Off the Beaten Track in the Sand Dunes of Paoay, Ilocos Norte

Sep 9, 2014

by By Mike Baños, Editor-at-Large Photos by Alaric Yanos , PGIN & Mike Baños, NPN

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It was nearing dusk when we arrived at the famous sand dunes of Paoay, Ilocos Norte during a recent familiarization tour of the province for Cagayan de Oro and Cebu based journalists.


Visitors with Paoay Vice Mayor Jessie Galano

It had been a pretty exhausting morning after traveling to the iconic windmills of Bangui, trekking under the scorching Ilokano sun at the famous white rock formation of Kapurpurawan, slogging uphill the steep stone staircase of Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, then more trekking through the REFMAD Dragon Fruit Farm where we had a brief respite for lunch.

Then it was off again for the Bacarra Museum, and thence to Laoag City for the Museo Iloko, Bell Tower, Tobacco Monopoly monolith, and the provincial capitol. After a brief snack at the thankfully cool Johnny Moon Café, we were off for the famous Paoay sand dunes just a few minutes ride from the Plaza del Norte where we were billeted during our stay.


Clambering up the sand dunes in a yellow Jeep Wrangler

But this isn’t about this magnificent desert in the middle of nowhere, site of many movie shoots like Ang Panday, Himala, Born on the Fourth of July, Mad Max, to mention a few. A mysterious 88-kilometer sand formation at the border of Paoay, it is the only such formation in South East Asia.

What our hosts from the provincial government communications and media office headed by photographer Alaric Yanos brought us here were for its famous sand sports like the 4X4 dune bashing and sand boarding.  Having personally experienced 4X4 off-road racing with friends from the 4X4 Fun Club back home, I wasn’t especially raring to take the ride in my tired state.


A turn behind the wheel of the classic FJ-40

Fortunately, it turned out later, our hosts indeed had something special for our group whose travel and accommodation were facilitated by Cebu Pacific Air and JG Summit Holdings. Our group of five lady journalists from Cebu was aboard a Jeep Wrangler whose yellow trim was reminiscent of the Transformers’ Optimus Prime while Orwin Austria, my fellow journalist from Cagayan de Oro, and our hosts from CEB and JG Summit, Precious Heradura and Len Borja, clambered aboard a blue Toyota FJ- 40 Land Cruiser.

We weren’t on the trail long before we heard the screams of our fellow journalists from Cebu splitting the air just ahead of us as the off-road vehicles seemingly dipped and dropped straight down then straight up before corkscrewing around the bends of trails at an angle which seemed to many of us would surely end up with our jeeps tumbling off the trails head over heels.

But no such thing happened, of course. And our drivers laughingly assured us they have not had an accident ever since the 4X4 dune bashing was initiated in by the present vice mayor Jessie Galano two years ago.


Paoay Vice Mayor Jessie Galano gives us the thumbs up from his red FJ-40 Land Cruiser

However exciting dune bashing and sand boarding were for us personally, I still believe Paoay could attract even more tourists to adventure sports in the sand dunes with a little more safety precautions.

For those familiar with the famous white water rafting of Cagayan de Oro, you have experienced how the outfitters are extra careful about the safety of their guests, providing them with a pre-departure orientation on safety precautions to take and instructions to observe, safety equipment like the mandatory life vests and helmets, and first aid stations and ambulances just in case.


Sand boarding under the direction of Paoay Vice Mayor Jessie Galano

As our brief ride on the dunes showed us, it’s not for everyone and people with health concerns should be made aware of the risks they are about to take. An orientation on how to deal with the sudden vertical drops and rises would also be useful, and tips on how to properly hold on the roll bars without getting bruised and battered as some of our lady riders were, I believe be appreciated by those yet to ride. Shin and forearm guards would be nice.

All told, however, the sand sports in the sand dunes of Paoay remains high in the bucket list of those wanting to experience Ilocos Norte. But increased awareness of the risks and how to deal with them would surely be welcomed by those about to ride.


Just a pose before we go

The Philippines’ largest national flag carrier, Cebu Pacific Air flies daily from Manila to Laoag for the lowest year round fare of PhP 1,509.00. Book now through +(632) 702-0888, (032) 230-888 The latest seat sales can also be found on CEB’s official Facebook and Twitter pages.



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