Northern Luzon in a Navara

Eight Ilocos destinations to set your beast of a 4x4 loose

Crossing a stream in Adams

Crossing a stream in Adams

Photos by Tessa R. Salazar

Hey, city dwellers, read my pouty lips: If you drive your slick and shiny pickups solely in the city, you’re doing a great disservice to the vehicle.

It’s like you kept a wild animal caged in your living room just to make the poor thing a conversation piece during your ho-hum parties.

That’s cruel, inhumane, and just wrong. And your sin is multiplied by four if that beast had raw power on all four legs, and you’ve been holding it back.

So now you want to make amends, and give that pickup of yours the freedom it deserves.

But you—the city slicker who hasn’t driven offroad for more than a hundred meters in your entire life (and no, the unpaved parking lots don’t count)—are too afraid to release it into the wild lest you damage some pretty pricey merchandise.

So, how do you give the pick-up what it needs while keeping your hard-earned investment in one piece?

Do it like how Nissan Philippines Inc. (NPI) has been doing it for two years with its distinguished Navara pickup brand: drive long and deliberately to the Ilocos provinces, and discover the numerous “playgrounds” for both you and your pet vehicle.

Passing though Calle Crisologo in Vigan, Ilocos Sur

Passing though Calle Crisologo in Vigan, Ilocos Sur

That was how NPI did it, twice now, for its Navara pickup with members of the local motoring media.

The first time was in early 2015 when it launched the Navara line. It has done it again for the brand’s second year celebration.

From Feb. 28 to March 2, it went to the same regions, but to different destinations altogether.

Why would NPI subject participants to an extended drive of up to 15 hours from Manila to Ilocos Norte, and on a pickup at that?

Adonai Beach Resort transformed into "Camp Navara"

Adonai Beach Resort transformed into “Camp Navara”

Well, it’s that confident the Navara’s car-like ride—made possible by the unique “zero-gravity” front seats, ample legroom for the rear passengers, and the multi-link suspension system—would make a trip that long seem like a breeze.

The good news is, those features apparently did the trick, with many of the rear passengers falling asleep (and staying that way) for most of the time, while the front passengers and the drivers didn’t complain of any body part screaming torture (except perhaps, for one or two hyperactive bladders).

The trip that started at 3 a.m. at Nissan Quezon Avenue for the convoy of seven Navaras (a balanced mix of Standard and Sport variants, 4x2s and 4x4s) passed by all the north Luzon expressways over the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac and Pangasinan, then made a quick breakfast stop at La Union province.

The trip resumed at past 8 a.m., proceeding to cross the rest of La Union, then Ilocos Sur, before settling down for late lunch in Laoag City in Ilocos Norte.

Narasimhan shows how to foreground a gorgeous background.

Narasimhan shows how to foreground a gorgeous background.

When the convoy finally arrived at the destination for the day—a beachside campsite at a resort in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte—it was nearly sundown, and a chilly breeze welcomed us.

Our group spent the cold night in warm commune, enjoying each other’s company, exchanging stories and shot glasses around a bonfire, surrounded by tents and Navara pickups that stood like quiet but solid sentinels.

And this was just the end of the first day of a three-day adventure. The second and third days were, to sum it up, spent on the northern roads (and off-roads) meant to discover: 1) what we had been missing while spending too much time in the cities, and 2) what we had been missing while driving our pickups (in fact, even our sport utility vehicles) only in the cities.

No doubt, NPI had intended these trips to northern Luzon to drum up more interest in its Navara in an increasingly competitive pickup market in the Philippines.

A green-carpet welcome just before entering the resort.

A green-carpet welcome just before entering the resort.

In 2016, on the first anniversary of the Navara, it had organized a successful media trip from Manila to the high-altitude mountain provinces of the Cordillera Administrative Region for a similar camp-out experience along the famous Kiltepan sunrise viewing site in the rustic town of Sagada.

The inherent merits of the Navara pickup—its powerful and efficient 2.5-liter diesel engine, roomy interior and sedan-like ride—combined with these consistent efforts at melding the pickup lifestyle with social media share-worthy tourism have largely resulted in the Navara climbing to the number 3 spot in the pickup market.

As for me, call me fortunate for being able to visit the Ilocos provinces twice in a Navara pickup. Otherwise, I would have missed what I would consider these eight must-visit destinations:

The La Paz sand dunes in Laoag City and Paoay, an 88-hectare “sandbox” frequented by off-road enthusiasts, served as the Navara’s 4×4 playground during its launch in 2015 and showcased the pickup’s hill descent control, hill start assist, traction control, and vehicle dynamic stability control features.

The La Paz dunes, many of which are as tall as four-story buildings, were also featured in the Tom Cruise starrer “Born on the Fourth of July,” Fernando Poe Jr.’s duels in the “Panday” movies, and in Nora Aunor’s classic “Himala.”

The wind turbines in Bangui town is impossible to miss, unless you’re driving with your eyes closed. They can be seen kilometers away, what with their massive turbine hub height of 70 meters (about 23 stories) and three spinning blades, each 41 meters long, for a rotor diameter of 82 meters.

Even the brave Don Quixote would balk at challenging these windmills to a duel. There used to be 15 of these wind turbines a decade ago. Now, five more have been added.

The Kapurpurawan Rock Formation in Burgos, Ilocos Norte is worth the 3-km diversion from the highway and the 15-minute walk from the parking area.

The rock formations were created by ocean forces on the rocky coast, and on a sunny day you would notice the rocks glow luminous white.

Better make sure those digital cameras and cellphones have enough power and space for lots of selfies, group-fies, and profile pic-worthy takes.

The Cape Bojeador Lighthouse. A trip to Ilocos Norte wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this lighthouse, simply because how many authentic, centuries-old lighthouses do you know and have seen in this country?

Be ready to leave your pickup at the parking area and walk a few meters uphill (but if that’s too much, tricycles are on standby). The view of the open Pacific from the lighthouse is astounding.

Adonai Eco Beach Resort. Forget the tacky Hannah’s Beach resort which you will pass when you’re on your way here. The view from Adonai is simply gorgeous—if you’re the type who prefers to spend the night on the beach in tents or hammocks.

The resort is still under development, so not much more can be said except that it’s located at Maira Ira Point at the northernmost part of Luzon, in Pagudpud.

You will take notice of the location’s striking resemblance to the wind-swept hills of Batanes province. And that alone is picture perfect.

Adams. This town lies at the northern foot of the Cordillera Central Mountain Range, and is only now beginning to capture offroaders’ attention.

The unpaved roads and the stream crossings are a bit challenging, so it would be wise to bring along an expert 4×4 enthusiast or a knowledgeable local if you wish to put your own 4×4 pickup through its paces here.

The Patapat Viaduct in Pagudpud. When you see a tourist map of Ilocos Norte, chances are a picture of the Patapat Viaduct would be there.

And who wouldn’t be tempted to stop and take photos of this undulating, elevated coastal pass, the fourth longest bridge in the country, surrounded by a mountain on one side and the crashing waves of the Pacific on the other?

Calle Crisologo in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. The one short stretch of road in Vigan is also the one reason many Ilocos Norte travelers opt to take a road trip southwards, instead of taking the flight back to Manila from the Laoag City airport.

Say all you want about the overly crowded, sometimes overrated Calle Crisologo. Once you set foot on that street, you will want to walk the entire stretch very slowly (no matter how many times you’ve done it before), because no matter what time of the year (or day) it is, it’s always the Spanish era on cobblestone.

It’s romantic, nostalgic, and frenetic in one go—a unique Pinoy tourist experience, no doubt.

A quick tip for vegans like me: Check out St. Martha’s Cafe in Ciudad Fernandina, just a few meters from Calle Crisologo. The chefs are knowledgeable enough—and more importantly, willing—to make delectable vegetarian/vegan cuisine for you.

I would like to add a ninth destination on this list, but this doesn’t have anything to do with a specific place, but rather, with a specific choice, and that’s the dietary choice to be vegan or vegetarian.

Just like what one motoring media colleague kept insisting during the entire trip, the northern Luzon regions are unique for being the veritable “fruit and vegetable basket” of the Philippines. So, wouldn’t it make a lot of sense if we enjoyed this plant-based bounty devoid of cruelty?

And I was, indeed, fortunate yet again for having with us NPI’s president and managing director Ramesh Narasimhan, born a vegetarian.

So, with another colleague who was pescetarian (adding only fish to a plant-based diet), the three of us enjoyed the creations and concoctions of a professional chef who was asked to come along with us during the trip and prepare delicious vegan/vegetarian dishes.

Narasimhan summed up our adventure thus: “In just two short years since its introduction, the Navara has risen to the number 3 position in its segment because of its versatile character.

“And what better way to celebrate this achievement than by taking on an adventure that showcases how the Navara is built for both worlds?”

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