A Road Trip to Baler With the Kia Seltos
The new folks at Kia Philippines celebrated its first anniversary by rounding up a couple of dozen motoring media to a ride-and-drive to Baler, Aurora. The company was was re-launched with a new distributor, which now operates under AC Industrials, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ayala Corporation.
It was a good reason to celebrate. With a new team and fresh capital from Ayala Group, Kia Philippines managed to sell 5,019 cars on its maiden year, doubling up its previous year sales of 2,238 units. The Ayala Group has been in the automotive industry for over two decades, distributing and manufacturing several auto and truck brands as well as making car components.
Kia Philippines president Manny Aligada joined the road trip and he confessed that it was his first time to do a road trip with the media. He didn't realize it could be so much fun. And he and his staff couldn't have picked a better team to herd the convoy of over a dozen Kia Seltos crossovers for the roadtrip.
“The year 2019 has been significant for us, marking milestones such as the 124 percent sales growth, three new model launches with the Soluto, the Stinger, and the Seltos, that have allowed us to expand our reach to more Filipinos,” said Aligada.
The road trip was run and managed by Ramirez and Cutter, with car industry veteran Georges Ramirez leading the pace. Georges and his family are accomplished race car drivers. Each vehicle was given a two-way radio, and with Georges leading the pace car, he would accurately describe the road conditions up ahead so the convoy would know what to expect and when to overtake. From potholes to dips on the pavement, he made sure the cars behind him would know what obstacles to avoid and with just his side view mirrors, he can professionally judge the pace of the pack and account for his mobile four-wheeled herd.
Launched last November, the Kia Seltos is a compact crossover fitted with a two-liter dual CVVT engine and an Intelligent Variable Transmission that Kia says is designed to give the driver the dual advantage of being able to drive aggressively or just simply cruise along at a fuel-sipping pace.
Part of the route had long stretches of highway driving and there was a leg with twisty roads that are some of the longest in the north, which made it twice the fun going to and back. The ride was quite comfortable for the long journey and yet the suspension was tuned well to take the hard corners and hairpin curves of Aurora’s famous zigzag mountain roads.
Kia PH president Manny Aligada poses with the Seltos with the Pantabangan dam in the background
Our first stop was Highlands Bali Villas located in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija. Spot.ph calls it the “Bali of the North” and it has a great view overlooking parts of Pantabangan Dam. After a sumptuous lunch, the group took some time taking photos of the cars on the nearby shoreline of the man-made lake which formed part of the dam.
The next and final destination was Costa Pacifica, one of the top hotel destinations in Baler. Here’s a fun fact: the area was where some of the surfing scenes of the 1979 American classic movie Apocalypse Now were filmed. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, the movie starred such Hollywood luminaries as Marlon Brando, Harrison Ford, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper. Contrary to popular belief though, it wasn't the American movie crew that introduced surfing in the area. The locals had been doing it for at least a decade earlier.
The modern designed and spacious villas offer a spectacular balcony view of Sabang Beach. Its veranda and poolside lounge gives sun worshippers a nice chance to get a tan or just simply watch the morning surfers do their thing. The outdoor pool gives guests a chance for a nice swim if one doesn't feel like taking the hotel’s free surfing lessons and it even has amenities if you plan to bring your pets along.
On the way back to Manila the next day, we stopped over at Kubli’s Restaurant for lunch, a hip and Mediterranean-inspired hideout in one of the backroads of Baler that offers excellent fusion cuisine.”Kubli” literally means “to hide” in Tagalog. The skewered BBQ’s, sisig and oven-baked pizzas as well as the Brazo de Mercedes dessert were the highlights of the meal. The walls of Kubli’s were full of surfing memorabilia and it is one of the most popular joints in the area.
The long drive back was well-rewarded with a dinner in one of San Fernando Pampanga’s finest dining spots called Rainforest Kichene by Chef Vince Garcia. We got to talk to Chef Vince, who shared how he started in the restaurant business with just a fistful of pesos and a heart full of determination. He mentioned how he was so humbled and honored by being mentored by the late Levy Laus, one of the most prominent and successful businessmen in Pampanga. Chef Vince also shared some of his stories on the recent SEA Games where he and his crew had to feed close to a thousand hungry athletes when Pampanga played host to various teams from Southeast Asia.
It was my first roadtrip to Baler. It definitely won't be my last.