Situated 162 kilometers from the northern-most tip of Luzon are the isles of Batanes. Those islands boast of sheer rock cliffs, boulder-lined beaches, rolling hills and plains that are few and far in between.
The seas are rough on all sides, making for sparse shipments, and even less visitors. Though often regarded as the typhoon capital of the country, Batanes isn’t hit by typhoons as often as they say, and in fact enjoys four seasons as opposed to the rest of the country. It’s the isles’ remoteness and high cost of living that account for its scant density per area. And with so few humans around, makes for one of the most stunning natural landscapes in the country.
This was the location of Kia’s True North Expedition, an event chockfull of logistical nightmares and equally rewarding for those who dare. For the event, Columbian Autocar Corp. shipped 10 vehicles to Basco in Batan island, through a ship not typically used to ferry vehicles into a port barely equipped to crane in cars. The Kia vehicles were the Carnival, Rio, Optima Hybrid, Picanto, Sportage, and Sorento.
The object was simple, keep up the brand’s “Power to Surprise” and surprise they did with an event that even some of the country’s more established brands wouldn’t dare attempt. With picturesque vistas all over the island, the 10 cars became 10 teams tasked to drive around the island and photograph their assigned vehicle in each of the 10 top sights of the island. An essay would accompany the photos that would be put up in an exhibit in the following week.
The activity proved to be no small feat in itself. Cars are rare in this part of the country with much of the population opting for pedal power or two wheeled transport. For the narrow roads here hug coastal cliffs, snake through canyons and ride over ridges.
One Carnival will take up more than half of the road. Blowing horns is a matter of courtesy and necessity here, rather than a means of expressing content, as several blind corners can easily hide oncoming traffic. Even the jeepneys here, all 14 of them, follow a strict alternate day scheme to avoid bottlenecks. Even with coastal roads covering much of the island, Kia kindly provided GPS systems from Papago to guide the way, leading each team to the 10 stops in staggered order.
The Carnival’s potent diesel engine made it up Batanes’ steep roads easily. Sliding doors on either side allowed us to quickly hop out and get a better view of the sights.
The result was an easy cruise around the island, with stops no more than 15 minutes away, sometimes more if you were a shutterbug. The tour took teams to the Basco and Tayid lighthouses, the Tukon Radar Station, the Mahatao and Ivana Churches, a boulder-lined beach, awe-inspiring rolling hills and Basco’s oldest house, dating back to 1887. There was even a side trip to Basco’s famous Honesty store – a self-service store with an absent proprietor where guests simply serve themselves, drop off their payment and leave a tip if they like (or lack change).
Positioning the car and posing for pictures was the easy part with almost every direction offering a vista worth capturing.
The drive was certainly an enjoyable one as many opted to drive with the windows down to enjoy the cool climate and clean unpolluted air. Every corner unveiled a spectacular view and even the mountain roads were manicured with colourful plants and bushes all the way up to the peak.
All the while, the climate was cool, made warm by the soft smiles of the locals and courteous greetings at every corner. Meals were made up of the islands abundance of sweet potato, beef, pork and seafood. Lobster even proved to be a daily offering, being easily caught just offshore.
The following day, the group proceeded to the nearby island of Sabtang, with an even smaller population than Basco. Here, the famous stone houses were in abundance, as well as grander rolling mountains hiding beaches within their chasms. The island even featured a 3,000-year-old fort carved into the mountain used by the warring tribes in the island.
At the end of the trip, Batanes proved to be a hardy land, with rock cliffs and rolling hills like Scotland and coastal roads as beautiful as those in California. The earth is rocky and unforgiving, yielding fruit that’s even tougher. The distinctive land moves to a different beat, requiring nothing but the most hardy and resilient residents.
Conditions like these ought to yield cold and callous people, and yet we’ve found nothing but warmth, honesty and sincerity at every step. It proved to be an appropriate locale for Kia to host a drive. At both their hearts are a warmth, honesty and confidence that no typhoon can take away.