Bicol dishes at Socorro’s Restaurant

For more than a year, a good number of families have been stuck inside these four walls, sent inside almost forever and never seeing no one nice again.

So when most parts of the country were classified to Alert Level 2, it was like people earning the wings of Sir Paul McCartney and flew like a band on the run to their Christmas hideaways. Our family was among to make an early exodus to the countryside, the Bicol Region to be specific, for the time-honored annual get-together.

And for the long and winding roads, a trusty vehicle like the 6-speed automatic Maxus G10 van came in handy with its generous space as we lounged in leather captain’s seats with recline and slide adjustment. The class and superior comfort of this 9-seater MPV is reminiscent of the Bicol Express luxury coach during the heydays of the train, then the main transportation to southern Luzon.

For a family of five with two small dogs, countless bags, boxes and gifts, a stroller for the pets, musical instruments, a folding bike, and what-have-yous, the van was our wagon for the 11-day, 1,000-km journey with Naga City as base.

With a remarkably fuel-efficient 1.9-L turbo diesel engine, resulting to maximum power of 150 Ps and a peak torque of Nm. It is also a remarkably economical mobility for the long haul with a mileage of close to 500 kms for a full tank, which makes it the perfect van on the run.

Pit Stop 1: Quezon. This sprawling province serves as a midway point for a hearty meal at the native restaurants, boutique hotels, and home-grown cafes along the Lucena City to Lopez portion of the Maharlika Highway, which runs parallel to the panoramic bay.

Maxus G10’s ABS and EBD features enabled us to maintain control when negotiating the meandering highway, especially with moronic motorists darting from nowhere, and on slippery roads when the rain exploded with a mighty crash.

Maxus G10 at CamSur Watersports Complex

Pit Stop 2: CamSur. Bicol’s biggest and most populous province, it has the unenviable reputation of having ill-maintained highways. But that didn’t spoil the fun as the G10’s 16-inch alloy wheel, front McPherson and rear five link coil springs absorbed much of the pavement pressure.

At CamSur’s soil lies Mt. Isarog, a natural park and water volcano, which is habitat to biodiverse rich flora and fauna, a series of tall waterfalls, hot and cold springs, and forest parks.

The heart of Bicol and the province is Naga City, the region’s center of commerce, culture, urban living, and transportation. It is also dubbed Pilgrimage City because of the concentration of Spanish-era churches and its being host to the Feast of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the country’s biggest and oldest devotion to the Virgin Mary.

The bustling provincial capital town of Pili is an emerging urban center and houses most of the region’s big car dealers. It is home to CamSur Watersports Complex, a government-run recreational facility whose centerpiece is a six-cable wakepark which is touted to be the world’s best. It also has an adjacent man-made lagoon for kayaking and triathlon tournaments and a snack bar where you can watch wakeboarders glide on water.

Maxus G10 at Sumlang Lake

Pit Stop 3: Camalig. Albay’s heritage town because of its colonial-era homes and church has become a more exciting spot to view the towering perfect-coned Mayon Volcano.

Sumlang Lake is arguably the best location to gaze at the majestic peak while cruising on a balsa ride or wolfing down on spicy signature dishes at Socorro’s Lakeside Restaurant. What started as a low-key idle swamp just a few years ago was transformed into a busy events place, souvenir shop, abaca weaving, and landscaped park where pet lovers can walk their dogs, bikers can pedal a few laps, and visitors can observe physical distancing to the max.

The 10-hectare property, which recently added a swimming pool and lakeside overnight rooms, has also become a place for ogling at head-turning car and big bike models in the Bicolandia.

With many available nooks, Sumlang is conducive for car camping where the Euro 4-compliant Maxus G10 can serve as your supply area as you pitch a tent beside.

Maxus G10 at Mirisbiris Garden and Nature Center

Pit Stop 4: Sto. Domingo. Situated at Legazpi City’s outskirts, this town is noted for hand-made papercraft and decorative furnishings and its coast is dotted with quaint resorts along the therapeutic black beaches.

A 10-minute drive away from the población is Mirisbiris Garden and Nature Center, a facility for children’s literacy, livelihood, and environmental education, which has grabbed the attention of road trippers looking for a refreshing stopover.

A social enterprise of couple Chris and Glenda Newhall, the property has a one-hectare hillside main center with four family-style rooms, gazebo, resto, and organic garden. Across the road is a 9-hectare forest trail which extends to the shores of Albay Gulf, and boasts of about 1,000 plant species.

Every now and then during the long drive, I seem to hear McCartney singing the line of his rock hit: “And the first one said to the second one there ‘I hope you’re having fun.’”

I can only answer, “Yes Sir! We’re having fun with the Maxus G10 van on the run!”