don't."
to the book, the three main tribes are the Ifugao, Bontoc and Kalinga.
These are the peoples who built the rice terraces about 2000 years ago.
They're warlike peoples who are known to stage ritual attacks on their
neighbors in the form of headhunting." He waited for a reaction.
D'Aqs unintentionally deadpan, an effort to keep his voice down.
"For the next hundred
kilometer stretch I'm afraid cousin. And some say there have been a few reports
that heads are still taken occasionally. It's indeed a novel hazard but alas!
We're in headhunting territory man!" D'Aqs tried to dismiss it as unimportant
trivia, but still it caused a stir in his gut. Another obstacle missionaries
had to overcome.
"Let's just make sure we
have enough gas to reach Sagada." He suddenly realized how much he was relying
on his motorcycle.
"It's a different animal up
here in the mountain valleys than down by the sea. It's real isolation with
walls of rock and with only one road to civilization, so keep sharp on
that iron horse on yours."
"Will do, Master
"You watch for natives
jumping on us ready with a sharp-edged knife." It was his playful tone that
gave rise to D'Aqs heart, which made him think of the words they had read in
Sayangon: Not in our heads but in our hearts lies the strength that carries
us unto great deeds.
"Since you're taking the
lead today as chief navigator, you should be wielding the big stick." His grin
a novel change from his dour demeanor.
"I always wield a big
stick!" The self-belief in his eyes comforted D'Aqs for the first time
rather than making him uneasy.
Hellmantle gunned it north
along the bumpy trail north for Sagada, with D'Aqs now laughing behind him as
he rode with hyperbole in front of him.