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April 25, 2013

Conquering the Final Frontier: Kia True North Takes on Batanes

Photos by Ulysses Ang
They say it can’t be done: a ride and drive event in the Philippines’s northern most point: Batanes. It certainly sounds like a challenge, a challenge that Columbian Autocar Corporation, the country’s exclusive distributor of Kia vehicles, happily accepted. Consider this: the weather in Batanes is unpredictable at best, being the only place in the country to experience four seasons. Then, Batanes is the entry or exit points of typhoons, so careful planning is needed to ensure everyone’s safety. Finally, the logistics of mounting such an event is daunting: it required 10 Kia vehicles from a Picanto to an Optima Hybrid to be shipped as cargo (there’s no Ro-Ro or Roll On, Roll Off in Batanes) from Sual, Pangasinan for 32 hours before unloading them one by one by crane with nothing more than a thick piece of foam separating the delicate metal body from the rusty steel chains.

But taking a cue from Kia’s own brand motto, “the power to surprise”, all 10 vehicles made it safe and sound and a couple of days later, a group of 40 motoring journalists touched town to the enchanting, almost mysterious island of Batanes. Even before settling into the cozy Fundacion Pacita, which serves as the group’s accommodations for the three-day ride and drive event, everyone started taking pictures of the scenery. The rolling hills, cool climate, and brooding sky made for a perfect backdrop to any The Lord of the Rings movie. As the contingent gathered at the dining area of Fundacion Pacita, Kia let the bomb drop: this isn’t an ordinary ride and drive; it’s a contest—a photography and driving contest to be exact. And for those who aren’t in the motoring industry, the mere mention of “contest” and “cash prize” is enough to cause stirs of panic, excitement, exhilaration, and competition.

The entire delegation is divided into teams of 4, each one named after the various towns in Batanes; after that, a raffle to determine which vehicle to use during the entire ride and drive event. Seemingly out of the magician’s hat, our team, composed of fellow The Philippine Star writer Angel Rivero, Rona Reina and Ron De Los Reyes of Auto Review drew out the most beautiful Kia available: the Optima Hybrid. This contest should be a piece of cake, or so we thought. The white unit, representing Kia’s crème de la crème in design and engineering know-how is Columbian Autocar President Ginia Domingo’s personal car so the team had to be extra careful. The team’s first stop is the Basco PAGASA Weather Station perched atop a steep hill. There, disaster struck: the driveway leading to the weather station is too steep for the Optima Hybrid. And it practically had to scrape its entire belly getting there. This experience pretty much summarized the entire afternoon with the Optima Hybrid where it had to squeeze its way (barely) through various town roads. It didn’t help that the Papago GPS failed at various turns, almost causing the Optima Hybrid among other Kia cars to get stuck at a steeply inclined, narrow road.

Before lunch, the team stopped at various places including Boulder Beach, known for its huge andesite rocks that came from the volcanic eruption of Mt. Iraya, the Rolling Hills in Vayang which gives a breathtaking view of the sea and lush greenery below, the Basco Lighthouse that gives a bird’s eye view of Batan Island, Mt. Iraya, Salting and Itbayat Islands, and the Mahatao Church which is Batanes’s oldest church.

After a hearty lunch at Vatang Grille, it was time to complete the other destinations. Next in the list the Tayid Lighthouse which required yet more off-roading from the Optima Hybrid, Marlboro Hills, and the Alapad Viewpoint. The team’s penultimate stop was the Ivana Church and beside it, the famous Honesty Coffee Shop, an unmanned store where customers just leave their exact payments in a jar based on the trait of honesty. The last stop is fittingly, the House of Dakay, the oldest house in Batanes still standing. Built in 1887, it’s now occupied by Flordelisa Estrella, an 87-year old lady who happens to be the daughter of the original owner, Jose Estrella.

Batanes still isn’t a top choice when it comes to local tourist destinations. Though it sees around 1,600 tourists a year, it’s still considered to be a place for those who enjoy “roughing it”. Nonetheless, it’s amazing to see such an unspoiled place free from the usual noisy bars, loud music, condos, Jollibees and what have you. Kia’s trip to Batanes, formally titled, “Kia True North: Drive and Write in Batanes” took almost a year to conceptualize, but the end result is more than worth it. Aside from sampling the very best that Kia has to offer, the different participants all left in awe, taking in the inspiring beauty of the landscape, the lush greenery, and the clear and clean skies. Indeed, traveling to Northern Philippines’s treasured wonder with Kia offered a truly exciting and inspiring experience.

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