A Cordillera culture crawl takes a ‘V’ turn

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The Lamando’s two variants feel right at home going up Asin Road.

Text and photos by Aries B. Espinosa

GOING ON a trip from Manila to the “City of Pines” has never been faster. What used to take upwards of six hours now can be done in as short as three, owing to the vastly improved national roads and the completion/interconection of the North Luzon (NLEX), Subic-Clark-Tarlac (SCTEX), and the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union (TPLEX) expressways.

It’s no wonder, then, that during the recent Holiday season, a record number of motorists and their families drove up to Benguet province to taste more of the traffic jam along with the ube jams with the Baguio folk.

So I feel really fortunate that I got to spend a relatively traffic-free two days in Baguio City before the onset of the Christmas rush, on Dec. 4 and 5. Even better, I spent it with good company, with motoring media colleagues, in an executive sedan that’s perfectly suited for the itinerary.

Volkswagen Philippines wanted this trip as an adventure of the arts and palate. In order to achieve that, our bodies needed to be relaxed, and our minds at ease while in transit. Their unanimous choice for our vehicle was none other than the Volkswagen Lamando.

The Lamando, which made its Philippine debut in 2018, best exemplifies the German marque’s effort of merging elegant looks with performance.

For our 500-km trip from Volkswagen Quezon Avenue to Baguio City and vice versa, the Lamando performed as advertised. The 1.4-liter 4-cylinder, in-line, turbo fuel-injected gasoline engine with BlueMotion Technology and adaptive cruise control turned out to be ideal for the drive on the three expressways and the twisty climb up to Baguio City via the Asin Road (an alternative to the still-closed Kennon Road). The TSI (Turbocharged Stratified Injection) powerplant is mated with the 7-speed direct shift gear (DSG) transmission — the latter combining the convenience of an automatic and the fuel-efficiency of a manual — and optimizes the maximum power output of 150ps at 5,000rpm and maximum torque of 250Nm at 1,750 to 3,000rpm.

The 2-zone Climatronic Airconditioning also came in handy in managing the interior climate comfort of the Lamando, particularly in adapting to the stark temperature differences between the lowlands of Metro Manila and the cool 5,000-foot-and-above altitude of Baguio City.

Throughout the trip, the Lamando’s smooth ride was made possible by the front McPherson/rear four-link fully independent suspension. The numerous twists and turns to and from Baguio City, especially along the Asin Road, were confidently handled via the Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP). This detects critical driving conditions such as the risk of skidding, wheel spin or over/understeering, and takes the immediate action of keeping the vehicle on course all the time.

The Lamando’s generous legroom, headroom, cabin space, and the leather seats made the driver and occupants more comfortable throughout the long hours of travel. The Active Info Display kept the drivers up to speed with crucial trip information in high-resolution, dynamic color displays while the occupants enjoyed high-quality music from the 9.2-inch infotainment audio system with eight speakers (The Active Info Display and 9.2-inch infotainment system are available with Lamando SEL variant).

Baguio City itself has had a long, cherished history with the Volkswagen brand, and in particular, with the Beetle. This was evident when we paid a visit to the Tam-Awan Art Village in Pinsao Proper the afternoon of Dec. 4. Here, the talented artists of Baguio have managed to blend indigenous aesthetics and exquisite Cordilleran craftsmanship to create artworks depicting their love for the Beetle.

One such artist we met during the visit was Jordan Mang-Osan, the 49-year-old native of Itogon, Benguet who harnesses the power of the sun to create what is called pyrography drawings. Jordan’s pyrography shows excruciatingly detailed seared burn marks on wood.

As a means to honor artists like Jordan, and to strengthen that longstanding relationship with the brand, Volkswagen Philippines announced that it would hold a Volkswagen Lamando Art Competition. The competition puts the Lamando design elements in the creative hands of Baguio’s best and up-and-coming artists. The awarding ceremony would be held in the first quarter of 2020.

Our arts immersion continued early morning of the next day with a brief visit to the Adkos Gallery of Sierra Pines Baguio Hotel where we were billeted overnight. The art gallery, so-named after the Ibaloi word for “decoration,” displayed the works of National Artists Arturo R. Luz, Hernando Ruiz-Ocampo, Carlos ‘Botong’ V. Francisco, and Vicente Manansala. It also displayed the original manuscript of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere.

In between these cultural/intellectual “feasts,” our group was also treated to literal feasts prepared by chefs Vicky Clemente of Mama’s Table in Baguio City, and Sau Del Rosario at Café Fleur in Pampanga.

I have visited Baguio and the Cordillera region countless times. Each visit showed a different facet of the so-called “roof of the Philippines.” This time, I was treated to mountain art of the highest levels, figuratively and literally speaking; works that would make even a precisely engineered, world-class automotive company like Volkswagen feel proud to be made a part of.