BY RICKY MONTECILLO
April 11, 2017
Chapel on a Hill
On our last trip to Luna, Apayao last February, we made a stop over in a junction from the Pudtol-Kabugao road. It was a Sunday and pastor Ed was leading their church service in their small chapel up the hill beside the road.
We still had some leftover toys to giveaway and we decided to distribute them to the children in the community. The Long Riders Motorcycle group usually bring toys for the poor children in the provinces. Nothing beats the sight of their big smiles when they receive the toys.
In my blog post last February entitled “The Long Riders’ Apayao Adventure” I wrote the story about a promise we made to the people of barangay Leneng, “At a road stop in a place called Leneng in Kabugao, we gave away some toys and goodies to the children. And at the hilltop where a small chapel stood, there was a Sunday service on-going. We somewhat disrupted the service with the gift giving and before we knew it, Sael told me to get my camera because Resty was already on stage with the microphone! He introduced us to the churchgoers, who we were and he explained that we usually give toys and goodies to the children we encounter on our trips.”
“And then he announced that we, The Long Riders, promise to conduct a Medical / Dental Mission there! The crowd applauded and cheered! One of the senior ladies approached Restie and proclaimed that we were their answered prayer! Apparently, they have been praying that someday some group would hold a medical mission for their congregation.
And so, with a promise, we plan to return on a Medical / Dental Mission.”
Kabugao Dental Mission
More than a month passed and there we were again. 10 adventure riders on a mission. Our erstwhile dentists Doc Von Evangelio and Doc Glenn Latorre volunteered their services for free. They were to perform teeth extraction procedures to almost 100 Lenneng people aged 3-100.
Teeth extraction is a relief to a lot of impoverished persons because in our country, while many politicians wallow in ill-gotten wealth, majority of Filipinos do not have access to any kind of dental care. Many of them live with toothaches and pulling them out relieves them of their pain.
On the day of the ride we met in the Km. 42 Petron gas station along the North Luzon Expressway. We were able to leave by 6:30 am for the 650 km journey to Kabugao. This distance is normal fare for The Long Riders.
Those who joined were Restie Renia, The Long Riders’ leader, Thiery Sbäiz or “Frenchy” who arrived a bit late cause he was caught speeding in the South Luzon Expressway, Randy who arrived on his BMW scrambler, Doc Von Evangelio, tandem Doc Glenn and Sael Requierme, Glenn Peñafiel, Mike Martinez, Tony Amor and Ricky Montecillo (me).
It was a hot summer day and the daytime ride was scorching. We encountered heavy traffic in Cordon, Isabela due to road repairs and not only did it push back our travel time, it made our ride more difficult.
We finally arrived in Kabugao around 8:30 pm after 14 hours on the road. We passed through a longer but more scenic route via Paracelis. The roads pass through mountain ranges with fantastic views. We caught the sunset and was able to capture a beautiful group picture.
Congregation Welcomes The Long Riders
When we arrived at the Chapel, the children and Pastor Ed Kagayongan greeted us and they served us with a much-needed meal. Pastor Ed is a small and unassuming person.
You wouldn’t know that he leads a flock of church goers from his appearance until you see him leading a prayer and blessing with his hand raised and eyes closed. Restie told me that he holds pastors in high regard because they are messengers of God. The people of Lenneng are humble people yet our experience with them in the next couple of days would touch us in a deep and special way. We were humbled by the humble.
Sheila, Nanay and Tatay
Sheila Bongui Dacumos, a charming lady we met on the road last time we rode in Kabugao, coordinated the whole time with Restie and she volunteered to be our guide while we were there. Much more, she graciously offered to provide our sleeping quarters for 2 nights.
Sheila who is married with 2 grown children lives with her elderly parents. Their house is simple and provincial but spacious enough to accommodate all 10 riders. Her Nanay and Sheila set up mattresses in their living room and bedrooms upstairs.
Can you believe that? Where on earth do you see such generous people who asked for nothing and welcomed 10 crazy big bikers to their home? Their hospitality is unbelievable.
Nanay cooked and prepared breakfast for us the morning after. She is a gracious lady. She even served us the home grown Apayao brew. They treated us as family and seemed to enjoy our presence even if we were noisy, nosy and rowdy like a bunch of college kids on spring break.
Some of us were even noisier while sleeping.
On the mission day, we set off early and set up 2 dental tables for our 2 Dentists. We also setup tables for the anti-biotics, the optical for the reading glasses and food distribution. We also gave away toys for the children.
This is only the second time The Long Riders conducted a dental mission and it is heartwarming to be of service to the less fortunate. Seeing their wretchedness you somehow feel their suffering and it eats up a part of you.
Mike Martinez who is a new comer, was energized, giving away food items and treating the wounds of some children. I saw in Mike’s eyes his sincerity, his compassion. He is an angel on the ground but a devil on the saddle.
Not many have the chance to own big expensive bikes and ride on long adventures. The thrill of riding long hours at crazy speeds pumps up our blood and adrenaline. You combine this thrill with helping out the poor and sharing your blessings and it adds meaning and grace to our adventures.
The mission was accomplished by mid day. The church prepared home cooked food for lunch and it was agreed that we will return for a short program they prepared for us as a token of their appreciation.
We still had time to kill so the group discussed whether to start drinking already by the nearby river or go check-out the Golongan water falls. Of course the choice was clear. We didn’t ride this far only to miss the chance to see the falls.
It is a short ride to the jump-off point and from there a 30-minute hike to the falls. Yeah right, 30 minutes if you were a monkey. It took double that time to trek to the falls.
Sheila said that nobody really goes there. In fact the trails are not yet established and what made matters worse is the area was badly hit by a recent typhoon. So there were a lot of fallen trees and washed up plants in the trail.
It was a difficult trek. The sun was also hot and it made it harder. We passed downhill through tall cogon grass, went further down through thick forest until we reached a small stream. I took the opportunity to cool off by wading in the water and it felt good. I was refreshed. The next phase was uphill and then as we got near the falls we had to go down the from the peak as we crawled on the dirt and clung to wooden vines.
After the steep descent, there it was, the Golongan water falls in all its splendor. You can see it from the top and it was a about a 100 foot drop. We had to go down through the steep edge all the way to the catch basin. There is something about trekking to waterfalls. It is usually a hard hike but in the end, once you see it, all your tiredness goes away. The sound of tons of water falling non-stop and its sight just makes you appreciate this wonder called nature.
I just had to take a dive and feel the water. It’s all natural and so awesome. I asked the guides if the water was deep and they said yes. I dove into to cold water like I used to as a young boy.
Randy, Tony and I swam to where the water drops and experience its power and beauty up close. I will never get tired to chasing waterfalls. Something Restie introduced to me when I first hooked-up with the Long Riders.
The trek back was harder because it had more uphill climbs and we were doubly tired. Step by step, inch by inch. We got there.
Isnegs Prepare a Celebration
We rode back to Sheila’s house to have dinner and prepare to attend the celebration in the Chapel. We ran a bit late cause we still had to rent a van. When we arrived in the chapel I got goosebumps. The Isnegs , as they are called, were gathered inside the chapel and they all greeted us by singing praises and applause as we walked to the front where they prepared special seats for us. The outpour of joy and thankfulness was so overpowering.
Men, women and a lot of children were gathered led by Pastor Ed and they prepared a program for us. To start the program, they prayed over us as they held their hands and closed their eyes.
We couldn’t really understand what they were saying because it was in isnag, their local dialect. But you could really feel their sincerity and gratefulness for our mission. They said that nobody has ever done this for them.
Christine, the lady emcee who helps out in the chapel said that indeed their prayer was about thanking us and God for the successful dental mission. They were grateful too for all the gifts and goodies they received.
They performed dance numbers, sang songs, demonstrated the native dance called tadô. It is a ritual dance depicting the courtship between a man and a woman. Some elder women also danced as did Pastor Ed who showed us the way. We were not spared from participating as we were all requested to dance with them.
It was such a moving simple celebration and the people kept on saying thank you, thank you.
As a gesture of appreciation for their hospitality, Mike Martinez and Glenn Peñafiel teamed up to raise some money which they gave as prices for those who performed.
One for the Road
The night did not end there. After the party, we went back to to Sheila’s home. By then, she and her parents were already asleep. But this did not stop us from drinking like good old men do. We drank gin with buco and also a big bottle of Red Label into the night. Sael did a good job sneaking out the left over food from dinner for our pulutan.
We had so much fun, talking mostly of our adventures. Thiery was especially in his elements, telling stories of his moto-exploits with Restie.
Waking up the following morning, we had Apayao Coffee and breakfast prepared by Nanay. She is so sweet and gracious. Just as all good things must end, we bid them goodbye as we geared up once more for our long ride home.
Long Way Round
From Kabugao, we took the long way round to Pagudpud, Laoag and down to Vigan and La Union till TPLEX, SCTEX AND NLEX.
Our trip took more than 19 hours on the road and we made it early enough to get a couple of hours sleep before reporting back to Monday morning work. Oddly, even if we were tired and lacked sleep, the entire experience was simply wonderful.
Once again, it was an adventure to remember.