About the required riding
techniques to reach the destination
of Sagada and the church organist
Halseema Mountain Trail,
on the trail after riding alongside a river in a deep valley and around a
corner, Hellmantle saw the beginning of the rice terraces. They were leveled
rice fields that bordered old stonewalls a few feet high. No one on the fields
with no sign of any agrarian activity, most were fallow. Looking down at the
small terraces surrounded by jags of open rock, he imagined how they once were
like a spider's web in a giant salad bowl.
He and D'Aqs forced themselves
along the outer edge of the trail so the times they encountered oncoming
Jeepneys they were in position to avoid a head-on crash. Hellmantle developed
his own technique by riding along the best available line of movement, like a
skier would choose a path through moguls. Where there was no path, he steered
to hit the outer edge of every pothole to careen off the indentation in
the rock flatbed and shoot out of it ready to turn again back the other way,
just as he had done while riding at the foothills of Mount Pinatubo. It was a
technique to avoid wear and tear of the bike but also a way of enjoying the
dips and grooves in the road. Motorcycling like this was a thrill sport like
skiing. And with the wet rock, it was as slippery and dangerous as it could be.
D'Aqs watched his cousin as
he trailed behind, how he never hit a pothole directly but rather hit its inner
lip. He watched as Hellmantle leaned into a dip and came shooting out of a
three-foot wide depression in line to carom off the side of the next big
pothole, flinging out of the turn almost in the air. He knew Hellmantle had
learned the technique after many thousands of miles of exploring in countries
with rough roads, but D'Aqs still thought it was a gift from God. D'Aqs tried
it and almost took a spill.
encountered the first road sign since the highest-point-in-the-Philippines sign
just outside of Sayangan. After so many hours riding without a sign, it was
reassuring to them. D'Aqs had started to wonder if they had missed a turn-off.
The lone road sign showed Sagada was within riding distance, but already
darkness was beginning to fall. As soon as the sun fell behind the western
ridge, they were passing through thick forest on either side of the road. In a
split second, the grayness turned to black. When that moment came, a wave a
panic struck D'Aqs' solar plexus because there were no other cars on the road
or any streetlights to speak of or any sign of civilization. And on top of
this, it was a new moon. It was as dark as octopus ink.
Hellmantle knew that one of
the best parts of the motorcyclist's day was conquering unknown mountainous
terrain in the dark. To see exactly how dark it was, Hellmantle turned off his
headlights for a few seconds as he rode. Above the hum of the engines, D'Aqs
could hear him laughing. His hysterics soon infected D'Aqs so he copied him.
Both stared directly into complete blackness for no reason other than for the
thrill. Hellmantle couldn't even see his hand in front of his face. They spent
over an hour riding through this sooty coal-black world, flipping their lights
on and off, without seeing a soul. Fear began to take hold on D'Aqs' newfound
sense of freedom, but Hellmantle was confident that there was a way forward and
that God would provide for their safe passage since their quest was a divine
endeavor. After another hour the sleepy town of Sagada emerged as a small strip
of guesthouses and cafés nestled between mountains.
In no time Hellmantle discovered there was no
vacancy because everything was booked for the Christmas holidays. But as he was
walking down the main street, he opened a gate to walk up a steep stairwell to
what he thought was a bed and breakfast, when a man spoke to him from the top
of the stairs.
"Good evening," he said,
thinking he was only being friendly, Hellmantle replied:
"Hope there're some rooms
available." Hellmantle approached him on the stairs under the light of the
house, slow as a limping shin.
"This is a private
residence," said the man. Hellmantle, with his most gracious demeanor,
apologized for the misunderstanding, and descended the sixty-step stairs, the
man following him to the road.
"Try the hospital," he said.
"As a last resort they take people in if they have the space."
"Good idea," said
Hellmantle, looking down the street. "The Knights Hospitallers providing
shelter in case a Christian pilgrim is in need during their way to Solomon's
Temple, still in action today."
"And when was this?"
"This would be under the
first king Baldwin the First. First king of Palestine after the success
of the First Crusade. The only good crusade."
"And when would that be?"
"1099," said D'Aqs, seeing
Hellmantle exhausted and therefore more inclined to go off on a fiery tangent.
"Though I believe the Knights
Hospitallers came into existence in 1065, after a large party of German
pilgrims were attacked by Arab bandits near Ramla."
The man, intrigued by this
bearded motorcyclist, said:
"I'm the organist at the
church," he said, pointing across the street. "There's a wedding in the church
in the morning. That's where I'm going now. Rehearsal." The Episcopalian church
under sprawling trees had a sign on the gate that read:
WELCOME TO THE SAGADA
Hellmantle thanked him for his kindness, and
then they tried their best to find a place, checking all the guesthouses and
the few hotels.
"Do you know much about the Knights
Hospitallers?" D'Aqs said he didn't, happy to hear Hellmantle's
autistic-fueled mouthpiece take possession of certain words that paint ideas
like pictures, and like Lego pieces building up in a corner of his brain,
finding it difficult to erase from his mind. "Have you heard aof our ancestor Red
Mantle? He was a king descended from Joseph of Arimathea's line. Our
ancestor King Red Mantle wore a red robe with a white cross on it, since he was
part of the Order of St. John of Hospitaller. The Knights Templar
wore the white mantle."
"So why red? As in blood?"
"That's what some say, but the legend says King
Red Mantle changed our surname because it symbolized Hell, that described the
state of affairs with Rome having so much power during this time when the
Merovingian line of kings ended with the murder of Dagobert the Third in
At the hospital at the edge of town they were
confronted with a woman who guarded the hospital like a sentry would a castle.
It looked empty but she told them to walk a mile down the road to check one
"Most unhelpful," said Hellmantle,
disappointed after conjuring the traditions of long history of helping those in
need when on a Holy Mission. But when they found The Shamrock Café, they
parked their motorcycles and sat under old wooden shutters with a view of
infinite blackness that felt like the edge of the universe.
Famished, they both made a
beeline for the massive plate of curry chicken, vegetables with boiled eggs all
topped off with the satisfying suds of San Miguel cerveza. They were
"Come to think of it, your
surname Grosseteste was also changed during the same zeitgeist." The
pause meaningful because Hellmantle knew for the first time his cousin's
interest was sincere."
what happened? Tell me!"
it this way, none of our ancestors at that point in history were happy about
the usurping of Dagobert the long-haired king, so your forefather Godfrey
change his name form Grosjean to Grosseteste in an obvious stick
it to Rome choice of words. "D'Aqs laughed hard, from the gut, very pleasing to
Hellmantle's ears. "I mean think about it! Godfrey said: we have big cajones
and we'll breed with the de Barr family and the Sinclairs and
keep on propagating!"
he changed our name to Big Testicle!"
It was the
firs time Hellmantle had heard a genuine laugh from D'Aqs since their boarding
school years, when he was just as mischievous as Hellmantle, how by default
they had both become ringleaders of their dormitory of twelve.
brownie points with the boys of that one!"
our name was Big John?"
an important family name within Grail lore by virtue of being the unknown true
descendants of Jesus' cousin John the Baptist!"
monsieur! Haven't you ever wondered why you had such a unique last
course, but...but I've never known why."
you never asked the question." They both looked out the window into the
Great Blackness. "Yes, you're seeing that there is a lot out there unknown in
pensive: "Yes, I agree."
"So then your direct
ancestor was Elizabeth, Mary's sister!"
sister-in-law of Joseph!"
what about your first name?"
means from Acquitaine."
but more precisely it means of the water."
"Amazing. You have become an
explorer in that darkness. A connoisseur as the French would say."
"Or a maestro as the
Spanish would say." he said weakly. Clearly uncomfortable by the compliment,
Hellmantle's reaction surprised him.
Sagada became even more
surreal when they saw other foreigners for the first time since they left
Manila. Two couples sat speaking French to a couple of Frenchmen. D'Aqs saw it
rattled Hellmantle's sensitivities, so to drown out their chatter he spoke
"What strikes me as ironic
is how some of these big travelers look so adventurous and worldly yet none of
them drive here themselves, and if they did, they certainly wouldn't have motorcycled
here along the Halseema Mountain Trail! To me they are all lightweights
- tourists - fooled by a hike or a small trek in the mountain forests
instead of being true explorers by experiencing the primacy of mountain
motorcycling where any miscue could cause permanent disability. Riding a
motorcycle is like shaking hands with your own mortality. There are no
seatbelts on a motorcycle! Earning the right to be in Sagada by utilizing the
two-wheeled balance is one toll these tourists haven't paid. These talcum
people don't deserve to be here - not like us. We risked our lives
to reach this peak. We haven't dropped in on an overnight flight!"
Darkness in his voice.
He approached the waitress
after the meal to inquire about the German artist he was looking for.
"Um, I'm looking for a girl
who told me that I could find her by coming here," Hellmantle said to the
manager behind the counter with an abacus. "She told me that she doesn't have a
telephone, seńora." The old woman had a severe face, hard from life but
it suddenly came to life with a soft smile when Hellmantle smiled at her with
"What's her name?" she
asked, causing Hellmantle to contort his face as if in pain trying to remember.
Then he opened his eyes as if he had remembered:
"Her name is...Michelle,"
he said. "Or Isabelle... or Anne... or Annabelle...or...Annalore...Gabrielle...Annabelle!
Some sort of elle. She's from Germany, has long yellow hair and a bit of
a ruddy hue on her cheeks I seem to recall. She's perhaps a little shorter than
you. She told me she hangs out here. No telephono. I believe she's a
painter of some kind. Una artista." Unsure but making sincere effort to
help, then the manager lit up like a firefly.
"Catharine, the artista?
Si! Una painter? Is it Catharine?" He remembered immediately hearing her
"Yes!" He slammed his
hand on the counter much harder than intended. "Catharine! That's it!"
"Some kind of ‘elle,'
eh?" D'Aqs said, jousting.
"But Catharine is
"No! She can't be!"
Hellmantle's disappointment was tangible.
"She is home for Christmas."
The woman watched as he let out a long sigh with sub-woofer hear, very
sympathetic, which caused her to think.
"Ah! Pero seńor,
Catharine comes back mańana."
"Well that is groovy!"
After eating enough,
Hellmantle decided their only option was to sleep at the hospital under the
unkind looks of the woman, but as they passed by the Episcopalian church the
man with the mansion was walking back from the wedding rehearsal. When he saw
Hellmantle in his worked-in leather motorcycle jacket on the road, he asked him
if they had found a room.
"Not yet. We are on our way
to slumber at the hospital."
"Why don't you stay at my
house? It's big enough. My name is Dennis Faustino." He put out his hand and
with a smile on his face, Hellmantle couldn't refuse.