Better (choco) late than never for this Road Trekker

Tessa R. Salazar

‘Suha-ppy’ to be part of the 17th edition of Toyota PH’s longest-running motoring and cultural immersion tour—now featuring hybrid vehicles

 

Before I talk about everything else, let me start from the beginning. And the beginning couldn’t have started more badly. For our scheduled 8:50 a.m. flight from Manila to Davao last Wednesday, we were delayed by over six hours because our airline that has been notoriously branded as “always late” once more lived up to its nasty reputation. Needless to say, this truly messed up what remained of the tight three-day schedule of our hosts Toyota Motor Philippines for this 17th year of the Toyota Road Trek.

I planned for some solo trips for the next day, but because this “plane-always-late” airline overbooked and at the same time had a number of their planes grounded for maintenance work, we got airborne for Davao City only past 2 p.m. So, what should have been our morning and afternoon activities for the first day were moved to the next day. With that, I had to bid adieu to my free time the next day.

Apart from this major opening-day snafu, everything about this year’s Toyota Road Trek ran like a dream in an island paradise. I was teamed up with fellow Inquirer colleagues Jong Arcano (our Mobility editor) and Business editor Tina Arceo Dumlao, who were both “magaan kasama,” for lack of a better English term.

The Toyota vehicles that we would be driving for the duration of the trip in Davao were shipped from Manila. (In hindsight, maybe we should have just gone on the boat instead of taking the plane). These vehicles were a Camry, a Corolla Cross G, two Corolla Cross GR-S Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs), a Rav4, a Yaris Cross, a Zenix Q HEV, a Fortuner GR-S, a Hilux GR-S, a Hilux Conquest, and a Zenix V.

It would be my first time to set foot on Davao. Lots of stories came from that place (let’s set aside the more political ones), and so I was truly excited to learn more about the so-called “Crown Jewel of Mindanao,” among its other titles.

All 56 of us finally touched down in Davao City at 4 p.m., and we went straight to the Toyota Davao dealership, the first of the brand’s dealership in Mindanao. There, dealership owner Denise Lim eagerly awaited us. And that’s where I literally got my first taste of Davao. Merienda was a variety of fruits and dishes, which was no doubt waiting for us since that morning. Well, our 6-hour delay, at least, gave Ms Denise plenty of time to rehearse her warmest of welcomes. “Good afternoon! Madayaw na pag-abot sa Davao! Welcome to the 17th Road Trek of Toyota Motor Philippines!”

She went on, “We are delighted that TMP chose Davao for this event that has become a bonding and thanksgiving tradition between TMP and the media. The first Road Trek to Davao was Road Trek 2 18 years ago, which started in Cagayan de Oro and culminated in Pearl Farm. It then featured what is now a favorite vehicle of many Davaoeños—the Innova. I myself have three Innovas. Back then, we had only one dealership in Davao. Now we have 2 dealerships and 2 service centers to accommodate the needs of our ever-growing market. Indeed, there is a lot to be thankful for. Thank you, TMP. Thank you, media friends,” Lim said.

Pomelos and a prolific carmaker

Davao is known for its fertile soil, good climate all year round, and bountiful variety of crops, such as: bananas, durian, cacao, coffee and other agricultural products. It is the major producer of the sweet varieties of Pomelo, the world’s largest citrus fruit. I wasn’t surprised when our first challenge involved pomelos, which had pictures of Toyota vehicles taped to them.

Okay, here’s a bit of geeky trivia. Recently, the tough but soft pomelo peel inspired a team of mechanical engineers at a Texas University to develop a material based on the peel’s ability to protect the fragile interior of the fruit from falls as high as 35 feet. I can imagine TMP is really “peeling” it, pun intended, as it enjoys a robust corporate existence in its 35th year, the loyalty and trust of the market protecting the brand for all those years, and blessing it with a juicy 45-percent market share.

By the way, those researchers from Texas are using the pomelo peel to rethink one of humankind’s most ubiquitous inventions: foam. So, they are now in the process of creating a Pomelo-inspired foam. They are re-inventing foam, not unlike Toyota who’s re-inventing hybrid vehicles and other new-energy transport to help lessen their environmental impact through fuel efficiency, so that the most prolific carmaker in the world can make a dent (again, pun intended) on climate change.

After the program, we drove to the Discovery Samal welcome station to wait for our 10-minute speedboat ride to Samal Island. Discovery Samal is one of the newest 5-star luxury resorts in Davao Island garden city. We arrived just in time to freshen up for dinner.

On our second day, another boat ride and a short drive took us to the Malagos Chocolate Museum at the Malagos Garden Resort in Davao City. Davao City is also known as the chocolate capital of the Philippines.

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Puentespina Farm is in the Malagos district, a small municipality situated in the foothills of Mt. Talomo, approximately 45 km northwest of the city center. The name Malagos comes from “malakas na agos,” which means “strong flow of water.” The farm is near the Earth’s equator, making it ideal for growing cacao. Malagos Agri-Ventures Corp, the makers of Malagos Chocolate, is a family-owned business that’s part of the Puentespina Group of Companies, which has been in the agriculture industry for over 50 years.

According to the Malagos team, everything in the environment comes together to create the unique, award-winning cacao that cannot be replicated anywhere in the world.

At the Malagos resort, our media group didn’t merely eat chocolates. We “made” them. We walked to the cacao farm, ate the fruit, bit the seeds, nibbled on premium raw cacao. We went inside the Malagos Chocolate Museum, and experienced pouring melted chocolate into the molds. I sprinkled some walnuts and pistachios here and there. Every now and then I had to sneak a look around, making sure that no one saw me drool, and occasionally lick the spillover chocolates off the edges of the mold.

The chocolate rush was still active in my blood when I sought TMP president Masando Hashimoto’s thoughts on this year’s Road Trek.

“I think the beauty of this event is that media friends experience the joy of driving through the CN cars or GR cars that are available each year. I am not sure yet if the track is better, the dirt or the public roads. We want to challenge the possibilities of combining them in the future. As our global president Koji Sato mentioned at the May 8 press conference, Toyota’s future extends beyond the car itself to energy solutions and data solutions. In addition to ICEs, I believe we can offer our Filipino customers a variety of energy applications through HEVs, BEVs, hydrogen and biofuels for their future.”

He added, “we also believe that many of the difficulties of mobility, such as traffic congestion, commuting and logistics, could be well solved by providing connected technologies and mobile applications. So, starting next year, I want to develop Road Trek into an event where participants can experience energy and data together with driving. I hope you look forward to it.”

Thankfully, our flight back to Manila at the end of the 3rd day was on schedule. This time, thunderstorms delayed my exit from the airport to the crazy Friday night rush hour traffic. Another successful Road Trek was in the books. Maybe next year we can do away with the flying thingy altogether and stick to the road. Just my two cents’ worth.