Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fast-forward to Subic

By Gabby Libarios
Manila Standard Today

WHICH one do I get?” I asked with a huge smile on my face, hoping that the tone of my voice conveyed my overflowing eagerness to drive one of the swish cars parked infront of us. A girl from Honda pointed to the maroon car, handed me the key, and said, “enjoy driving.”

But of course. I was seconds away from driving the eighth generation Honda Civic, who in their right mind would not be thrilled? Besides, it would be a great chance for me to get my hands on a brand new car. My relationship with the beatup car my father handed to me had been giving me headaches for the past week.

All was going swimmingly well, until I learned all the cars had been taken by the other teams. “You can drive Honda Jazz instead,” ad and promo supervisor Apple Ting from Honda said.

My mouth hung open. Owen Bautista, my navigator teammate from Manila Bulletin that day, looked at me with sad, sorry eyes. I could not believe it. We were about to embark on a treasure hunt/race to Subic and the people from Honda were giving us the subcompact car, as compared to the others who were getting Honda’s all-new power sedan.

It simply wasn’t fair.

But instead of sulking like a kid who just found out none of his friends was coming to his birthday party, I picked up my bag and told Owen, “Let’s go.”

There was no point in complaining to Amiel Cabanlig, the organizer of the event, either. He’d simply laugh at us, or blame me for being terminally slow.

We knew there was one thing to do and that was to pull off a surprising win. We thought of proving them all wrong, that despite driving a supermini, the smallest class of car, we could win.

What Owen and I did not know was we’re in for the biggest surprise.

Power with a capital P

What Honda Jazz lacked in size, it made up for in performance. The moment I laid my hands and felt that soft dimpled surface of the steering wheel, I felt that the car was trying to tell me something.

It was no ordinary car. I patted the wheel, grinned, and thought, “we could do this.” I knew that Owen, who was sitting quietly beside me, was thinking the same.

We were in Watty Piper’s little engine that could.

So after stuffing ourselves full at Jollibee in Petron North Expressway—the starting point of the treasure hunt/race—we did not waste any second dillydallying with the controls or the meters on the dashboard. I just stepped on the gas and let Jazzy do its magic. Owen, too, grabbed the roadbook and read the clues faster than saying money in a bank.

Thanks to its electrically assisted power steering, the car responded to my every turn with ease. Even road imperfections were peanuts, posing no threat to our smooth driving.

With Jazz’s 1.5-liter VTEC engine, my competitive spirit, and Owen’s knack for recognizing roadside clues without second glances, we cruised down the wide road with a big smile on our faces. We were the perfect team.

By the time we reached San Fernando exit, whizzing past tricycles and rusty old trucks, we had forgotten about the race. We were enjoying ourselves too much to care about the other teams that were ahead of us.

So it did not bother us when we learned that we were the third team to reach the finish line (The Subic Tollway), losing the race to the teams of Rome Jorge of Manila Times and Michael Kho Lim of The Daily Tribune, and Lazslo Lim and KanKan Ramos of We’d had our fill of stories, jokes, and laughter for the whole day that winning the race and an Asimo doll would not have had made a difference.

Being in Subic, which was in a celebratory mood because of a Mardi Gras, was enough for us. We were miles away from Manila and worlds away from work.

One big party

Honda promised us a weekend of partying and pampering. And that’s exactly what we got.

Some of us had a taste of heaven at the La Rossa Spa. At the well-appointed relaxation hub of the Subic Bay Yacht Club, they indulged in luxurious treatments and massages, one of which was the “Synchrotherapy Spa,” a technique administered by two therapists working simultaneously. Interestingly, it’s one of the services that got many tourists, local or foreign, coming back for more.

I opted for the Chakra Hot Stone Massage, a centuries-old technique that made use heated basalt stones. While the therapists applied long, gliding strokes from the neck down to the legs, these hot stones were placed on the “energy centers” along the spine, creating a soothing and relaxing sensation throughout my entire body. It was a piece of heaven, indeed.

After freshening up at the Binictican Housing Area, we headed for The Legenda Hotel, the only five-star hotel in Subic. There we partook of the hotel’s sumptuous buffet, made even more special by the friendly conversations with hotel manager Cheryl Singzon. It was a long, tiring day, so a few of us had second, third, and fourth helpings of each dish.

When dinner was over, we all opted for a night cap. Our tour guide, Leo Aluso of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority tourism department was more than happy to take us around Boardwalk, Subic’s version of Manila’s Baywalk. There we saw a beauty pageant, endless band performances, standup comics, and droves of merrymakers, who all came to take part of the festivities.

We were all having a great time. That’s why when it was time to go back to Manila, we could not hide our frustration.

Back to reality

It was a good thing I had something to look forward to. Before we left Subic, the people from Honda promised me that no matter what, I’d be driving back to Manila in a Honda Civic. So I was in high spirits again. Fortunately, the car that eluded me for almost three days did not disappoint.

It was everything that I expected to be. Equipped with a 1.8-liter i-VTEC engine, which I later learned was a progression from its predecessor’s 1.7-liter engine, it was a lumbering piece of pure metal and muscle, making me feel as if I owned the road.

The large cabin makes the unit perfect for a large family, with enough leg room to accommadate small luggage, thanks to its ingenious flat floor.

The dashboard was a thing of beauty and convenience. Designed to improve driving safety, the the digital speedometer is set ahead of the driver, allowing him to check his speed without ever having to leave his eyes off the road.

Everything is designed for leisurely and stress-free driving. The handbrake lever is strategically placed not in the center, but closer to the driver for easier lifting. Even the gas, brake, and accelerator pedals are mounted on the floor, reducing the risk of foot slippage. Dual map lights in front came in handy, especially at night when we could not find our way back to our accommodations.

The weekend in Subic was good, but driving back to Manila in Honda’s all-new Civic was way better.

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