By Pinky Concha Colmenares
One thousand two hundred kilometers will feel like a lifetime if you’re not comfortable and completely confident with your vehicle – and your companions.
In two reliable vehicles — the Isuzu mu-X and the Toyota Hiace SG powered by Petron Diesel Max — I had the pleasure of having the company of my family in a road trip that covered a 1,200-km route in a tourist-friendly pace that took five days with as many stops as the cheapest bus route from Manila to Pagudpud.
The Isuzu mu-X is as close to my heart as my own SUV, so there was no time wasted on getting familiar with the controls, starting with the push-button start-and-off button that instantly rouses – or puts to sleep – the 3.0-Liter engine which senses the key’s presence in the cabin.
And it was easy to immediately find the lever that adjusts the electronically-controlled driver’s seat to your comfortable driving distance.
I’ve driven the Isuzu mu-X through the 1,200-km BOSS Ironman in 2017 that you can say no introductions were needed. In seconds, I found the slots waiting for the cables to charge my phones – one at the front seat and another at the back of the center armrest. There’s another plug-in slot at the cargo area too, which was where our Thermos cooler box was powered.
Cabin comfort is the major concern in a long road trip and that was the premium factor that was offered by the Isuzu mu-X and the Toyota Hiace SG. The air-conditioning systems of both vehicles were outstanding. If not for the cool comfort of both cars, we would have to deal with smoldering tantrums from both the adults and my three grandchildren, ages 3 to 8.
Temperatures at our major stops in Vigan, Currimao, Burgos, Bangui and Pagudpud felt over 40-degrees Centigrade — my cheeks felt roasted every time I got out of the car! Even my handkerchief could not be kept damp long enough to finish a walking tour of Sitio Remedios in Currimao, at the Cape Bojejador Lighthouse in Burgos, and at the Bangui windmills.
In Pagudpud, where we had a very pleasant day at Hannah’s Eco Restaurant and at the picnic park, the sun was so hot, I was tempted to break an egg to see if it could be fried on the white sand of the lovely Blue Lagoon beach. But no temperature could take your mood away while you sit in a hut to view the beautiful serene water of the sea – once in a while broken by the sight of an adventurer gliding down a zipline from a hill to the beach front passing across the bay!
But it was the 3.0-liter engines of both vehicles that contributed to the nice-and-easy long drive. Even with a load of five adults and three children in the Toyota Hiace and four adults in the Isuzu mu-X –plus kilos of personal stuff and food and drinks that could feed an army – both vehicles could keep a comfortable not-too-fast pace. We could drive with confidence even with some over-taking maneuvers that needed the power of a very efficient diesel engine, and feel safe with the vehicles’ sure-footed stability.
During my turn to drive, I viewed the Toyota Hiace SG van from the rearview mirror to check if it was following the pace of a more spirited Isuzu mu-X with the new RZ4E Blue Power diesel engine engineered to deliver the same power and performance while consuming significantly less fuel. On day two, I didn’t need to check if the van was behind me. It was never more than a vehicle’s space away.
In my mind, I called that road trip “Cruising – Generations 2 & 3.” And unlike Cruising Generation 1, we never had a chance to get lost because we consulted two e-maps – one from the car navigation system and the other, from the driver’s phone on Waze. As if that was not enough, I had printed maps in both cars – and even a copy for each grandchild – just to show specifically where we were in the larger landscape of Luzon Island.
In the days of Cruising, Manila to Vigan was about 420 kilometers but that’s now been trimmed with the SCTEx and the TPLx. Travel time, though, is according to your pace. Having family along, especially young children, slows it down very much. You stop more often for nourishment and toilet breaks.
The roads to Pagudpud are well-paved and well-maintained, except for very few areas where construction work is being done to upgrade a bridge or a road shoulder. Taking a sedan will be comfortable but you won’t have enough space for the things you will bring and will likely purchase along the way.
Of course Vigan was the first stop — that’s where a part of my heart is hitched. Many times in the past, I would just find any reason to drive to Vigan, I made enough purchases to furnish my house and to give away.
That day last week, it was fate that we had just too many stops — for traffic, a heavy downpour, and toilet breaks — that we arrived in Vigan late afternoon. The temperature was not as suffocating and my children saw Vigan at the end of the day when it is a lovely picture of a 400-year-old cobblestoned neighborhood of light and shadows. It feels strange and sentimental to stand on a page of history.
But Vigan today sports a modern face. Just two streets from that scene, a huge dancing fountain display entertained the crowd who did not mind the rain that drizzled around them. Some sought shelter across the street, where well-known fast-food restaurants lined the streets leading to the heritage village.
We drove deeper into north Luzon on Day Two. Entering Ilocos Norte, we took a detour to visit Sitio Remedios in Currimao. Sitio Remedios is a heritage village by the West Philippine Sea, where about 10 old original houses from many towns in Ilocos have been reconstructed piece-by-piece in that idyllic place beside the sea.
Many years ago, I remember enjoying a truly magnificent sunset in that idyllic place, with the centuries-old houses forming a sentimental backdrop. The owner, a doctor, had simply fallen in love with heritage houses and had chosen to rebuild them there.
You can walk through that sitio or stay for the night. I googled the name, got a number and sent a message. Raymund, the manager, replied and set up our visit.
From heritage houses and sentimental feelings, we drove into an adventure in the La Paz Sand Dunes in Laoag City. (This is a different place from the Paoay Sand Dunes which has a sign along the highway on the way to Laoag.) Put your phones or navigation gadgets on Waze and you will find the place.
It’s an adventure that you should make time for (about two hours to enjoy the ride and the sand-boarding experience). You drive in, park your car, book a ride, and enjoy! It’s P2,500 for a 4×4 sand dunes ride, and the 4×4 open jeep can take four to five riders. The sand-boarding comes with the package, an experience that my 8-year-old grandchildren so enjoyed without fear of the four or five story drop from a hill.
If you are already in Laoag, do take the 80-kilometer drive to Pagudpud. The roads are clear and well-paved. My intention for that whole road trip (which I had been offering to the kids for many years) was to show them Patapat Bridge at the tip of Northern Luzon. The bridge that connects the tip of Ilocos Norte to Cagayan Valley region is presents a majestic view – 1.3 kilometer of concrete zigzagging the mountainside 31 meters from the sea below!
About 15 years ago, parking was prohibited and we could only take photos in between the flow of trucks and vans that traveled that highway. Today, there’s even a line on the spot where you stand to capture the zigzag bridge behind you!
Take that long drive with your family. Go North!