After it was announced that the Pozorrubio exit of the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway was opened last December, I can only imagine how many people started planning spontaneous road trips. Officials claimed that travel time to Baguio, for instance, was cut to just under three hours from Balintawak in Quezon City, so holidaymakers and weekend bakasyonistas no doubt wasted no time making plans to trek up north.
I was one of them. San Juan, La Union, the so-called surfing capital of Northern Luzon, is something of a second home to me ever since I first visited in 2006. I’ve been making the trip there once or twice a year, often with friends. Once I even drove up there by myself. The news about the new TPLEX exit was the perfect excuse to make the return trip there this time around.
I was doubly glad to drive back up to ElYu because I was going to do it behind the wheel of the latest iteration of the Ford Explorer Sport. I’m at home driving my regular, day-to-day ride, but for long road trips, a big powerful SUV beats a sedan any day. Besides, I had a couple of friends with me on this trip and I knew they would appreciate the space and comfort of an SUV.
My friends were all smiles as I drove around to pick them up that Saturday morning. The Eraserheads were already blaring from the speakers. I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate Ford’s touchscreen infotainment system. Turn the Bluetooth on, pair it with your device, and you’re done. Play your music on an app like Spotify and you don’t even have to re-connect each time you go out for a bathroom or coffee break. You pick up right where you left off, even mid-song, as soon as you turn the car back on.
Along the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and then the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), the drive was as smooth and enjoyable as any long drive could ever hope to be. My passengers melted into the soft leather seats while singing along to the songs on my playlist. I amused myself by the drive itself: it was easy to forget things like deadlines and bills when you’ve got a stretch of open road in front of you.
For anyone driving a fine piece of automotive machinery along SCTEX or TPLEX, the temptation to just gun it and ignore speed limits is all too real. For a few seconds, I got carried away and noticed the speedometer climbing past 100 kph, which is understandable with the Explorer. Even at that speed, the interior and engine are quiet and balanced. Talk about power and stability.
Past the expressway and into the smaller country roads, we drove slower not just because of traffic but to better appreciate the views. For true blue city folk, small town life is a welcome respite and always a refreshing change of pace—the rolling green hills and rice fields, the buzz of activity in the plazas in front of churches and town halls, and the roadside vendors hawking everything from native kakanin and specialty vinegar to walis tambo and walis tingting.
Of course, when you see fast food restaurants and giant shopping malls outside your window, way out here several hours away from Manila, you realize that many small towns are beginning to look a lot more like the big city you’re trying to escape from, and you can’t help but let out a sigh.
Even San Juan, which has undergone a tremendous change from when I first visited over a decade ago, is getting its share of rapid development spurred no doubt by its status as a burgeoning tourist district. Still, when we pulled into one of the beachfront resorts on Urbiztondo Beach, negotiating our big SUV along the tiny road to get into the even tinier parking lot, it still felt like home.
It was fun to fiddle with the buttons to adjust the third row seats and fold it up or down to make more room for bags or any other kind of cargo, but we could hear the waves crashing and could smell the salty sea air from where we were parked. So we left the Explorer there, checked into our room and parked ourselves by the beach. It was exactly the kind of weekend I had imagined and one I think anybody working a full time job needs every so often.
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