|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
A bit of a disclaimer: this is just my third Toyota Road Trek, so I’m sure there are more seasoned “veterans” out there who’d share their own set of stories; however, from what I’ve seen and experienced, it’s not so much about the cars as it’s the drive and the company. Most, if not all Road Trek participants are seasoned motoring editors and writers who’ve driven Toyota’s vast line-up of cars, so it’s more about experiencing something new, something fun, and something extraordinary wrapped around the familiar setting of a road trip. From my understanding, the first few Road Treks were seemingly lifted straight out of The Amazing Race, but despite being toned down recently, it’s still an adrenaline rush. From having to internalize the different aspects of Toyota Sure Advantage (I’m sure Toyota will love me for this: Quality, Durability, Reliability, Worry-Free Ownership, Great Value, and Pioneering Technologies) to having to tackle a slalom course with the Corolla Altis to packing the Innova with oddly-shaped items, it’s certainly a mix of mental and physical challenges.
This year proved to be much more interesting for two reasons: one, because Road Trek 10 is a throwback to where it all began—a road trip from Iloilo to Boragay; and second, it’s the first time in ages that The Philippine STAR was able to compete as a team. Losing Angel Rivero to the call of the Grand Canyon, James “dot ph” Deakin and myself are joined by Road Trek “virgins” motoring editor Manny Delos Reyes and columnist Atty. Karen Jimeno (who flew in on the second day). Despite the new cast of characters, the same jokes played out such as the last one to board the car drives (James instead of Angel). So with James becoming our default Facundo, we set off to complete the set of challenges. I’d love to explain each and every challenge, but leaving it vague on purpose makes it sound even funnier. It had to do with: catching mudfish with your bare hands, frolicking in an organic garden, counting the eyes of a pineapple, answering Grade Five questions in Ilonggo, dressing up in Dinagyang garb while sipping coconut juice like a romantic couple (of course, it had to be James and me), packing summer must-haves in a bag that’s clearly too small, and finally hitting a target while on a zip line. It’s all grueling stuff and Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa proved to be the perfect home for us for the next three days. Of course, we were all entertained by an all-start cast: Barbie Almalbis, Princess Velasco, Noy Volante, and Aiza Seguerra.
The biggest surprise of all though had to do with Toyota’s own version of “Flashback Friday”, where they showed clips from Road Trek 1 (clearly not in 1080p high-definition) all the way to Road Trek 10 (clearly in 1080p high-definition). It’s funny to see how people have changed in terms of hair, weight, complexion, and fashion. What has remained the same, however, is the friendship. There was interspersed applause and laughter in the crowd, but I’m sure there was a tear or two shed as well. I, for one, am surprised how different my hair looked from completely shaven (Road Trek 8) to Batanes Ivatan hut-like (Road Trek 9) to somewhat anime-ish (Road Trek 10). Also, how I look more like the Asian version of Hugh Jackman compared to three years ago (just kidding).
Looking back at the decade of Toyota Road Trek also made me realize that I’ve gained so many friends in the motoring beat. Starting out as the anti-social quiet kid straight of college and in his brother’s shadow in 1998, I’ve learned to loosen up and become more like “one of the boys” since then. Certainly, the transformation didn’t happen overnight, and there are still times when I feel awkwardly out of place; but events like the Toyota Road Trek helped lessen that. During this trip alone, I had the great opportunity to share breakfast with the super-friendly Toyota Motor Philippines President Michinobu Sugata, Lexus Manila President Danny Isla, and life of the party Sir Al Mendoza—something I wouldn’t even consider doing before.
As Captain Obvious would like to point out at this point, we clearly didn’t win or even place anywhere in the Road Trek 10 Top Three. But that’s beside the point. What’s more important is that Team Philippine STAR had fun; that we all had fun. We all had four days and three nights to stay the hell away from our laptops and instead bond, connect, and catch-up with friends and workmates be it over a bottle of beer, scotch, or a mixed fruit drink with a tiny umbrella. When people say that the Toyota Road Trek is the motoring equivalent of spring break, I beg to differ. Instead, it’s more like the summer outing with the entire motoring family and of course, our Toyota family as well.