Paragliding Fly Site in Maasim

History buffs may be tempted to equate this column’s title to the 1992 Scott Ridley epic film on the discovery of the New World by Italian navigator Christopher Columbus 500 years after his expedition landed on American soil.

More than five centuries later, a new “conquest of paradise” is taking place half a world away, but is in no way connected to another colonial exploration.

Conquest, the newest variant of the vaunted Toyota HiLux pickup, is conquering pockets of paradise across the archipelago as it becomes one of the most in-demand trucks which blends form and function for both paved and off-road driving.

One proverbial paradise worth conquering with this 4×4 beast in Sarangani, mainland Mindanao’s southernmost province which is a veritable pound-for-pound champ in the tourism ring with its bevy of drive-worthy destinations. With some 350 kms of roads spread across seven municipalities, a good number of which are in upland and unpaved locations, the Conquest is perhaps the most ideal vehicle for conquering the mountains and breezing through General Santos City’s urban landscape in style.

Toyota HiLux Conquest

Pit Stop 1: Maasim. The nearest town to the newly upgraded General Santos International Airport, it has the enviable mixture of a “ridge to reef” adventure. With rocky terrain, it is acknowledged as among the world’s paragliding capitals because of its flyable weather and breathtaking vista. SAFI Ranch, the fly site is perched on a mountain 1,000 meters above sea level, a steep climb which the Conquest 2.8 4×4 GR-S AT can easily ascend with its 4-Cylinder, 16-Valve DOHC Variable Nozzle Turbo, even when loaded with the paragliding gear and support personnel.

After an exhilarating sightseeing tour of the ranges of South Cotabato and the giant cove of Sarangani Bay, you can conquer the underwater world of Tinoto Express, the top diving spot of Soccsksargen Region. The biodiversity-rich site can be accessed through Lemlunay, a cliffside resort which is host to the province’s only dive center. Literally meaning “paradise” in the Blaan indigenous language, Lemlunay is also a go-to place for dining, drinking, and lazing at the infinity pools.

Kalon Barak Skyline Ridge in Malungon

Pit Stop 2. Malungon. Sarangani’s boundary town with Davao Del Sur, it is the cradle of lumad culture being the domain of Blaan and Tagakaolo tribes, many of whom live in the hinterlands. One shouldn’t miss the award-winning Lamlifew Village Museum, the first of its kind in the country, which immerses visitors to exquisite Blaan weaving, music, organic agriculture, and cuisine.

Another must-drive is Kalon Barak Skyline Ridge, an eco-cultural spot at 816 MASL which has a sweeping panorama of the southern Mindanao’s mountains and seas.

Because of its fertile soil, Malungon is primed as a center for farm tourism and education, and infused with indigenous and earth-friendly agrarian technologies. With 18-inch alloy wheels and mud tires, Conquest can effortlessly plow into the puddles and streams, and haul agricultural produce and plant life.

GaMaBa Weaving Center in Malapatan

Pit Stop 3. Malapatan. Situated on Sarangani’s east coast, this obscure municipality boasts of being a hub of Maguindanaon fabric and Blaan mat weaving traditions. Near the town proper is the roadside Balungis Weaving Center, where Maguindanaon women put together the Islamic inaul fiber using trusty wooden handlooms. A classy and utilitarian cloth, the inaul can be made into a ladies’ wallet, scarf, shawl, bag, and gown, blazer or skirt.

In the highland sitio of Upper Lasang is the Estelita Bantilan Mat Weaving Center, the workshop of the septuagenarian Blaan weaver who was proclaimed by President Rodrigo Duterte as a recipient of Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (National Living Treasures Award), the most prestigious accolade for folk artists.

At 167 MASL, it is reachable through a narrow feeder road, its core is the weaving house where Bantilan and her protegees magically weave the colorful igem mat which are often used as interior ornaments.

Balutaki Quincentennial Marker in Glan

Pit Stop 4. Glan. Dubbed as the region’s beach hideaway and heritage village, this easternmost town takes pride at the newly installed quincentennial commemorative monument to mark the 500th year of the Magellan-Elcano expedition’s circumnavigation of the world.

Perched at a promontory in Batulaki village, the expedition’s surviving crew sought refuge here in October 1521 before finally sailing to the “Spice Islands” in Maluku, Indonesia. Situated near Mindanao’s southernmost point at Celebes Sea, it is a 90-minute coastline run from Glan población or 106 kms away from General Santos City.

Just a few steps on the gas pedal away is Jose Abad Santos town, the gateway to the newly carved Davao Occidental province, which is another exciting drive tourism frontier.

Road warriors need not worry as the Hilux Conquest’s powerful 2755cc displacement, and controls on stability, hill-start and downhill assist, and state-of-the-art safety features and onboard entertainment will keep you at the helm of the journey, much like the intrepid Medieval navigators.

How’s that as your vessel for a modern-day circumnavigation and conquest of paradise?