There’s been an increasing trend wherein pickups are being used as lifestyle vehicles and not just a tool for work. Capitalizing on that trend are pickups like the 2023 Mazda BT-50, which markets itself as a vehicle that lets you “be anything you want”. To be able to let you be anything, except perhaps turn yourself into a car, then the car you own should let you go beyond your comfort zone.
For someone like me, I enjoy camping and hiking, so Mazda’s itinerary isn’t exactly going beyond my comfort zone. But for some, they’d rather be on a beach instead of up in the mountains. What else is there on top of a mountain? Cooler weather.
Cooler weather is exactly what Lake Tabeyo had to offer, which is situated at Kabayan, Benguet at the far side of Mt. Pulag’s peak. Mt. Pulag is the tallest mountain in Luzon and the country’s third-highest peak. While it’s not the absolute tallest, it must be noted that only mere hundreds of feet separate Mt. Pulag from Mt. Apo–the country’s tallest mountain (and volcano, for that matter).
Mt. Pulag’s height, as well as how north it is located in the Philippines, give Lake Tabeyo a unique climate. In fact, Kabayan, Benguet as a whole experiences one of the coldest climates in the Philippines, with temperatures dropping to single digits. But before we dive into the camping experience even further, we must talk about how to get there.
The 2023 Mazda BT-50 rides on the same foundations as the Isuzu D-Max, but with Mazda’s sprinkling of a more elegant design inside and out. The 4-hour initial drive to Baguio from Metro Manila was a cinch, especially with the driver-assistance tech on board that reduced fatigue such as the adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function.
It took us another 2 hours from Baguio to reach the DENR Visitor’s Center, which is located at Bokod, Benguet, and you have to remember that all roads leading deeper into Benguet are all winding mountain passes. Despite being a pickup with a firm ride for hauling heavy loads, the comfortable seats and commendable refinement put the BT-50 nearly on par with sedans in terms of overall road manners. The hydraulic steering means it’s still heavier than the Ford Ranger’s electronic steering, but for hydraulically-assisted ones, the BT-50 is already on the lighter side. While pickups aren’t known for sporty handling, you’d still be assured that for a tall vehicle, the BT-50 can put its best foot forward.
So, what’s the purpose of dropping by the DENR Visitor’s Center? Well, due to the climate at Mt. Pulag, campers and hikers are required to secure a medical certificate. Physicians stationed at the center will evaluate parameters such as blood pressure, breathing, and the like. Fortunately for all of us, we were all given the green light to continue on our journey.
From the visitor’s center, that’s another two-hour drive to Lake Tabeyo. Yes, if you’re doing the math, that’s nearly 8 hours of accumulated driving time in a single day, covering a distance of around 380 kilometers from Metro Manila. Thankfully, the BT-50’s 3.0-liter turbo diesel engine offered 197 hp and 450 Nm of meaty torque at a wide rev range. Because the engine effortlessly pulled the truck’s weight, fuel efficiency is excellent at 12.1 km/l, and that’s despite the varying elevations of the drive and the pace of the convoy.
It must be noted, however, that driving to Lake Tabeyo isn’t ideal during the rainy season. The roads from the DENR Visitor’s Center to Mt. Pulag are extremely prone to landslides. In fact, we even encountered numerous rocks that slid from the slopes of the surrounding mountains right after a heavy downpour occurred.
As we closed in on Lake Tabeyo, the temperature continued to drop, and this gave us the rare opportunity to use the heated seats of the 2023 Mazda BT-50. Upon arriving at the lake, we were mesmerized by the beauty of its pristine waters, which obviously meant a ton of photoshoots. The lake is located in a tiny village, which meant there are few residents in the area, but the environment surrounding the lake is unadulterated despite the presence of human settlements. Oh, and good luck finding cellular reception in the area.
The moment the sun sinks below the horizon, the temperature drops even further to single digits. In fact, it dropped to as much as 5 degrees Celsius, which is enough to cause hypothermia if you aren’t wearing the appropriate gear. The idea of experiencing single-digit temperatures in the Philippines is already an amazing experience for me, as this is what I’d usually only experience in countries located far from the equator.
Since Lake Tabeyo is practically in the middle of nowhere, this meant a total lack of light pollution, and you know what that means? An unadulterated view of the starry night–one that looks great in photos and even better in person. In fact, if you hike all the way to the peak of Mt. Pulag, you’ll have the chance to even see our own Milky Way galaxy. That’s also possible in Lake Tabeyo, but the moon was so bright, it eliminated any chance for us to see our own galaxy.
And just like that, we were on our way back to our tents and the sun already appeared from the horizon. In just a few hours, we were on our way down from Lake Tabeyo and back to Baguio, which made us realize a few things.
One is the fact that the 2023 Mazda BT-50 has evolved from a workhorse into a vehicle that you’d take for leisure. Over the years, trucks have transformed from a vehicle for the construction site to a vehicle that can effortlessly complement anyone’s adventurous lifestyle. By taking advantage of a pickup’s inherent durability and off-road capability and then blending it with (some of) the comfort of a sedan, you’ve now got a vehicle that can literally be multiple things for multiple people. Indeed, it’s a vehicle that’s tough but comfortable enough to let you get out of your own comfort zone–especially if that means camping.
In addition, with this being a Mazda, you’re also provided with the brand’s low ownership costs thanks to their signature 5-year free maintenance program. Oh, and did I mention that the Mazda BT-50 4×4’s price tag of P1,790,000 and P1,858,000 for the souped-up Pangolin Edition 2 costs less than the vehicle on which it’s based whilst having a few more features and perks?
Lastly, and I maintain my stand on this, the Philippines is indeed a beautiful country, especially if you look outside Metro Manila. Yes, living and driving in Metro Manila is challenging, and it’s why we often perceive that our country is in a sad state of seemingly endless traffic and pollution. However, if the rare opportunity to enable us to drive out of town comes, it’s one we shouldn’t take for granted as a way for us to reset our expectations and appreciate what the Philippines can offer. Of course, it’d be even cooler (literally) if it meant a trip to the hills and slopes of Mt. Pulag.