Dancing with the Hilux

Published December 31, 2021, 10:01 AM

by Pinky Concha-Colmenares

Toyota Hilux in the Visayas

In the roll-on-roll-off (RORO) ferries plying the islands, the hands of stoic-looking marshals direct all sorts of four-wheel vehicles — from compact sedans to ten-wheeler trucks — into measured parking slots. Even first-time travelers on the RORO can read the language of those hands, each driver maneuvering a motor vehicle into perfect position, in reverse gear.

As soon as the marshal flashes a thumbs-up, deck hands insert “stoppers” to keep the tires immobile. It is the signal for seasoned RORO travelers to quickly leave their vehicles before their doors will be kept closed by the body of the vehicle parked beside it. 

When disembarking, the language of the hands again puts order into the roll-off process. When I am at the driver’s seat, the marshal signals me to roll off first, perhaps a courtesy to female drivers.

Weeks ago on a road trip from Quezon City to Bacolod City and back, I drove the Toyota Hilux off the ferry at the Roxas Port in Mindoro at almost 3 a.m., eight hours after we left Caticlan Port in the Visayas. That ferry trip is only four hours but the huge waves made the boat crawl, roll and shudder.

The courtesy of driving out first allowed us to be first in line at the border control health and safety desk, so we breezed through the entry procedures. Carlos, my son, took the wheel from there to somewhere just before the winding roads of the Nautical Highway, where he felt too sleepy to continue driving.

I felt anxious because I had not driven at night in such a long time — and in a strange place with many tight turns, with huge container vans traversing the highway. 

It was vanity that added to my anxiety. I did not want the driver following me to see my brake lights go on so frequently. To many like me, frequent braking is a sign of not knowing your vehicle very well.

So, through the last darkness of the night, I remembered old driving habits — lift, gas, lift, gas, lift — seldom braking and clearing the tight turns uphill and downhill. Just like the old days. And the Hilux, with its precise steering, sure-footedness, and smooth automatic transmission, went along memory lane with me.

I hardly noticed day break. I was dancing with a dream partner — the big-bodied Toyota Hilux in blazing blue that looked and felt like a 4×4. Only a month ago, I had chosen to take that 2020 Hilux 2.4L G home.

The new Hilux was also a reliable assistant — its information dashboard is a product of deep thoughtfulness. There’s an option to show a digital speedometer (very helpful when you’re trying to rein in a powerful engine in the 60-80 kph speed zones); and a tire position indicator (helpful when doing reverse maneuver to park into a tight slot).

In the long drive across three islands, the spacious cabin was a big addition to comfort. We had packed the rear seats with many things that needed to stay dry and safe and within arm’s length. And the comfort of having a pickup truck is not worrying if you have brought too much because there’s a huge cargo bed there! In fact, I brought many things I have never brought along on a trip before, including many books and extra shoes.

On the road to my hometown, the Hilux had the commanding road presence that eased the anxiety of being in unfamiliar territory. Perhaps my eyes were selective, but there seemed to be more pickup trucks than sedans on the road, especially when we were traversing Panay Island, from Aklan, Capiz, to Iloilo province where we boarded the ferry to Bacolod City.

At first, I was uneasy about its color, but at the port, having a blazing blue pickup truck had its benefits. One, the man with the clip board, who is the most powerful person there, does not forget your number in the queue.

The man with the clipboard makes the list of the plate numbers for the next ferry, so people from the new SUVs parked somewhere outside the official lines, crowded around him, asking, badgering, demanding. In the many times I’ve traveled that way, that scene is most alive at the Dumangas Port where the two-hour ferry ride is popular transportation for people in Bacolod City and Iloilo City. In other ports, vehicles just line up and its drivers do not go out to talk to the man with the clipboard. Well, except me, who always insists on asking what part of the line we are in.

At the end of the trip, the Hilux’s efficient engine had only consumed one and a half tanks of Petron Turbo diesel (80 liters in a tank), plus many trips from the city to the farm outside of Bacolod City where I had spent many summers of youth.