As far as ride and drives go, rarely do we venture to the northernmost tips of Luzon. The last time I was on these roads was in 2006, and even then we were driving at high speeds due to a very strict timetable, having no time to really enjoy the view.
Now, we have a bit more time to enjoy the scenery with Honda, as we take all their latest models for a spin in Tuguegarao, Cagayan and Ilocos Norte.
Day 1: Tuguegarao to Cagayan
We landed at Tuguegarao airport, and right there in the lot were our drives for the trip. Honda literally had their entire line up for us to test. The Jazz, the City, the Civic, different variants of the CR-V, the Accord, Pilot and Odyssey were on hand for us to try out. They also had two hybrid models there too, but still weren’t on sale: the CR-Z and the Insight.
With the sheer number of media there to drive the cars for an overnight trip, we simply couldn’t drive them all. So, to be fair, cars were drawn to give everyone a chance to drive. Unusually, I ended up getting the Pilot, the Odyssey and the CR-V; two of which I’ve already tried out. The ones who were really smiling were the guys who drew the CR-Z. Lucky.
After a break from the flight, we were on the road. Our good friends, Georges Ramirez and company were the course masters for this trip, and they certainly knew how to divide up the group. The big engined cars were up ahead, such as the Pilot, the Odyssey, Accord, the pair of CR-Vs and the 2.0 liter Civic, followed by the CR-Z, Insight, Jazz and City.
Initially, I found myself behind the wheel of the CR-V with the 2.0 liter i-VTEC motor, following the leaders in the Odyssey, Pilot and Accord. Now you’d think that the CR-V wouldn’t have a hard time keeping up, but the guys in the much larger machines are really booking it; those guys, after all, had upwards of 250 horses to play with even though they were driving heavyweights.
The roads up here are actually quite nice. Long stretches of wide open provincial highways certainly begged many of us to keep up the pace, easily overtaking rural traffic (read: motorized oxcarts, tricycles and overloaded jeepneys). Should you make a mistake in overtaking there’s not much in terms of barriers to keep you on the road, and you could just as quickly find yourself in the middle of the rice paddies. So, just like on the dance floor, it’s best to be careful with your moves.
After about an hour’s drive, we found ourselves at the famous Penablanca Caves. We all then dismounted from our steeds and began to trek up the cliffs overlooking the river. It’s not a climb for the faint of heart, as it involves some 184 steps up the side of the mountain, and into the caves.
The main cave is actually a chapel, with pews and everything you would find in a regular church, with a natural hole in the ceiling for light. It’s really dark inside, and it’s best to bring a bright flashlight, as well as shoes meant for mud, as the interior of the caves tend to be moist, slippery at the same time sticky, making it rather tricky to navigate with regular, flat-soled sneakers… as I found out.
Making our way down, we once again hopped in the cars and continued on the road to Cagayan. Again, the scenery really didn’t disappoint, though quickly the sun had set, and we found ourselves navigating the roads with full beams.
Day 2: Cagayan to Laoag
Up bright and early after a night of fellowship with the guys at Honda Cars Philippines, we then proceeded onto the airstrip (the resort has its own, apparently) for a quick photo op. Too bad the strip itself was short, made only for light aircraft (Cessnas, Beechcrafts, etc) so no top speed runs here. With that done, we all made our way out onto the main road as we were to head towards Laoag, all the way in Ilocos Norte.
Out of the resort, we remembered that we were in Cagayan, and one thing this province has been known for is Port Irene. Say what you will about the place, but it’s always a sight to see various imported sportscars and performance machines just waiting to be bought, restored and unleashed on the road… such as contrast to the Honda Pilot we were in.
Still, 250 horses is still not a joke, and the Pilot proved that it can easily keep pace with Georges (after all, he’s a professional racecar driver) up front in the 2.4 liter CR-V. Unusually, for such a big car, the Pilot isn’t all that bad in the corners, and can easily take on the curves (blind, tightening or otherwise) with ease if done properly. Not to mention that it drives with a commanding air and excellent comfort.
Many of us didn’t actually realize how long the drive was going to be. Pretty soon my passengers were all asleep, though a quick tug of the wheel on turn in sure woke them up.
Soon (or at least after hours of driving) we found our heads looking to the right, as the Patapat viaduct in Ilocos Norte always presents such a beautiful view of the the coast, especially in a day as clear as this. Again, say what you will, but our former president/dictator sure left a great mark if you love to drive as much as we do.
After another change in vehicles, now it was the Odyssey’s turn. I particularly wasn’t relishing driving the heavyweight Odyssey from here on out, as the minivan will have to traverse some pretty tight roads heading up to Pagudpud. Surprisingly, much like the Pilot, it wasn’t all too hard to drive this here at these speeds… so long as you remember the basics of performance driving (i.e. brake in a straight line, manage the weight, etc.).
We passed such sights as the Pagudpud coastline and the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, though we did pay the Bangui windmills (or is it wind farm?) a visit. With that done, all the cars made their way for Laoag, where we bid them goodbye, and headed on back to Manila by plane.
I do wish we had a chance to really open the taps on the CR-Z or even the Civic 2.0, but that’s for another time, and I’m sure we’ll have just as much fun as well.