Often, people heading to the farfetched city situated in the Cagayan province would fly by plane, if not by bus. When you think about it, it's the sensible thing to do. If your starting point is in Manila, it takes about 12 to 14-hours of driving, that’s if you drive non-stop without stopping for lunch, dinner or breaks.
Still, that didn't stop Ford for taking us for a challenge as they took us on a long drive the northern provinces and cities of Nueva Ecija, Isabela and Tuguegarao, before heading back to Manila. Our steeds for the trek? The Ford Ranger. Of course, we weren't just doing this for the sake of, well, doing it. We were headed to Jaen, Neuva Ecija on a mission to head to the Gawad Kalinga community.
Meeting up at Ford Balintawak, we were handed the keys to one of two Fx4’s and a Wildtrak. All three pickups were loaded with 1 ton of cement to donate to the community. We were then grouped into three, which each person taking turns in driving to ease the load.
Our companion for the day was the Ford Ranger Wildtrak 4x2. Despite the 1-ton of cement in the bed, the Ranger didn’t feel held down. You could however, definitely feel the added weight especially when we encountered some stop and go traffic on the expressway.
After two hours of no-frills driving, we arrived at the Gawad Kalinga, which Ford Philippines has supported for awhile, and was greeted by the residents. The heads of GK then gave us a tour of the village and their houses before showing us what the concrete would be used for – build more houses.
Personally, it was truly an eye opening experience given that not everyone has the opportunity to go to such far flung places and interacting with them. More so, helping them out in some way. Following a thanksgiving lunch setup by the people of GK, we once again set off, beginning the long drive to Santiago City, Isabela, our last stop for the day. It was also my turn to be behind the wheel.
To say that the drive to the hotel in Santiago City was long and tiring would be an understatement. Unlike heading to other distant places such as Baguio or Vigan City, there were no longer any smooth, straight expressways on our route. It was more than 5-hours of driving through mountain and provincial roads, some of which were really rough.
Despite the tiring drive to our hotel, we were rewarded with some of the best views one could ask for. As someone who grew up and lives in the concrete jungle that is Metro Manila, the clear blue skies, the lush forests and the rice fields of the province were a much welcoming sight. A short break along the road allowed us to quickly snap up some photos of both the cars and the scenery.
Rather than eating at fine dining place or fast food, dinner was held at a popular local restaurant called Big Brother’s Grill. We were served the specialty dishes of the province, allowing us to enjoy cuisine not often served back in Manila.
The following day, we got up early as Ford booked us for a white water rafting event situated a couple hours drive from the hotel. This time around, we were handed the keys to the Fx4 4x2, which we would be using until the trip ended. Though it was less equipped than the Wildtrak we were spoiled with the day before, it was still a faithful steed to use on the rest of our journey nonetheless.
Once at the site, we were given the option of either going white water rafting or driving with the crew to the end location, taking photos of the vehicles instead. Though I was tempted to take photos, I opted for the former instead as it was a much rarer opportunity. Not everyday you get to say I went white water rafting in the Kalinga and Apuyao provinces, and survive.
Three hours and a couple of near death experiences later, we finally got to regroup with the rest of the Ford team. Saying that the white water rafting experience was scary would be a real understatement. Needless to say however, it was fun. The trip down river allowed us to see nature and the Philippine’s beauty at its finest as we passed through almost 3 to 4 towns in the surrounding provinces.
After lunch at Emily’s Kitchen (who helped setup our rafting adventure), we set off to our final stop before heading back to Manila, Tuguegarao City. Since we were already near, it only took about 2 to 3-hours before we reached the hotel, where we got to relax before heading back to Manila the next day.
Before our return trip however, we made sure to have bought our souvenirs of the local delicacies (carabao milk pastillas and longanisa) to bring back to Manila along with memories of the journey.
While flying or taking a bus to these far flung places is easier, you do get to miss out on a lot of hidden scenery and the great driving roads the Philippines has to offer. That said, sometimes the journey itself is enough to become an adventure.