A journey to the far, far north in the Nissan Navara

560km of driving bliss
by Elaine Lara | Mar 6, 2017

It’s been two years since the current generation Nissan Navara was launched in the country during the pickup wars. After a jaunt last year to Sagada, Nissan Philippines (NPI) wanted to remind the motoring media why its pickup is one of the top choices in the segment. How? Through a 560km highway and off-road trip to the northern tip of Luzon in Pagudpud.

We were set to leave Manila at 3am with a scheduled 14 or so hours behind the wheel of Nissan’s beast. The prospect of sleep deprivation, sore muscles, and provincial traffic should've made us think twice about accepting the invitation. But with the idea of driving a pickup to the north for camping and minimal office phone reception spurring us on, we thought ‘Why the hell not?’

Nissan’s High Performance showroom in Quezon Avenue welcomed sleepy participants at 2am with the Navaras ready to go. The organizers arranged for drivers on the first leg, which we gladly accepted. Thankfully, the Navara’s wide cabin space managed to swallow two petite Top Gear girls at the back along with bulky cameras, a cooler wedged between us, and four snack bags on the floor. It didn’t matter that the overnight bags, tripods, and the spare GoPros were in the bed; we trusted the Navara with them, and we obviously had our priorities straight.

Our 4x4 unit was cruising along NLEX in no time after a quick battle with early delivery trucks. The passengers were snoozing comfortably on the Zero-G seats and tucked behind bulky jackets against the famous Nissan air-conditioning prowess. We’re not sure if it was the exhaustion, the sleep deprivation, or the Navara’s shock absorption, but we were able to doze off without being jolted awake or having bags of precious potato chips and cameras flying out at every hump and sharp curve.

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After a quick breakfast in La Union, a lazy lunch in Laoag, and some driver shuffling in between, we were once again on the road and driving along the scenic Ilocos Norte, passing by Pasuquin, Burgos, and Bangui. With a convoy composed of veteran motoring journalists and skilled drivers, the small fleet of Navaras moved fast and deftly overtook the tricycles and buses without missing a beat.

We arrived at the camping grounds a little after 6pm. Tents, charging stations, and a bonfire were provided for the night. The steaks for dinner and the sound of the waves crashing behind our night’s accommodations were definite bonuses. But by 6am the next morning, almost everyone was up and about despite the tiring journey. Partly because of the unlimited bacon being served, but also because everyone was dying to pack up and check in at the resort for a much-needed shower.  

Day two’s schedule was a drive to Patapat Viaduct and a short off-road course. As expected from this Japanese truck, the rough terrain, muddy puddles, and clean river were tackled with ease. I was tasked to get behind the wheel by the afternoon for a drive to the windmills and Kapurpurawan rock formation in Burgos. From our resort in Pagudpud, that’s around 35km of unpaved roads, winding roads, and a handful of barangay thoroughfares.

With four people on-board plus lots of camera equipment, our group set out off to take photos of the Navara. I was trailing two other pickups on the way but as soon as we reached the main highway, a good 5km from our resort, I was left to eat the other units’ dust. Parking cars during shoots and short drives around the metro hadn’t prepared me for twisting roads and the gigantic buses of Ilocos. The roads weren’t short on “sharp curve ahead” reminders, with slow trucks crawling at almost every turn.

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Although I’m uncomfortable driving vehicles bigger than a city car, the Navara’s elevated height proved useful in the province where roads are shared by slow trucks, lazy dogs, and livestock. There were times when I spotted my comrades from the distance and I tried to catch up. I confidently stepped on the gas and the response was instantaneous. Pushing the truck to 100kph on a wide-open road with rice fields on either side proved to be an easy feat for the beast.

Our group rendezvoused with the others at the Bangui windmills. We didn’t dare think of bringing the 4x2 down to the sand, but a confident Georges Ramirez brought a blue 4x4 Navara down to the strong and crashing blue waves. Not just near the edge of the beach, but practically in ankle-deep seawater. The unit zipped across the beach gamely giving spectators a playful water show, with no less than NPI president and managing director Ramesh Narasimhan as passenger.

We wrapped up the shoot and drove to the rock formation nearby. We weren’t able to bring the pickups all the way down, but the location called for tourist poses and selfies. By night-time, Nissan’s PR team called us to ask where we were, so we rolled down the Navara’s window and flawlessly raced back to the comforts of food and a hot shower.

We were somber by the third day. Not only did we have to rush back to Laoag to catch a plane, but we also had only four hours left to drive the Navara. Were it not for the deadlines waiting at Top Gear HQ, I would have volunteered to drive a unit the whole way back. Still, I could at least brag to the other staffers about my 560km+ trip. And it was true—the pickup was a witness and a victim to the adventures and misadventures in Ilocos Norte, and it soldiered on despite everything that we put it through. 

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PHOTO: Elaine Lara
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