Van + friends + food = fun
The patented “Barkada” trip is one of life’s greatest joys. Nothing beats being able to just go out for a drive with your nearest and dearest friends. While this is the dream, the reality is that it’s not the easiest activity to plan. From getting everyone’s schedules in sync to plotting the exact destination, more often than not it leads to the trip not pushing through. #drawing
For our own team in Autoindustriya.com though there’s an added pain point to planning a “Barkada” trip; being motoring journalists our biggest problem is choosing which vehicle to use. We were saved from getting into “fisticuffs” about it by our friends at Mercedes-Benz who were gracious enough to lend us their premium van: the V-Class. All we had to do now was decide where we were going to go and what we were going to do, “fisticuffs” ensue…
Being an all-male group, we were bound to leave a loose detail: in this case it was the day of our trip that we nonchalantly decided to do on a Thursday in December. We were scheduled to depart for our destination: the popular “quick getaway” location up the mountains of Cavite to Tagaytay City at 9:30am. We, as gentlemen of motoring, failed to take prime time rush hour traffic into account by departing a good hour behind on schedule.
Needless to say, our trip had started off on the wrong foot, already dampening some spirits. That was immediately lifted when we got to the Mercedes-Benz dealership and were greeted by the shiny new V-Class van that awaited us.
The V-Class’ looks can only be described as “sleek”, which is high praise considering it’s a van. It was a well-rounded blend of sweeping lines and boxy stature making the van look almost spaceship-like but still quite understated, especially in the black color we had it in.
Inside is where it really makes its case though. Upon opening the automatic sliding doors, we were treated to 6 individual captain chairs decked in impeccably supple and fragrant leather. Its “piece-de-resistance”? A module in between the seats that houses a foldable table with extra cubby holes (which the whole van has a plethora of) that rolls from the 2nd row to the 3rd row.
While it is a van and yes, the focus on comfort is directed for the passengers, you’d be wrong to assume Mercedes-Benz forgot about the pilot in front. The dashboard incorporates a modern steel and patterned black color palette. Controls are arranged ergonomically for ease of operation, and I can’t stress enough that the added comfort of having captain seats up front as well makes every journey no matter the length extremely comfortable.
After we finished gawking at the V-Class, I took the reins and decided to take the first driving stint up the mountains. Yes, it was still rush hour and while we were in stop-and-go traffic until we reached the highway, the van showed more of its premium nature. The ride was what can only be described as floaty, and the steering was light but not disengaged. The most surprising bit though was its engine and power. There are still those who believe diesel engines are they are sluggish and unrefined. It wasn’t the case here at all though; it was refined and quiet but one poke at the throttle it come’s to life and is spritely to say the least, making overtaking on the ascending twisty roads a breeze and quite a hoot as well.
We arrived at our lunch stop at El Cocinero, a quaint restaurant located literally off the beaten path along the Tagaytay-Nasugbu Highway a little past 1pm. Because we had been stuck on the road for quite some time, the entire entourage famished. It just made us want to dig in the first chance we got.
The restaurant itself was housed in the La Bella wellness complex, which we were told focuses on sustainability and wellness for guests. The whole complex was aesthetically pleasing to say the least, with buildings architecturally taking inspiration from the houses on the coastal hills of Santorini in Greece.
We were lucky as well to have weather on our side. As we dismounted the van, the nippy Tagaytay breeze cooled us down, not to mention the fact that the surrounding area was awash with greenery. Our background music there was the tree breeze of the serene sanctuary.
The sensory treats weren’t over yet, because entering the doors of El Cocinero was like entering an art museum, albeit a small one. The works of one art master, Pablo Picasso, inspired the cozy interior. Of course, my friends were quick to point out that this writer and the influential artist share same name, but I digress. From the floor to ceiling murals, it’s inspired by the much more talented Pablo’s famous and signature “Cubism” style, matched with vibrant colors to boot. The place is a true Instagrammers dream, not short of angles for the…er…’Gram.
When we settled down at our table, we spoiled ourselves by ordering a true feast. The restaurant offered a mix of Latin and Filipino cuisine, which we took full advantage of by ordering the following dishes: Gambas, Salpicao, Calamares, Lechon Kawali, Adobong Pusit, Sisig and two classic Filipino soups, Nilaga and Sinigang na Hipon. To water down the food and keeping in with the wellness theme we had the Cucumber lemon pitcher that provided much needed refreshments to a quite exhausted group.
All dishes were exactly what we expected, everything tasted homemade and we ate to our hearts and stomach’s desires. The staff could barely keep up as each dish was devoured within minutes of being put down.
After a much needed refueling (of our stomachs) and it being the month of bonuses and 13th month pay, we decided to pass by Acienda, a premium outlet located along Aguinaldo highway in Cavite on our way back to Manila.
We eagerly pilled into the V-Class to go on our way, which doubled as our rolling “Siesta”-mobile on our way to the outlet. It was more like a quick nap though, as we got to Acienda in no time at all. The plan was to (sort of) look out for each other by being accountable for each other’s spending. This of course was short lived as each one of us ended up going our separate ways due to the blinding “Sale” signs on every storefront.
Resistance was futile as Acienda is every shoppers dream. The huge lot was filled with huge stores of premium branded items for much less than standard retail prices. I mean, come on, who can’t pass up huge markdowns?
Another thing worth mentioning was the way Acienda was built. The developers really took into account the possibility of hoards of people descending on the venue. There’s an abundance of parking space and the widely constructed hallways meant the shopping experience was easy and won’t trigger any phobias of crowds.
After what felt like hours of “Should I, or not” shopping, we convened at the exit and avoided the urge to ridicule each other for the purchases we made. Of course, there was also the fact that we had burned not just a hole through our wallets but almost literally charred them. With bills to pay and cash reserves low, we called it a day. Once more we pilled into the van to head back to reality. We did our best to stay up with our designated driver, the V-Class being so comfortable knocked us all into a deep sleep, and a symphony of snores filled the cabin.
Our “Barkada” trip may have had its blunders in the beginning (which is expected), but nothing trumps quality time with friends. The endless ribbing and verbal jousting that accompanies such an experience is something nothing compares to, add the fact that we were fortunate to have done it with such style and class in the form of the Mercedes-Benz V-Class was just the cherry on top of the sundae that was our trip.