Long Roads and Old Friends
Words and Photos: Carl S. Cunanan
We had planned a long drive with friends all the way north to Ilocos, bring the kids places they’ve never been, see things we haven’t in a while ourselves. Take advantage of some nice new highway stretches and the fact that C! had just completed a travel supplement that would show us the way. A short chat about the plan while meeting with the good people at Volvo reminded us that the Swedish cars had always been our weapon of choice for such journeys.
The new XC60 is far better than the models previous, and we did enjoy those old Volvos. They were always comfortable and sensible, never really put you in any positions of surprise. Those with a little more oomph such as the T5s and even the R models would add a sensible dollop of power to your foot, but remained the Volvo you would recognize. Still skewed more for comfort than for tight handling. These new cars though are much tighter handlers than those previous. They are more of a match to the enthusiast than ever, though some may say that a bit of the quirkiness and independence of thought have been lost. The end result is a car far better for more people than ever, but also one that may be a little less individual than before. Our long drive north showed us that while certain distinctive traits seem to have matured, the overall feel and experience remains as stalwart as ever.
We had planned a day to drive from Manila to Vigan, leaving mid-morning. The car proved well-sized for all the gear, and while I personally dearly love wagons, the added height of the cross-over vehicle did prove more relaxing as we left the tollways and started going through smaller towns. All the better to see over tricycles with. A possible two nights in Vigan turned into one, as family friends from Laoag said they would meet up with us there. We spent the evening in Vigan in the Luna Hotel, just off the main road of interest that let us explore the old town by foot. Vigan seems to really open up in the evening, as the lights set off the real historic feel and the outside noises quiet down. Visits to nearby sights such as weaving looms proved easily done just by asking around, though a hopeful trip for a riverboat ride turned out not to be interesting enough to actually do.
We headed off to Laoag, again leaving mid-morning. It was slow going through many town areas but navigation off our phones proved very accurate. We had cellular data signal the whole way. We took the Manila North Road and ended up running by some very beautiful coastline that proved a worthwhile place to just make stops and walk along the rocky shore. A needed bathroom break brought us to the Paoay Church and to a little cafe that turned out to be the find of the trip. We stopped at a place that looked like it had the best shot at clean bathrooms, and we ordered coffee while looking around. The coffee took quite a while, it seems they needed to start up all the machines. Rufino’s Cafe is just across the street from the church, and was actually inside an old building used as an art gallery. The coffee arrived, and was served with a wonderful local coffee sweetener called balicucha, and I became hooked on both. We ended up back there every day and brought stuff back home with us on the drive back.
Our base at our final destination of Laoag was the Java Hotel, a family run place that is technically in the city but is actually all rice fields behind it. The hotel grew out of a restaurant called the Eagles’ Nest, which grew out of the family’s gas station. The hotel is simple and clean, and guests were business people from Manila and families. The Eagle’s Nest is quite a popular restaurant and meeting place, and has been written up in Sandy Daza’s column for its authentic dinakdakan. The other option for staying in Laoag was Fort Ilocandia, but the Java Hotel proved very convenient as it was near enough the city center but still away from the bustle. It is also on the main road out we used to explore even further north as well as to go Trick or Treating on Halloween.
We spent a day driving further north up to the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse and just to walk along the rocky coastline. Other than some pretty bad traffic on the way back to Manila, the entire journey was quite a welcome break from the madness of Manila. The kids got a better taste of provincial life than they would have if we just chose to stay in resorts and hotels, and they got to feel the joy of just sitting in a tree by the beach with absolutely no one else around. The pace of life was clearly different, the people friendly and open, the food wonderful. The roads of Ilocos Norte are still well maintained and a joy to drive. The XC60 provided the comfort we wanted but with tighter handling than the Volvos of before, which made the well-designed roads all the better. And it turns out the chef that set up that cafe regularly comes back to Manila, so I can have a steady supply of balicucha.