Which relates to Hellmantle
of Normandy reaching
the northern coast and the
rubble of Aparri
Maharlika Highway, Cagayan
With time becoming short,
there were still no developments as to where the Dutch Padre could be.
Fatigue and pain fettered D'Aqs, and doubt shackled the concealed zeal he had
been using to his advantage. Hellmantle however, was even more ebullient about
the crusade and believed more fervently that their treasure was about to be
unveiled. For D'Aqs it was exhilarating to be around a man of such resonant
belief whose abandon was both a hazard and exaltation. Single-mindedness had
never been so explicitly shown to the missionary before. Something about it
bestirred him to action in the face of all practicality, aware that he would
never be the same after this trip.
They had followed the road
due north past the crossing point of the Cagayan River through a catena of
small towns until darkness and fatigue hit them in Tuguegarao, where they
stayed for the night. D'Aqs didn't move at all the entire night he was so
physically depleted. Early the next morning Hellmantle spearheaded the way to
Aparri on the northern tip of the Philippines, the location where the Japanese
attacked a few days after Pearl Harbor. Hellmantle found more churches but most
were dilapidated. The river levels were still deluging the road but they
managed a good downhill clip until they saw seagulls and felt the sea breeze on
their mugs. For Hellmantle, Aparri was a place he felt drawn to visit, like a
trophy to grab, the farthest outpost of Spanish settlement on the northern
island of Luzon that could house the church and the Dutch preacher. There were
more vestiges of Spanish habitation the farther north they traveled until they
D'Aqs was shocked at the
carnage he saw. Like Berlin and Tokyo after the war, the Allies had bombed
Aparri, but unlike Germany and Japan it had never been properly cleaned up.
There was no Marshall Plan to rebuild the carnage that lay scattered at the
mouth of the Babuyan Channel at the South China Sea. Instead the old part of
town was rubble with squatters living in the ruins. It was easy to see how the
area had once been beautiful where seagulls fed at the estuary and palm trees
swayed in the wind. What struck D'Aqs the most was not the rusted iron scarp of
blasted bridges or the mud-heaped wreckage, but rather the expressions on the
people's faces like the unmistakable hatred in the eyes of the children who
greeted them as they rode by. There were no friendly waves or smiles that had
peppered their tour so far. Instead hostile looks of blame. Rather than feeling
scared being stranded in the rain somewhere in the mountains after dark with no
place to sleep, the greater fear was his machine breaking down in Aparri. D'Aqs
felt like they were moving targets, as if someone might hop in their car and
follow them, cut them off and rob them. Hellmantle was particularly conspicuous
with his long blonde hair and beard. His helmet still dangled from the strap
under his arm.
Hellmantle found the shell
of the original church but it was a pile of stones and garbage. Having no
operational Catholic churches in Aparri, they agreed to go west along the
northern coast. As they left a boy on the side of the road spat at D'Aqs, the
gob of spit hitting him in the face, which caused him a momentary loss of
control of his motorcycle. Skidding, he almost wiped out on the pavement.
Hellmantle heard the skidding and stopped.
"A kid back there spat at
me! He got me right in the face!" Hellmantle couldn't see the child but didn't
itch to confront anyone in Aparri.
"Count yourself lucky. Bad
vibe here. So let's make like Wayne Gretzsky and get the puck outta here."
After wiping his face, but a bit slowly due to his broken ribs and hand
grievance, D'Aqs carried on and followed his cousin west towards Laoag City.
Riding out of Aparri by
backtracking to the bridge over the Cagayan River, it was D'Aqs who was haunted
by hostility. Children and adults glared at him as he passed as if he
was part of the army who cankered their town. However, thinking about it as he
rode west, he couldn't blame them for their bitterness. First the Spanish, then
the Japanese and then the Americans, Aparri ended up with a flattened city with
funds for reconstruction likely pocketed by local government officials. Left
with nothing after doing nothing to deserve it, the havoc of war had destroyed their
livelihood. Noteworthy since the Philippinos had been so friendly during their
West of Aparri moving
parallel with the sea, they covered mile after mile keeping their eyes looking
ahead, trying not to provoke eye-to-eye contact with anyone who might feel they
were trespassing on their land. Dennis Faustino's warning entered D'Aqs' mind.
Not wanting to tempt fate, he was relieved to cross the Abulung River where
they stopped at the first church along the northern coast. Down an empty road
through small roadside villages that kissed the South China Sea, they saw the
first functional Spanish church complete with bell tower in the town of
Pamplona. Emitting a rusty hue as if sun-soaked, the church appeared to be made
of burning brick, its two white-domed towers contrasting against the glow of
the brick. It had the fortunate effect of calming D'Aqs' nerves.
services here," said Hellmantle, squinting. "No Dutch Man-of-the-Cloth."
happy to be across the river."
was an anthill of hate. And to think I have to be back in the office in
forty-eight hours. We're about 800 kilometers from Manila"
roads are better now."
greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction
we are moving," said Hellmantle.
"Wasn't that in the Fortes
In Fide et Amore?" There was a wink in that left eye of Hellmantle's.
"We can hit Laog City
tonight, and then tomorrow Vigan, which is supposed to be cooler than Intramuros
in Old Manila. Remember old man, the capacity of a second effort marks the
difference between ordinary and extraordinary men. The mileage we had achieved
has left us in a good position to take on the entire west coast during our last
day of riding. We need to make it to Laoag today though. One must never count on
anything until it is done, n'est-ce pas? To quote an old Viking proverb:
Praise not the day until the evening has come; a
woman until she is burnt; a sword until it is tried; a maiden until she is
married; ice until it has been crossed; beer until it has been drank.
Back on the road fort-like
churches with enormous flying buttresses built with seashell to withstand the
strong ocean winds. Constructed with the sea in mind and weathered by typhoons
from the ocean, these Spanish wonders of architecture were pieces of art
despite their sacked façade. They had been plundered and their shells still
stood in testament to their sound architectural design. Doors hung off crooked
hinges below arches chipped from history left to the ravages of time.
When they arrived in the
city of Laoag, D'Aqs felt a mixture of sadness and relief. Relieved to have
reached a city where he was safe, he was equally sad that they had now left the
on-the-edge adventure of the Cagayan and Apayao provinces of the north where
tales of piracy and plunder and headhunting were still handed down in the big
cities like Manila.
They settled in for the
night but could hear a succession of loud explosions of firecrackers, both
forgetting that it was New Year's Eve. Dirty, windblown, tired and starving for
good food, the Merovingian cousins wolfed down dinner and a few beers and
called it an early night, something Hellmantle hadn't done on a New Year's Eve
since he was in his early teens.
Under the splash of
fireworks in the sky that night Hellmantle had a dream. He was climbing a
mountain but when he reached part way up he saw a massive turret-like fortress.
It was made of stone with ramparts built in Spanish colonial architecture but
he never reached it. He climbed almost to the top but he stood absorbed by the
quality its workmanship. The land was rugged and cold with snow around jagged
rock and waterfalls, becoming aware of all the nameless faces that had
contributed to its construction. He saw dozens of faces including the Fathers
Albert de Rheume and William Brasseur and Leo Vande Winkle. Their skin was dry
and cracked from the wind and sun and their robes frayed around the edges. They
each held a hammer and were walking past Hellmantle to highest tower at the
pinnacle, their hardened features showing the signs of hard work and
discipline. When they walked past him he took out his camera and tried to take
a photo but it was so steep that he couldn't focus his zoom lens. He could only
capture part of it. He had to lie on his back to capture only a glimpse of the
tower that reached up to the heavens, standing out like an antenna that reached
to the clouds. It was a fort that was totally safe with impregnable walls that
used vertical distance as its moat, and it struck him that it was also the quintessential
church since it was so close to God.
Hellmantle woke up before
his 5:00am wake-up call.
"Only the devil's disciples
sleep past sunrise," he said aloud in the darkness.