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A ride that goes to Batad where few dare

WITHIN the Montero Sport 4x4’s sleek outline lies a potent package that is ready to face any type of road challenges. Photos by Charles E. Buban

Before the rainy season set in a couple of weeks ago, I decided to grab the chance to go out of town for a short and much-needed vacation.

I had to make a quick getaway plan.

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After all, an all-wheel drive variant, the Montero Sport, sat idle in my garage. But to where can I bring this top-selling SUV of Mitsubishi Motors Philippines?

The province of Ifugao became an interesting choice. This mountainous region boasts of the most majestic rice terraces in the world. Among these, Batad, with its amphitheater-styled terraces, stands unique.

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But to get there, you need to reach Banaue first, a drive that takes eight to 10 hours (that is, if you’re coming from Metro Manila).

From Banaue, Batad is just 16 kilometers away.

Rugged

However, the terrain between Banaue and Batad is rugged and may be difficult to navigate even if there’s no inclement weather.

Landslides could occur any time, especially if it’s been raining for days (it could be raining in Batad area even if it’s scorchingly hot in Metro Manila as was the case when I got there).

The windy road snaking between the mountains is also narrow—just enough to accommodate the width of an oversized jeep (the official mode of transport in this area).

This means if you will be driving your own vehicle, watch out for oncoming traffic especially around blind curves or while negotiating very steep inclines.

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Up to the challenge

The best way to enjoy this short vacation is to make sure your ride is up to the challenge. If you intend to explore places like Batad, make sure your ride has ample ground clearance as well as an economical diesel engine that deliver lots of torque.

The Montero Sport GLS 4×4 is a perfect choice for this particular trip.

A market favorite, The Montero Sport played a pivotal role in propelling MMPC to the number one position last month, when the company recorded selling 3,117 units and in the process achieved 28.6-percent share of the local automotive market (MMPC’s May 2011 sales accounts for a double-digit growth of 15.3 percent compared with the same month last year, while year-to-date figures registered an increase of 9.1 percent with 14,062 units sold compared with 12,891 units sold in same period last year).

Powered by a 134-horsepower, 2.5-liter diesel engine, the Montero Sport 4×4 performed flawlessly, without a single hiccup on the highway that passed Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija and the town of Bagabag in Nueva Vizcaya.

But the true test really came when I finally reached Banaue. Barely a kilometer after leaving the town proper, the road turned narrow and rugged. Big rocks and loose soil filled the path courtesy of several days-old landslides. Me and my passengers were still lucky as we were informed that some landslides are so bad they completely cut off the road isolating the towns of Batad and beyond for several days or weeks.

7th kilometer mark

From Banaue, a newbie driver has to watch out if the odometer reading is about to reach the 7th kilometer mark. A junction lies around this area wherein one must turn left, go up toward the “saddle” (to go straight would lead travelers to the more remote town of Mayoyao, 37 kilometers away).

The “saddle” is the last place where visitors bringing their own vehicle could safely park (there’s a fee though, for the locals who will watch it over). This is the starting point of the hour-long or so walk to Batad town proper.

It was here at this junction that this writer met an old lady who politely insisted that I just leave the vehicle on the side of the road and start walking (just what other tourists on board their private vehicles occasionally do). In her estimation the Montero Sport is “too beautiful” to be able to make the climb, not like the battle-scarred oversized jeeps that periodically transport tourists visiting Batad.

But after driving 10 hours, I was not about to walk 9 kilometers with a 15-kilo bag on my back. Besides, it would be unwise to just leave the vehicle at the roadside and in such a lonesome place.

Rugged and steep

The path going to the “saddle” is very rugged as well as steep so only the oversized jeepneys are brave enough to climb.

THOSE who want to be rewarded with stunning vistas of amazing human engineering and breathtaking mountainscape have to be ready to break a sweat and to venture down the road less traveled. Photos by Charles E. Buban

Assuring the old lady that my ride is an all-wheel drive one, I bid her goodbye and shifted the Super Select to 4H (that’s 4WD high range that improves traction) and started the grueling climb.

As the Montero Sport calmly and confidently climbed the steep mountainside, I kept in mind what sort of misfortune should I get too cocky: Steer too much to one side and risk scraping the beautiful side of the vehicle, veer too much to the other and I end up rolling down the deep ravine.

The Montero Sport is indeed confidence-inspiring. Its 21.5cm ground clearance proved valuable while negotiating deep tire tracks, rocky outcrop and eroded trails. Considering this particular Montero Sport features the Super Select 4WD—the same system found in Mitsubishi’s full size SUV, the Pajero—no terrain was too tough for this SUV.

They say the best things in life are the ones that made you work up a good sweat. There’s that unmatched sense of fulfillment and pride that comes through hard work.

It was a joyous moment as our group finally reached the vicinity of Batad. Leaving the Montero Sport in the safety of the saddle’s parking area, it was our turn to stretch our leg.

While Batad is a challenging place to reach, its secrets are well worth the journey. One only has to remember to be prepared especially in what sort of ride to bring.

I have to agree with MMPC president and CEO Hikosaburo Shibata, who is optimistic in achieving 2011 sales target of 36,000 units and capturing a 20 percent market share (despite year to date decrease of 11 percent in the auto industry sales). With the Montero Sport 4×4 alone, they have a capable vehicle worthy of owning.

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TAGS: Batad, Montero Sport, Motoring, Philippines
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