When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the country on March 2020, almost every aspect of life that involved face-to-face activities came to a screeching halt. Car launches and out-of-town drives were discouraged due to health and safety protocols. Most car brands pivoted to a New Normal and started launching new models online, mostly through via Zoom digital conferences. A few months later, some manufacturers held face-to-face press conferences, launches and drives but limited the number of people attending these events. Life, as we knew it, was never going to be the same again. Well, at least, not in the immediate future.
But Nissan Philippines (NPI) had a different plan to launch their new 2021 Nissan Navara. On a cool Monday evening, they organized a proper grand product introduction at the elegant ballroom of the Okada Hotel in Pasay City, where NPI President and Managing Director Atsushi Najima presented the new pickup truck in a simple but exciting ceremony. NPI had Health and Safety Officers stationed around the ballroom to ensure that social distancing was practiced and that all the attendees wore their face masks and face shields at all times. Various variants of the new Navara were in the ballroom for the close inspection of the media attendees. It was a proper car launch but with a new twist for the protection of everyone in the event.
Heading North to Ilocos Norte
For other car brands, the launch was the culminating event of the evening but not for Nissan. Prior to the event, NPI had several media participants undergo RT-PCR testing, and those who passed the tests were billeted at the Okada Hotel after the launch. Early Tuesday morning, 30 media men and women (including yours truly) drove off in ten brand-new top-of-the-line 2021 Nissan Navara 2.5 Pro-4X 4×4 A/T pickup trucks and headed north through the newly-built SMC Skyway that connects to the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), and continued driving on the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) and Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX), and spent the day driving through the provinces of La Union and Ilocos Sur until we reached Ilocos Norte.
Because of the health and safety protocol requirements, NPI provided all the participants with the requisite Safe Passes, Red Cross RT-PCR Certification, Tourist Registration Confirmation from the Ilocos Norte provincial government and Hotel Booking Confirmation, which we presented at several checkpoints along the highways that we passed through and at the triage at the Pinili Visitor’s Center before we proceeded to the Java Hotel in Laoag City. However, all that hassle going through checkpoints and the provincial triage were nothing compared to the fun we had at the Laoag Sand Dunes the next day.
Proving Its Off-Road Capabilities
At the sand dunes on a hot and balmy Wednesday, we played with our Navara Pro-4X pickup trucks like we were children let loose onto a sandbox. Under the guidance of driving maestro George Ramirez, we tested the mettle of the new Navara on the soft hot sand with a variety of driving conditions. We experienced the prowess of its switch-on-the fly electronic 4-wheel drive control system, 4-wheel Active Brake Limited Slip (ABLS) and Electronic Rear Differential that are catapulted by 450 newton-meters of torque at 2,000 rpm, and marveled at the traction offered by the factory-spec Yokohama Geolander 255/65R17 all-terrain tires.
The Navara’s much-vaunted suspension system comprised of front double wishbones and rear 5-link mounted on a rigid high-tensile all-steel fully-boxed ladder frame always provided us with a smooth ride even on jagged surfaces. Inside, the full-support Zero Gravity leather front seats, the noise-reducing acoustic glass, and the dual zone automatic climate control system isolated us from the heat and kept us comfortable during our spirited forays over the dunes. It was wild fun, for sure, but the Navara went through the rough terrain all day without breaking a sweat.
Promoting Tourism, Business and Safety
More than just a drive north and a chance to indulge our sand-playing childhood, NPI planned the whole drive to help promote tourism and stimulate local businesses in the region. We spent the whole day Thursday going from one destination to another, learning about the product and the industry behind it, becoming surprised with and respectful of the ingenuity and hard work of the Ilokano people, and appreciating the efforts of everyone behind this Nissan Navara Road Discover drive to ensure that everything goes smoothly and safely.
We visited the REFMAD Farm in Barangay Paayas, Burgos town and met the award-winning proprietor Edita Dacucuy who showed us around her dragon fruit plantation and what the fruit, which is taunted as the “food of the future”, can be turned into. We then drove to the nearby town of Pasuquin to see how rock salt is being made at the Palalay Salt Refinery. Some of our media colleagues bought rock salt by the kilos while we found the largest kalabasa (pumpkin) that we eventually turned into our special halaya (sweet jam).
Sites, Crafts and Foods in Ilocos Norte
After the salt refinery, we drove straight to Nagbacalan in the city of Paoay, where we had a sumptuous lunch at the Kamarinn Cafe inside the Vista de Lago Center that overlooks the mysterious Paoay Lake and has a distant view of Malacañang Ti Amianan (Malacañang of the North), the rest house of former President Ferdinand Marcos. We crossed the road to see how colorful native cloth, native tapestry, and the famous Abel Iloco cloth is woven using manual looms at the Nagbacalan Loomweavers Multi-Purpose Cooperative, which is chaired by Ms. Charito Cariaga.
We drove to the town of Batac, which is the birthplace of former President Marcos, and immediately went to the Batac Riverside Empanadahan, where we sampled the delicious special empanada (fried turnover) freshly made by the team of Gloria Cocson, who is more affectionately known as “Aling Glory”. We ordered a very special empanada with “double” longanisa (local pork sausage) and found it deliciously very filling.
A Fitting End to a Wonderful Journey
We capped off our Thursday night with an authentic American dinner at the Smoke Bar and Restaurant that’s on the second floor of an Spanish-style building across the landmark Paoay Church. The church’s pyramid-style structure was built in 1686 with an earthquake baroque architectural style using coral stones and bricks that changes color with the position of the sun. We were able to capture a photo of our Navara Pro-4X near sundown with the church in the background looking like it was painted pink.
We didn’t stay long at the bar and restaurant that night because we had to go back to the hotel, pack our stuff, and get enough rest for the long, long drive back to Manila the next day, Friday. We appreciated the efforts of our friends in Nissan Philippines who, despite the pandemic, executed a well-planned long drive north not just to launch and promote their exciting new product, but to help stimulate the local economy of Ilocos Norte. We just hope that we did justice to their commendable Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts with this, our posted chronicle of those five exciting days we spent with the 2021 Nissan Navara 2.5 Pro-4x 4×4 A/T driving to, driving around, and driving home from Ilocos Norte.