Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes: Riding 4x4s and sandboards in the desert

Paoay Into the Void
Sandboarding into the Paoay sunset • Photo by Oggie Ramos for InFlight
Curious that in several trips to Ilocos over the years, it took a photo assignment from InFlight Magazine for me to pay the province's famous sand dunes a visit.  Oh, I grew up seeing the trailers of the Panday movies or watching Mad Max and hearing those were shot somewhere up north.  A desert in the tropics?  Such is the geology and topography of Ilocos Norte -- a curious mix of plains and valleys, wild coasts and surreal rock formations, uplands, waterfalls and a desert.

Paoay Dramatic Sand Waves
Sunset drama at Paoay Sand Dunes • Photo by Oggie Ramos for InFlight
Standing on a 20-foot hill, the sand still hot from the scorching afternoon sun and the intermittent wind blowing particles into my face, my clothes and my gear, I gaze at sand dunes stretching as far as my eyes can see to the southwest while the South China Sea glimmers in the west.  As the sunset approaches, the breeze coming from the sea escalates, giving us a semblance of how it feels like to be in a sandstorm.

The Paoay Sand Dunes is part of the 52-square mile Ilocos Sand Dunes, a protected landscape (or should it be desertscape?) and if I may say, a rather beautiful anomaly that is recognized as one of the National Geological Monuments by the National Committee on Geological Sciences (NCGS).  The Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes, as a whole, stretches from Currimao to Pasuquin. To put it poetically, it is the symphony of the wind, sea and river that created the sand dunes over eons.
Paoay Rolling in a 4X4
4x4 action in Paoay • Photo by Oggie Ramos for InFlight
The sandy dunes are, of course, not favorable for agriculture.  So what do you with so much sand?  Well, if CamSur has its watersports, Ilocos Norte has sandboarding and 4x4 rides.  There are two designated sandboarding areas: a 10ft drop for beginners, 20ft for advanced riders.  The rugged, dramatic landscape is also a perfect backdrop for riding a 4x4 truck, going full throttle on the flat expanse and mimicking a rollercoaster ride on the hills.   The Paoay Off-Roaders rent out 4x4s with a sandboard thrown in at P2,500 per hour; contact Jessie Galano at 0918.4610610.  So we rode off into the sunset and into the early evening, a full moon rising above the eerie landscape with no people, not even dogs for miles around, just us with the howling wind.
Paoay Sunset Silhouette
Wood gatherer heads home as the sun sets • Photo by Oggie Ramos for InFlight
Info: Ilocos Norte can be reached via air and land travel. Via air, several airlines service the route Manila-Laoag including Seair; travel time: less than an hour • Via land, many bus companies ply the Manila-Laoag route; you can choose from a variety of rides from regular buses to the sleeper bus of the G.V. Florida Bus Company; travel time: 9-10 hours.  Attribution: InFlight Magazine, Wikipedia, Ilocos Norte website


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