We’re glad to not have eaten anything that morning. If we did, we would have soiled the pristine scapes of the La Paz sand dunes in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte with what used to be our breakfast.
The supposed prelude to our sandboarding activity, it turned out, wasn’t sober at all. It woke us up alright from our groggy selves, having had an early 4 AM start from Vigan and a quick bus ride to Laoag, our jump off point to the expansive dunes.
We’re talking about the utterly crazy 4×4 ride we didn’t know was part of the package (we went there for sandboarding, which in hindsight seems the more sober of the two).
When Glenn of Ilocos Sandboarding Adventures told us we were going to have to ride along the dunes before going sandboarding, we dismissed it as nothing more than a leisurely roll. He was, after all, very calm when he told us to just hold tight and never let go, and we’ll be all right. From where we were, we could make out harmless-looking sloping trails. No biggie.
That was until we were finally going down one, two, three slopes, screaming our lungs out (yeah, Owen too) as we held on for dear life.
No straps, just a big fat jeep rail at the back you hold on to while standing. We never had the guts to ride a roller coaster, but we think this has got to be close enough. Whether you’re going to close your eyes while going down, if only to reduce the tension, is all up to you. We didn’t really know what each one was doing, or how each one had looked during the downhill runs. Hearing one scream as loudly is proof enough he or she hasn’t fallen over the jeep yet.
Glenn did allow us to gather our wits after every few meters during the first few minutes. Even then, our knees were beginning to shake and we have already breached the maximum allowable expletives per minute per person per day, if there ever is one.
“From this point, we won’t be making any more stops. Hold on tight. Keep your cameras away. There’s going to be one sharp swerve next.”
We ask him how steep, and he proceeds to make something like a 60-degree incline using his arms. Okay. We had no travel insurance.
That swerve was over in a jiffy. We didn’t even stay suspended enough to pee on our pants, which thankfully didn’t ever happen (seriously). Screaming works like a purging valve alright.
All too soon, our monstrous blue jeep parked on top of one of the slopes, the boards were dusted off, and we were briefed on what to expect next. The sandboarding procedure sounded simple enough: never let go of the board until you stop (just like in the 4×4 ride), otherwise you’ll probably stumble your way down, eating copious amounts of sand (and your dignity) along the way.
There are three ways to ride the boards: sitting down, standing, and lying down on your stomach. Owen tried the first two; Nikka just the first one. The third one is guaranteed to stuff you with sand by the time you reach the bottom, so that was a no-no for us.
In photo: Glenn of Ilocos Sandboarding Adventures straps Owen into one of the boards. So long as the board doesn’t fly out of your feet, you’re going to be fine.
The slopes were quite steep, and rightly so because otherwise, the boards won’t go down quick and smooth. Don’t fret about sustaining cuts—sand here is powdery fine it’s easy to sink your feet to it. And speaking of sinking, Nikka made the mistake of going up one of the slopes on the way back instead of taking the less steep side route. In effect, the climb had been laborious because she kept sinking into the sand. Easier way to go about this is to use the board to help propel you up.
In photo: The camera distorted this slope to look like it’s too shallow, but it really is, um, worse than it looks. :P
In photo: It’ll be over before you know it.
The standing position is a different story altogether. Surfers won’t have a problem balancing on the board, but beginners will have to exert much more effort. There’s little risk of toppling over so long as you don’t attempt to free your feet from the straps (again, never let go of the board until you come to a full stop).
Thankfully we were the first ones to ride that day, and others didn’t come until we were about to leave. By 8:30, just as the rest of Ilocos was starting their day, we were already all dusty and shaken and starving. Definitely the best time to pig out, but that’s another story.
OFFROAD ADVENTURE TIPS
Do not eat anything before going on the 4×4 ride. Call it sandsickness or whatever, but you need to NOT harbor anything that will probably scuttle off your stomach during the ride. It won’t be pleasant.
Go in the morning (6-7 AM) or late afternoon. It can get too hot by midday considering you’ll be under the direct heat of the sun throughout the rides. We can assure you the view in the early morning will be well worth it (from the top you can see Laoag City and the river that cuts through it on one side and the West Philippine Sea on the other side). The sunset would certainly look just as stunning, if not better.
Avoid the Holy Week and holiday rush if you can. Holidays are a bit crowded and honestly, it’s better to scream your lungs out with only your friends around.
GETTING TO LAOAG
By air. Laoag City is accessible by air (Manila-Laoag, via Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, and AirPhil Express.
By land. Alternatively, there are buses heading to Laoag from Cubao, Pasay, & Manila. Travel time is 10-12 hours, average price is P700.
From Vigan by land. AC and mini buses are readily available from Vigan City to Laoag (approx. 1.5 hours), roughly P100 each.
Click on this link for the complete list and phone numbers.
- Partas Terminal (Aurora Blvd., Cubao & Aurora Blvd., Pasay)
- Farinas Trans (Manila)
- Florida Bus (Manila)
ILOCOS SANDBOARDING ADVENTURES
*Pickups are available from Laoag City proper. You may also avail of their ATV rental at P2,000 per hour.
Visit the Tourism Ilocos Norte website for more details.