Concerning the departure for
Hanoi and the motorcycling required
to reach Hanoi via the other
side of the Da River Valley
50km south of border with
China, Lai Chau Province
It has been mentioned so far
in this narrative that our man from Normandy suffers from what is known as
Asperger's Syndrome, and as such he expends his attention on one thing at the
sufferance of others. Having found the map and having reached Dien Bien Phu,
on the intrepid traveler's agenda now is the enjoyment of the ride back to
Hanoi. His intensity is now focused on the art of motorcycling along the
well-engineered roads of northern Vietnam. D'Aqs, who is now content that the
business has been now taken care of, follows Hellmantle a few car-lengths
behind somehow changed by the events of the last few days. But for Hellmantle,
encountering the hummingbird against all odds of rationality or explanation, it
is an event that is a turning point in his life.
After his visit to the field
of battle where his grandfather had died long ago, the philosophy-trained
Hellmantle became philosophical as he wheeled back to the main highway that ran
alongside the Da River Valley. The long, lazy branches of the trees looked like
weeping willows hanging sloppily over the river and the road. Always alone in
his thoughts, Hellmantle hadn't expected Vietnam to have so much charm. The
road was paved and the mountains dominated the landscape with no rice fields to
be seen. It is the other Vietnam, the country in the mountains in the
north far from cities and civilization that so few had ever seen. The wind
elbowed Hellmantle to the north when he reached the swift current of the blue
water that whipped past in the deep valley.
Finding an old French-built
hotel in the town of Lai Chau, Hellmantle and D'Aqs stopped and passed
the flask around, pondering the next two days of the journey back. Following
his rule that he never took the same route back to where he began, only if the
roads were smooth on the other side of the Da River running due
southeast they had a chance of making it back in time for their flight home on
Sunday. They were faced with three days' worth of riding to do in only two
days. It was already Friday. He didn't discuss it with D'Aqs since he trusted
his judgment when it came to all things riding.
D'Aqs handed back the flask
of Jamieson's to Hellmantle.
"Not sure how the booze is
working when riding. I think I prefer my non-liquid treats. You?"
"No, not such a goodie I'm
afraid." D'Aqs replied.
"Really don't mix, do they?
I wanted to know if I could do some swigging and ride my motorcycle at the same
time and ride well, but I see now that it's not such a good combo." He took the
last of the whiskey from the flask.
"The Jamieson's is making me
a bit sloppy with my steering."
"Yes, I know what you mean."
There was a short man walking towards them on the road by the bridge where they
had stopped. The sort man didn't have a bag or anything in his hands. Like most
Vietnamese men he was wearing communist-issue blue trousers and blue shirt with
a communist cap. As he approached them, Hellmantle stepped towards him.
"Excuse me sir," he said to
the man in the communist cap. He held up his hand and gave the man an easy
smile, knowing that the man didn't speak English. "Would you like a bottle of
Irish Whiskey?" The words didn't register but his eyes took a liking to the
tall foreigner with turquoise eyes before him.
"We give you this,"
Hellmantle motioning with his hands and smiling. He handed him the large bottle
of half-full Jamieson's. The Vietnamese man, with very ruddy cheeks, looked at
Hellmantle and D'Aqs suspiciously for a moment, so Hellmantle removed the cork
and took a drink, groaning at the kick it gave him.
"Firewater," he said,
smiling at the man and making a face. Then he gave it to D'Aqs who also took a
last drink. Then D'Aqs handed the bottle to the man. The young man grinned,
knowing it was being offered to him as a gift. Accepting the bottle, he sniffed
it and then hugged the bottle as if it were a long lost friend. He took a drink
and squishes up his face like he had just tasted strong medicine. That was the
cue for Hellmantle to start his engine. They both waved at the man as he sipped
again from the bottle, and then walked away with the bottle under his arm.
"As the code of chivalry
states: ‘Thou shalt be
generous and give largess to everyone."
When Hellmantle puts on his
gloves he realized he still had the cork in his hand. They both watched the man
in blue stop after twenty yards and take another drink from the bottle, but he
was too far away now.
"With no cork the poor
bugger will need to drink the whole bottle in one go!" said Hellmantle. He
found this quite funny. With the severe sun, the height above sea level and the
booze, Hellmantle, feeling the effects of the betel nuts, was tipsy. His
enthusiasm was palpable when he gunned it forward. They would risk it and take
the long way back.
Going almost due north
towards the border of China, they rode along a very good stretch of old
French-built roadway that allowed maximum utility of riding time with minimal
maintenance, carved through the terrain like butter. Without hardly any cars or
trucks, the roads were well cut through the mountains and along the higher
parts of the river valley. They reached the tip of the Da River Valley, close
to the border with China, and then turned due east back to Hanoi. For D'Aqs,
the roads were easy compared the roads like the Halseema Mountain Trail
so he enjoyed the ride back to home base. But he couldn't help but watch his
cousin before him, noticing the zeal he employed on his Russian-made motorbike
riding east towards the Gulf of Tonkin.
Images flashed at him like
they had come from the recesses of an unidentifiable jungle on a map. Palm
leaves the size of human beings mingled with the foliage of recent images of
the trench and the artillery that surrounded the battlefield. Hellmantle felt
the pride of having motorcycled to the scene of the most famous Legionnaire
battle site in Indochina history, and it enriched the riding experience on the
return to Hanoi. Knowing he had found the prison where the Great Dane had
hidden the map filled Hellmantle with a special spark because it was from his
grandfather's own hand that had buried the map at the foot of the oak tree.
Now, traversing east across the Da - Red River canyon so far north and
so close to the border with China, the return route was a gift from God; a
present saying thank you and well done for retrieving this hidden
piece of the Christian puzzle. The way Hellmantle saw it; it was only now that
the hidden treasure had finally been put in play and destiny brought closer to
"We have found what we came
for in this far-off land, and now it is a question of conquering the remaining
way back to Hanoi returning servants of God." It was both an expression
of his mirth and a prayer to God these words spoken by the man from Normandy.
As far as Hellmantle was
concerned, the beautiful riding he was doing was God's reward to him for the
effort he had given to the prophecies he had read. He rode today in celebration
for following his own beliefs and a celebration of his own motorcycling
prowess. At times, when the dialogue in his mind was quiet, he savored the view
along the eastern flank along the river valley and the green blur of foliage
beside the water and eddies. At a constant speed of eighty, he straightened his
arms and enjoyed every second of the ride. He caught a smell of dried leaves in
the breeze that blew from beside the road. During these moments he knew that he
was using his gift. Unable to share his thoughts, he thoought to himself that
perhaps this - right at this moment - was the embodiment of the grace of God.
"Movement done with
confidence," he said. "Is it not true that what brings us to this part of the
world is a holy quest to verify an inheritance that shares a history with the
grace of God? Finding Dien Bien Phu has called forth those talents that
for the most part go unused during normal existence. Therefore this feeling right
now must have significance."
Always the philosopher,
Hellmantle pondered this question and talked to himself while riding. "The
warrior poet is he who seeks the joy in moments of the poetic divine. On
my motorbike I seek the beauty of the moment riding. It is only while riding my
motorcycle on a quest that my soul stirs with such deep reverence for the
divine in man. It is only in this way can a man find his true calling; his true
worth; the originality within his own person and his his own way of living
life! After all, what is the use of studying philosophy if you don't find that
thing that feeds the vitality of life?"
It was true that since his
graduation Hellmantle had sought to learn his own philosophy of life by
adopting philosophies of the greatest minds in history and applying their philosophies
to his own life. So great was his study of applying philosophies of great minds
to his own life that he had devised criteria for those wishing to do the same.
Mulling this notion, he verbalized his thoughts:
"To become a philosophy
tester like me, one must have the following requirements:
q Abstract thinker
q Cartography skills
q Thirst for learning
q Knowledge of history,
philosophy, religion and geography
q Willing to travel
q Mountain biking skills
q Pubbing abilities
q Willing to meet new people
from around the world
q Good health
q Ability to write
Freedom to commit full time
are encouraged to submit an argument, in any form or shape, outlining how they
are worthy of the position. All applicants must possess the raw material of
person to conduct a sincere study in its application to living their life.
Applicants are required to record all new heights of philosophical insights."
The warmth welled up in his person as the
winds cooled the sweat on his skin. He wanted to scream at the top of his
lungs, declaring his happiness. He didn't scream, but it was followed by the
following words: "I know what it is to become part of the flow up here in these
mountains in Vietnam!" When on a motorcycle, the flow took precedence over
punctualities, because the flow was more important to the health of his spirit
than the hassles of gravity. Again there was an outburst from Hellmantle's lips
out to the ethers:
"It is while I am in the flow that I
am surrounded by the ancient quiet of nature. I become one with my
environment and the world, regardless of where I'm riding. This bite of freedom
sustains me and gives me stamina, and helps me overcome the obstacles in my
path. But it is for God whom I serve. He alone sees it. He alone is my
love, my savior and my partner in this quest."
Hellmantle, unafraid of what
he knew, experienced that which could not be quantified, which warmed his soul
between sounds of the hourglass in the orange hue of a setting sky. "When one
is riding like this, there is no arrival. The now is the only
splash of time man can own! Biking is more akin to an inner harmony of the soul
manifested in the physical realm. Mine is a biking beef!"
There hadn't been any
traffic for hours so he was startled when D'Aqs passed him on the outside.
D'Aqs could see a grin at the corners of Hellmantle's mouth. After studying the
map that morning D'Aqs thought it would be a good job if they could get from Lai
Chai to Sapa in a day, but they had just passed both Sapa and
Lao Chai already. The roads could not be better. Never before had D'Aqs
imagined riding a motorcycle to produce such a divine emotion within his heart.
The sheer scope of the
terrain at hand, and the number of kilometers they had traveled from Lai
Chai to Yen Bai amazed even Hellmantle. He sped up to overtake
Finally, when the sun was
setting over the mountains behind them, Hellmantle stopped when he found an
open guesthouse in Yen Bai. It was only then that he felt his backache
and a painful clutch-hand claw after nearly fourteen hours of riding.
Soon D'Aqs approached and parked his motorcycle beside Hellmantle's.
"How many men have ever done
that before - ridden from Lai Chou all the way to Yen Bai?"
"Not many I'll bet," he
replied. Even to Hellmantle's own non-modest perceptions of his motorcycling
mettle, they had ridden about 300km.
"It's a worthy question that
only God knows the answer to."