About Hellmantle reaching
the rice terraces
and finding a way to the
Hellmantle rode to a place
just out of town where they sold gas from reused pop bottles and asked for gas.
"Sorry, only regular," said
the gasman, plastic bottles filled with leaded gas on a hacked-up roadside
table beside him. Hellmantle didn't want to hear these words so he asked him
"You have unleaded please?"
"Regular only." The gasman
said the closest place to get unleaded gas was in Bontoc, or they could
wait until two for ther resupply.
"That's sixteen kilometers
away, which is about a twenty-minute ride," he said to D'Aqs.
With gas now an issue,
Hellmantle chose to ride on fumes towards Bontoc instead of waiting
until two in the afternoon for more and surely another cofffee with his Fair
Maiden. Apart from the fuel concern, all the moguling had taken its toll by
loosening a screw so that it had fallen out, leaving part of the chainguard
rubbing against both the chain and the tire's knobby treads. Chain loose from
all the first-and-second-gear climbing he had done so far, it had to be dealt
with before the chain buckled in the chassis. Choosing not to share his concern
for the chain buckling, due to a previous incident he had had while off-roading
along the northern border of Thailand and Burma, he removed one of his bungee
cords and hooked the metal prong through where the screw used to be, taking
full advantage of the tough plastic fibrerglass fering, and then hooked the
other end to the far side of the seat.
"It won't work," said D'Aqs,
after looking at this handy work. Hellmantle nodded, took out a piece of string
and threaded through and looped it around the frame below the seat, tying it
"If the string can hold the
chainguard from slipping down a centimeter, then it should be okay."
"But watch, when I sit on
it." Hellmantle's weiight flexed the back shock absorbers and weakened the
tension of the string. D'Aqs was close to suggest they get tools from town when
Hellmantle took hold of his water bottle, drank all its contents, tied the
string to his bungee with lots of tension, and then wedged the empty bottle
between the rear faring and the bungee cord.
"You know something," said
D'Aqs, hand to chin. "I think that might work." Genuine emotion of pride in
D'Aqs eyes. Perhaps it was his still flushed cheek from the Shamrock Café, but
he was so enthused about the contraption that he bent over to make sure it was
Wwhen D'Aqs pushed the empty bottle into place his hand slipped, cutting the
skin open on the palm of his hand against the folded end.
"Clutch hand. Bummer,"
said Hellmantle, trying to hold in his laughter. D'Aqs studied the cut closely
as Hellmantle erupted.
"Could you?" He motioned to
his knapsack, so Hellmantle retrieved his dopkit, the same one he had when they
shared a dorm twenty-five years ago, and placed the band-aid along the
inch-long cut as best he could.
"Right along the creae of
the hand. Might prove to be a bad cut in a few days. But not now!
Let us go to the rice terraces my cousin, fumes or not!"
With the rattling gone the
ride was a degree better for the man from Normandy, which was good because he
had entered the Eighth-Wonder-of-the-World territory. On the more
rider-friendly surface he and D'Aqs had good cruising as they climbed in second
gear towards Bontoc. Riding side-by-side with Hellmantle for long stretches,
D'Aqs again could see his mastery of the two-wheeled balance; trail biking like
a finely tuned instrument.
When approaching Bontoc
D'Aqs felt his engine overheating from lack of oil. He was aware it needed a
top up before but had forgotten about it. It had been pushed it out of mind due
to all the thoughts about Catharine. He feared for the health of his engine and
the damage done if he ran out of engine oil. Gas was one thing but oil was a
whole other ballgame. It was truly a hand-of-God moment when just as his engine
began to sputter he pulled into the Spring View Inn in Bontoc. When he
parked, just as he was about to turn off the engine it stopped on its own. The
engine had seized from lack of oil. He wouldn't have been able to ride another
hundred meters. He had reached civilization by the scrape of a claw but didn't
mention it to his cousin. He didn't want him worrying about a motorcycle mishap
as it would deter from his focus and cause ripples in his temperament.
After purchasing oil and
refueling with unleaded gas, he had to wait twenty minutes for the oil to seep
into the engine while Hellmantle tightened his chain and studied his
contraption with the chain guard. It didn't look pretty but it was firm and
holding and effective.
Full of fuel, they left for Banaue
with impatience and zeal but the road was tough, which caused D'Aqs a lot of
pain in his clutch hand. The closer they inched toward Banaue the more
bright-green rice terraces, with entire sides of mountains carved out to grow
rice. The rice terraces conformed to the grain of the valley creating a synergy
in an eye-catching natural geology. The more rice terraces Hellmantle saw, the
more he wanted to see. More than just fields to grow rice, they had been hewed
out of mountains and a marvel of human will to overcome isolation.
When they arrived fog hung
low concealing a full visual of the rice terraces. Entrapped in the middle of
the mountains, darkness fell quickly so Hellmantle decided to stay at a place
called Patina's Café. Just after dinner he and D'Aqs relaxed with empty plates
and half-full beers in front of them, Hellmantle's map open.
"The highway here is the
best route I think," he said, pointing at the main paved highway running south
from Banaue that hooked up with a main highway going due north on the east side
of the Sierra Madre Mountains to Aparri.
"This main highway here that
runs north through the Cagayan Province is the one we want to take," said
D'Aqs, practical and logical.
"What about this road here?"
A thin line crossed the mountain range from Banaue that ended right in the
middle of the mountains.
"It's not for vehicles it
looks like. It's not a road. Probably for local people to work the rice
"It must go through!"
said Hellmantle. "Going around the mountains is time consuming and it is
antithetical to my motorcycling instincts!" D'Aqs feared another
Halseema Mountain Trail experience but worse. He saw them stranded in the
middle of nowhere with only one option to turn back. He liked the ease of
cruising to the bruising terrain of variation and incongruities.
highway is a safer call Hellmantle."
"There must be a way through
the mountains. Why would it just end like that? It's the map. Besides, it would
be pretty cool to get through there with all the rice terraces around.
Apparently they spread out for some 400 square kilometers mainly east of
Banaue." He looked outside at the fog. "There's only one way to find out."
Mischief on his face.
"No. No way."
"With our dirt bikes we
could endure a walking trail."
"We can't afford to be stuck
in the middle of nowhere," said D'Aqs. "I have to be back in Manila to catch my
flight on Monday morning. I'm not free to change my return date."
"My flight leaves Monday too
so I'm in the same boat, but I am still free." He took a long drink from
his San Miguel beer to emphasize his point. "This taste of freedom here in the
mountains of the Cordillera Mountain Range whets my appetite for more." D'Aqs
knew he wasn't able to make him see reason.
In the morning it was still
overcast so Hellmantle decided to hang out in the market in the middle of
Banaue still hopeful it would clear up. Instead it rained harder. Under a small
canopy of a stall in the market at the main intersection, Hellmantle opened his
map and pondered the small road again.
"The thing is D'Aqs, if we
take it we will be immersed right in the heart of the rice terraces. I know the
road is off the beaten track but I believe God is our copilot and will see us
through on our quest for the Dutch Padre." By chance a woman in the
market also sought respite from the rain under the canopy, so Hellmantle boldly
asked her about the road heading east.
"Not for car," she said.
"It goes through the rice
terraces, doesn't it?"
"Yes, but it is a trail for
oxen." She regarded him as a lost tourist, looking at him with compassion, as
if he were a lost puppy.
"It doesn't go through the
"No." She shook her head in
the negative. "It stops after a kilometer. No go for you."
"On my map the line stops in
the middle of the mountains before it reaches the main highway."
Hellmantle showed her but she couldn't readjust her perspective to see where
they were on the map. For sure cartography was not taught in schools he
Exasperated, he saw a woman
with folded tattooed arms chewing betel nut watching him from another stall.
Beginning to feel the nip in the air, Hellmantle walked over and bought a
package from the lady. D'Aqs was curious what betel nut was so Hellmantle took
a betel nut, wrapped it in a green leaf, sprinkled the white powder in the
middle like a taco, added the mystery element to the mix, and then wedged the
item between his cheek and gums.
"It will warm you up," said
Hellmantle, chewing the beet-red intoxicant. "It is an elixir for a
motorcyclist in these rugged parts, the added ingredient for explorers when
faced with adversity!" So D'Aqs followed his example but spit it out after a
The rain was pouring now and
the little hut in the market was not enough to keep them dry.
"I don't want to ride some
cushy highway the long way on a dirt bike," Hellmantle said. "I prefer
to explore the Eighth Wonder of the World on a small mud trail over a mountain
"I don't like cushy highways
either," replied D'Aqs, playing the hand of the squire but also looking at the
red cut on his hand he sustained on his way to Bontoc. "But it would guard
against trouble, such as hitting a dead-end in the mountains."
"Let's take the mountains.
The journey is the destination!" Hellmantle put on another layer and
then started his engine. In a sudden outburst Hellmantle and D'Aqs maneuvered
through the market, rode past an old church without a bell tower and crossed
the river to the walking trail. There was only mud and dirt surrounded by deep
green foliage but it was a welcome change. Immediately empowered by the more
traditional dirt-biking path that was ahead, he yelled back to D'Aqs:
"Our dirt bikes are designed
specifically for this type of off-road situation! Open up your throttle and
bounce off the bumps!"
After only a few miles, both
were covered in mud. As if attempting to make the best of a bad business,
Hellmantle threw himself into the riding, speeding around corners with the
certain knowledge that no Jeepney was going to come headlong into him.
Completely isolated from cars and noise, he sped forward and upwards past rice
terraces on either side of him with a newfound joy towards a destination that
seemed unattainable. The path gave him what all true trail bikers wanted: a
traffic-free trail unhampered by the nuisances of modern society weaving
through exotic landscapes.
For D'Aqs, after chewing
that little bit of betel nut, warmth flooded through his bloodstream making him
warm and more daring. Even so it was tough to keep up with his cousin. But it
was a totally new experience for him. For him nature had never bestowed so much
beauty in one area of the world. The hue of the vegetation and the absolute
peace he felt being immersed in the bosom of what God had created inspired him.
Fear absent, he was catapulted into a new realm of being. He began to
understand the reckless passion of his cousin for this type of adventure and
berated himself for being Doubting Thomas.
Around a corner and over a
waterfall flowing over the dirt path, Hellmantle passed rice terraces wholly
isolated and pristine. Green fields spread out down graded leveled slopes
towards a river where a line of small huts spread for a mile down to a valley
below. Judging by the hardiness of the few natives that gawked at him as he
rode by, the terraces were built by sweat and diligence. Terrace after terrace,
and mile after mile protected by the natural walls of rock, it was a world of
carved-out fields where man had tamed sides of mountains. These were the
rice terraces that the tourists didn't see; these were the real wonders,
he thought. He took another turn and before him was an almost perfectly stepped
slope of terraces in symmetrical harmony that stepped down to a forest where
red-roofed huts were clustered in the middle of a rice terrace surrounded by
palm trees. The rich red of the rooftops contrasted against the trees and the
light green of budding rice like green hair shimmering on water. Hellmantle was
"I am in a different
planet," he said to himself.
Hellmantle and D'Aqs rode
along the empty trail for hours through mud and inclines threatening success of
reaching the other side. For Hellmantle the muddier it became the more
fulfilling the experience. The motorcycling joy he experienced snowballed with
every mile. He was impelled to speak thus:
"Only those who do not fear
fear can ever understand the heights of enjoyments of a ride like this! A
fall and broken bones and brushes with your mortality are experienced as the thrill
of danger! The cold slap of mud on my face does not chill down my
spine; it enthuses my soul for more and fortifies that which we call self.
This is the affirmation of life and a corporeal reminder that I
am living life! An honest inclination is worth a thousand
Both cousins thought riding
through the Sierra Madre Mountains on a trail that was so small that it
disappeared on a map was perhaps one of those rare instances when you felt you
were achieving something significant, something more than finding a padre or a
lost map. You and God were the only witnesses to the coordination that was
required to navigate such terrain and moments of greatness that were brought
into being to save your life. It was a moment of flashing brilliance that went
with you to your grave.
Soon Hellmantle and D'Aqs
fought the dying sunlight and faced with the prospect of being stranded.
Hellmantle pulled over at a small shelter at the side of the road for a minute
to consult his map and wait for D'Aqs to catch up. He saw that he was now past
the point where the line on the map stopped. The only village around was a
place called Mayayao. Hellmantle also realized that he was almost 6000
feet above sea level.
By the time it was
completely dark in the thick of the Sierra Madre Mountains, they became
accustomed to riding in the dark as they ploughed through the silence of the
mountains soon riding right through the village without seeing it. It was only
a minute outside the village that D'Aqs realized they had passed through Mayayao.
Hellmantle was so carried away with his flow that he hadn't even noticed the
Returning to the village the
only light on was on top of what looked like the town hall. Hellmantle led the
way up the steps to learn that it was the police station of Mayayao. The
policeman said that there was a place for them to stay, pointing to an area of
darkness at the turn in the road beside a river. When they walked over and
knocked on the door, to their surprise a young woman answered and said that she
had rooms available for the night.