Ilocos Sur Adventure Zone (Bantay, Ilocos Sur)

Ilocos Sur Adventure Zone

Ilocos Sur Adventure Zone

The Ilocos Sur Adventure Zone (ISAZ), an adventure center at the boundary of the towns of Bantay and Santa, near the postcard-pretty Old Quirino Bridge, is the newest attraction in this side of Ilocos Sur.  Owned, built and operated by the provincial government, it was fully operational since  December 22, 2011.

Ilocos Sur Adventure Zone (8)

With its climbing and rappelling walls, kayak center, zorb balls, giant swing and its 400 m. long zip line that crosses the Abra River, it mostly caters to adrenaline junkies and adventure freaks and is perfect for local and international tourists wanting a bit more than visiting museums and the cobble streets of nearby Vigan City, a 15-min. drive away.

Zipline tower

Zipline tower

They also offer rock climbing and rappelling at the rocky mountains of Banaoang.

Giant Swing

Giant Swing

Adventure Zone: Brgy. Banaoang, Bantay, Ilocos Sur. Rates: zipline (Php250, one way, sitting; PhP300 each, one-way, superman; PhP500,  two way), rappelling (PhP150, 2 attempts), wall climbing (PhP150, 2 attempts), kayaking (PhP150, 30 mins.), giant swing (PhP180, single; PhP300, twin).

How to Get There: Sta. Maria-bound buses (fare: PhP25) from Vigan City pass by the area.

Onse Reef Off Road & Sandboarding Adventure (Paoay, Ilocos Norte)

Paoay sand dunes

Paoay sand dunes

One of the highlights of our Holy Week sojourn in Ilocos Norte was our Onse Reef Off Road & Sandboarding Adventure.  From Pamulinawen Hotel, Jandy, Melissa, Almira, Albert and I had to take a 17-km./25-min. jeepney ride to Paoay town proper.  From there, we all boarded a tricycle for the 20-min. drive to the sand dunes. As we neared the dunes, Albert and I had to alight as the tricycle had a hard time climbing up a dune. Upon arrival, we met up with Mr. Jake A. Texon, the Operations Manager.

Onse Reef

Onse Reef Off Road & Sandboarding  Adventure

Ilocos Norte is the only place across the Southeast Asian region where one can find a desert environment. Technically known as the “Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes,” it spans four Ilocos Norte towns. In 1993, due to its superlative natural beauty, geological uniqueness and scientific relevance, the sand dunes have been declared as a National Geological Monument (NGM) in the Philippines (other NGM sites include  the Hundred Islands National Park off  the coast of Pangasinan, the Taal Lake and Volcano Protected Landscape in Batangas, and the Chocolate Hills in the island of Bohol). The dunes have been used as the setting for the desert scenes in for Mel Gibson’s “Mad Max” (1979), Tom Cruise’s “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989) and local blockbuster flicks such as Nora Aunor’s “Himala” (1982), the “Ang Panday” series and “Temptation Island” (2011).

The desert-like terrain

The desert-like terrain

The sand dunes of Ilocos Norte, a one of a kind “extreme adventure” destination in the Philippines, is also ideal for 4 x 4 rides, similar to dune bashing in the Emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (a booming tourist attraction in the Middle East), and sandboarding. Dune bashing has the feeling and excitement of riding a roller coaster because of the up and down route of the off-road vehicle through the very high and very steep terrain and mountain-like features of the dunes.

A lone tree

A lone tree

The Paoay Sand Dunes, 88 hectares of wide expanse of sand, has the vast sandy characteristics of the Dubai desert (though the sand there is considerably pure because it doesn’t have particles like twigs, barks, stones and leaves), making it suitable for dune bashing and sand boarding.  However, the vehicles used in Dubai (such asToyota Land Cruisers) have roofs while the jeeps in Paoay are open-air and only have a single roll bar.

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In 2011, during our Lakbay Norte Media Tour, we tried the dune bashing and sandboarding at La Paz in Laoag City.  However, it is widely accepted that Paoay boasts the best terrains there are to find in the sand dunes complex and, recently, an outdoor group discovered an area in the village of Bacsil that is a good addition to the options present for sand dunes safaris.  This I wanted to find out.

The West Philippine Sea

The West Philippine Sea

How do the sand dunes of Paoay differ from earlier established commercial areas in the sand dunes complex? For one, it was only recently discovered so its terrain is as pristine as they can get plus not many tourists have visited the place. Also, the combination of wide sandy plains, clusters of closely-formed dunes, several oases and outlying vegetation plus a good view of the coast towards the West Philippine Sea, and the height of its dunes (some at 70 m. high) will surely not disappoint anyone visiting Bacsil. Aside from Onse Reef Off Road & Sandboarding Adventure, there are two other registered 4 x 4 operators at the Paoay sand dunes – Suba Sand Dunes and Culili Point Sand Dunes Double-Extreme-Adventure.

The staging area

The staging area

Onse Reef Off Road & Sandboarding Adventure, according to Jake, was established on October 28, 2014 as a 15 member club whose members pitch in their time, talent and treasure to build the place. It has 21 4 x 4 units – five locally-manufactured Wrangler-type jeeps, 14 Toyota Land Cruisers and two modified Toyota Surfs, all diesel-powered and tuned for dune bashing by being equipped with large tires (underinflated to 10 psi) and heavy duty suspension systems.  Conversions usually cost PhP400,000 per unit.

Some of Onse Reef's 4 x 4s

Some of Onse Reef’s 4 x 4s

All units are manned by 25 drivers and 40 guides (who also teach sandboarding). The drivers and guides have to strictly adhere with safety nets for their passengers who are standing in open jeepney vehicles. Drivers also stay on existing tracks and areas, and do not create new ones in the limited vegetation, so they are caring for the area. For the site to become globally competitive, without disturbing the natural ascent, descent and curbs of the place, the trails were designed in consultation with expert adventure builders in the U.S.A., with names such as the “Snake Pit,” the “Devils Ride,” the “Blind Drop,” the “Triple Fall,” the “Roller Coaster,” etc.

Wrangler-type jeep

A Wrangler-type jeep

We tried out the dune bashing first. We hopped on the back of our blue Toyota Land Cruiser and, in a standing position (you can also do it seated but it is less fun), were asked to hold on tight to the roll bar. No seat belts, harness or head gear at all. Our 4 X 4 ride was more thrilling and enjoyable than any roller coaster ride I have ever experienced and we all felt a different kind of rush as we watched the road from above and screamed for our lives during the times when we felt like the vehicle would topple over.

Boarding our Toyota Land Cruiser

Boarding our Toyota Land Cruiser

You must have strong grip to prevent being thrown out, plus a strong heart to last the trip.  The drive on bumpy routes and very steep 45 degree angle downward slopes were very exciting. The driver knew how to give us an adrenaline rush. We soon learned how to move with the vehicle, especially on high deep hills and side-winding curves. It’s literally like riding a wild horse and surely an experience I’d be glad to do again.

On our way ......

On our way ……

We made a stopover on top of the dunes for some photo shoots. As we arrived during the long arid dry season, the dunes before us were barren and brown, with only wild grasses, shrubs and some sturdy trees. The beautiful, late afternoon sunset here, along the crimson skyline, is also said to be indescribable.  We also learned that offshore is Onse Reef, a 12-hectare-protected marine sanctuary and a beautiful diving site located within the territory of Barangays Bacsil, Mumulaan and Nagbacalan.

Stopover for photo shoot

Stopover for photo shoot

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After our 4 x 4 ride, the others tried sandboarding, an insane sport which, though so much harder than surfing and a little easier than wakeboarding and skiing, was still worth trying. All you need here is body balancing. You need to squat in order to balance and properly surf. Each tried to keep their balance on the stretch of roughly 10 to 15 m. run with the board still on their feet.  The board is geared up with oil to make it glide smoothly over the sand but still they tumbled. Good thing the sand is soft, with no rocks.

Jandy getting ready to surf

Jandy getting ready to surf

However, falling from the sand boards would get lots of sand in your pants. Only Melissa made a successful run while seated on the board. Though you would tumble down at first, you’ll get the hang of it after two or more tries. You will have to walk up the slope every time you surf down and the hard part is just climbing up the sand hill again as it does get very tiring.

Albert bends to balance himself

Albert bends to balance himself

A very nice place to test your nerves, don’t leave Paoay without trying dune bashing and sandboarding! It’s both exhilarating and scary and good for adrenalin junkies. It also gives you the authentic feeling of being in the Middle East as you do not have to travel to Dubai just to experience this. The drivers and the guides all make sure that you get a thrilling ride going up and down the sand dunes. It’s absolutely fun. At the staging area, there is a store that sells snacks, halo-halo and souvenirs.

Melissa makes it down the hill on her butt.....

Melissa makes it down the hill on her butt…..

It is best to try dune bashing when the sun’s not too punishing. As they operate as early as 5 AM, you can try out dune bashing either very early in the morning or late in the afternoon (to also view the nice sunset) as the really fierce heat of the noontime sun can burn your skin. Don’t go there between 10 AM and 4 PM. Bring bottled water with you, as it does get dry and tiring, bring sunblock lotion, a small towel plus wear sunglasses, rubber shoes (because the sand is hot) and a hat that won’t blow off.  Also make sure to have extra clothes and be prepared to get dirty. For those who want to take videos, better use a small camera that you can attach to its stand and hold it in front of you, since it will be hard to hold on to the big cameras while your ride is going down fast.

L-R: Melissa, Jandy, Albert and Almira

L-R: Melissa, Jandy, Albert and Almira

The 4 x 4 ride and sandboarding is not for the faint hearted, anxious, nervous, pregnant, the newly operated, have high blood pressure, fractures, epilepsy or heart disease. Only children 10 years old and above are allowed at the back of the vehicle.  Participants have to sign a waiver.  Peak season is summer, weekends and December.   Rates: PhP1,500 for a 30- minute ride and PhP2,500 for a 1- hr. ride. Maximum number of people is 5.

Posing with Jake A. Texon (in light blue shirt)

Posing with Jake A. Texon (in light blue shirt)

Onse Reef Offroad & Sandboarding Adventure: Brgy. 23, Bacsil, 2902 Paoay, Ilocos Norte. Mobile numbers: (0919) 650-4633 (Smart), (0917) 503-9543 (Globe), (0921) 738-0616 (Smart) and  (0999) 710-2779 (Globe). Email: Paoay.sandunes@yahoo.com. . Website: www.onsereef.com. Open daily, 5 AM – 7 PM.

Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (Carmen, Bohol)

Chocolate Hill Adventure Park (CHAP)

Chocolate Hill Adventure Park (CHAP)

After our delightful Loboc River Cruise, we all returned to our airconditioned coaster for the highlight of our Bohol Countryside Tour – the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAPS) which is owned and run by Camanayon Hill Development Corp.

The park entrance

The park entrance

Situated in Carmen, it is the latest eco-tourism and adrenaline pumping adventure park in Bohol. The sprawling 4-hectare park offers thrilling adventure activities like hiking trails, tree top adventures and the famous, exciting  and very unique bike zip line dubbed as “The Rush.”  The 37-km. drive, via the Loay Interior Rd., took about 40 mins. and we arrive at CHAPS by 4 PM.

The wooden bridge leading to the receiving area

The wooden bridge leading to the receiving area

From the park entrance, we first crossed a short wooden bridge, over a natural pond, to a main receiving hall that houses the reception desk in the middle,  a small open-air restaurant  (Cuisina ni Tesai) offering Boholano dishes plus some souvenir stalls on the left and an events place on the right.

Cusina ni Tesai and souvenir shops

Cusina ni Tesai and souvenir shops

The events place

The events place

Here, Josue took a head count on those who would avail of the adventure packages. However, Joy, Czarina, Julia, Lara and yours truly were here for “The Rush” – the bike zip which takes biking to another level.

Hiking up the wooden boardwalk

Hiking up the wooden boardwalk

From the pavilion, we all hiked along a wooden boardwalk that meanders over a brook. Along the hiking trail, we passed by a serpentarium that houses a few snakes (python, green Oriental whip snake, etc.) found around the area during the construction of the park plus some sugar gliders and hedgehogs.

The Serpentarium

The Serpentarium

We made a stopover at a cottage where a nurse checked our blood pressure (mine was 140/90). Lara had to back out for reasons I will not divulge.  We were also given a briefing on what to expect on the bike zip.

Ladies at the briefing cottage

Ladies at the briefing cottage

After climbing all 268 steps (including crossing a hanging bridge 4 at a time) along the hiking trail, we were already a little out of breath when we reached the viewing deck.

Crossing a hanging bridge

Crossing a hanging bridge

Since the massive magnitude 7.2 earthquake of October 15, 2013 destroyed parts of the old viewing deck (as well as a few of the 1,776 Chocolate Hills) in the town of Carmen, the one at CHAP’s became the de facto viewing deck (the hills are much farther away though) while the old one, which has a much grander view, is being rebuilt.

Czarina, the author, Joy, Kath and Euden at the viewing deck

Czarina, the author, Joy, Kath and Euden at the viewing deck

The Bike Zip is a 275-m. (550 m. round trip) long zip line, 150 ft. above the ground, using a mountain bike to cross from one hill to another. After all suiting up with helmet, harness and hairnet (?), we all climbed the stairs going up to the tower. The bicycle, minus the rubber tires, is securely joined to the zip line so there’s no problem balancing. All we had to do was pedal and feel the ride.

The bike zip tower

The bike zip tower

I was supposed to go first and I was already mounted on the bike and ready to go when I suddenly got chills and almost chickened out.  I have somehow conquered my fear of heights, having gone ziplining a number of times, but seeing how high I was from the ground, the scenario seeing the hills high up in the sky made me shudder.

Getting ready to hit the zip

Getting ready to hit the zip

I allowed Joy to have first crack at it and, as soon as she made it to the other side, I gathered the courage and followed suit.  The ride was scary at first as I had this feeling that, at any moment, my bike would fall off from the zip line. It took some time to for me to feel at ease with the ride but, once I got the feel for it, the ride slowly became enjoyable and exciting.

Traffic along the bike zipline

Traffic along the bike zipline

The ride truly gave me a different experience of seeing the famous Chocolate Hills.  They say that the windier and rainier it is, the more exciting the bike ride is. Due to the rush of emotions, now I know why they call it “The Rush.” It was truly an exciting, one-of-a-kind experience.  After Joy and I, Czarina and Julia followed our lead.  After our bike zip, we interviewed Mr. Jing E. Velaso, Managing Director of CHAP on the parks’s current facilities and future plans (including overnight accommodations).

Experiencing the rush

Experiencing the rush

The park has a 9-course rope challenge adventure course – “Islands in the Sky,” “Burma Loops,” “Burma Planks,” “Hanging Bridge” (2 stages), “Earthquake,” “Vine Walk,” “Jacob’s Walk,” “Tyrolean” and  the “Zipline.” You  get to “Zipline” upon completing half of the course and then the “Ttyrolean” traverse for the rest of the course. Upon completion of all courses, you rappel your way down.  These trails test one’s strength, balance, endurance, strategy and patience.

Media team with CHAP Managing Director Mr. Jing E. Velasco (center)

Media team with CHAP Managing Director Mr. Jing E. Velasco (center)

Rates: The Rush (Bike Zip): PhP400, The Snake Ladder (Tree Top RCA): PhP200, The Pentagon (Tree Top RCB): PhP350, Gymnaskids (Child Rope Course): PhP300, Eco-Hiking Trail: PhP200,Chicken & Fish Feeding: PhP50.

I survived

I survived

Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP): Sitio Camanayon, Brgy. Buenos Aires, Carmen, Bohol. Mobile number: (0917) 304-1341  and (0932) 667-7098.  Email: chocolatehills_adventurepark@yahoo.com.  Entrance Fee: PhP60. Open daily, 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM.

How to Get There: CHAPS can be reached in an hour and a half by riding a bus or van from Dao Terminal in Tagbilaran City.

The Torpedo Boat Extreme Ride (Paranas, Western Samar)

One article in 8 Magazine (a travel mag dedicated to Region 8 tourism) that interested me was the unique, 21-km. Torpedo Boat Extreme Ride along the Ulot River (Samar Island’s longest River) in Paranas in Western Samar, the newest signature eco-tourism adventure in Samar.  A joint project of the Department of Tourism and the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) and part of the Ulot Watershed Ecotourism Loop, it was launched on November 30, 2010 but the operation was stopped in January the next year after floods hit the area.  It reopened in the third week of March after the quality of the water in the river improved.

The rapids of the Ulot River

The 455,700 hectare SINP, the biggest natural park in the country, was declared a protected area on April 13, 2003 by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 442.  It covers 333,330 hectares of land and a buffer zone of 125,400 hectares of primary forest and a large, contiguous tract of secondary forest in good ecological condition.  It boasts of many caves, various wildlife species and river systems such as the navigable, 9-km. long Ulot (a Waray term meaning “monkey”) River, which is within the Ulot Watershed Area, one of Samar’s 8 watershed areas.

Buray Junction

The Ulot River starts from the mountainous town of San Jose de Buan (Western Samar) in the north, flowing downstream to Paranas and finally draining at Can-Avid (Eastern Samar) in the east.  Including its tributaries, the river’s length could reach 520 kms..  For years, it has been used as a nautical highway  for transporting goods and people, linking Western Samar with Eastern Samar until the 1940s when a gravel road from the west to the east was opened.

The SINP Headquarters

It just so happened that me and my son Jandy were in Tacloban City during the Holy Week break and I reserved a whole day for this one-of-a-kind adventure. To get there, my brother-in-law Manny and his Taclobanon wife Paula generously offered us the use their Mitsubishi Lancer and their family driver Cherwine B. Avis.  We left the city by 8:30 AM, a Black Saturday, and traversed the Maharlika Highway going to Catbalogan City. Upon entering Paranas, we inquired at a nearby police station for directions going to Buray Junction.  It seems we just passed it, the junction readily identified by a Petron gas station (the only gas station we espied throughout the trip) at the corner.

We missed seeing this sign on the road to SINP

From the junction, the SINP headquarters was a further 16 kms. away, along the Wright-Taft Rd..  The road was concreted, with occasional potholes and cracks.  Along the way we passed the upscale Villa Escober Spring Resort.  Just before reaching SINP, a huge boulder from a rock slide was blocking the road but we just drove around it.  Upon reaching the SINP headquarters (around 10 AM). We parked the car along the road, as the park gate was closed, and I entered via an open pedestrian gate.  The offices were also closed, it being a holiday, but, luckily for us, I met the watchman Mr. Raffy Manrique who offered to personally  bring us to the Torpedo Boat jump-off point, a riverbank just 150 m. away from the SINP headquarters, at Sitio Campo Uno in Brgy. Tenani.

L-R: Raffy, the author, Cherwine and Jandy

Upon arrival, we registered our names at a logbook and met up with Mr. Gilberto P. Eneran, the current head of the Tenani Boat Operators for River Protection and Environmental Development Organization (TORPEDO), who would man, together with the father and son team of Oscar and Nicky Obleno, our 4 m. long torpedo boat. Gilbert, as boatman, operated the engine while Nicky, at the front of the boat, acted as timoner (pointman), the one who navigates and pushes the torpedo boat away from the rocks.

All aboard and ready to go

All experienced boatmen trained on safe river travel, they had been operating boats before, transporting illegally cut trees in the area, but now helping protects and conserve the SINP.  The TORPEDO now has 57 members and 23 boats.  They are part of the Ulot Watershed Model Forest Stakeholder Federation, an umbrella of 9 people’s organizations involved in the SINP (tour guiding, boat services, catering, food production, etc.).

Beautiful curtain waterfalls along the way

The wooden boat, without outriggers, is powered by a 16 HP engine.  It has elevated sides to prevent water from getting in and the boat from tipping.  Aside from the crew, our boat could seat 5 passengers but it was just me, Jandy and Cherwine.  We sat on seats with backrests and, on the sides, were inner rails for us to hold on as well as protect our hands from boulders the boat may hit along the way. For our added protection, we wore life jackets and helmets. 

A quiet rural scene along the river

The first leg of our challenging but not nerve wracking, wet and wild adventure ride was a 10.5-km. journey downstream.  One thing that made this boat ride truly remarkable was the natural scenery the route provided, with tick forests, the habitat of exotic flora and fauna, all around us. We started in calm waters, with some beautiful curtain waterfalls to be seen along the riverbank.  Soon enough, ripples began to appear, followed by white water rapids encountered in shallow and narrow areas called sinisikuhan (“bent elbows”).  Here, the waters move fast at the river bend and, as the boat speeds away, water splashes hits our faces or drenches us.  As our boat had no outriggers, we really got to feel the swaying of the boat.

The fun begins here …..

Our boatman, with their knowledge of river maneuvers and keen eyes to spot obstacles such as rocks or boulders that block our way, skillfully and safely run the fast moving rapids.  Occasionally, passenger boats coming from or going to Brgy. Tula would pass us by.  After 45 mins. our boat stopped at Deni’s Point, a picnic area a few meters from a 10-ft. fall that drops into the river.  Boats that have to continue beyond this point would have to unload their cargo and passengers, drag the boat to an area where the grade is gradual, pull or lower the boat down with a rope, reload the cargo and passengers then continue on with their trip.

Passenger boat coming  back from Brgy. Tula

Deni’s Point is a tranquil, secluded and scenic jungle spot where one can commune with nature. Surrounded by tall trees, its riverbanks are lined with big stones and huge boulders. Across is a small curtain waterfall.  Here, Jandy and I swam its clear waters while Cherwine dove from a huge boulder into the fast flowing river.  A lifeline was thrown across the river to catch should we be swept by the fast moving waters.

The swirling rapids of Deni’s Point

After our 45-min. sojourn in this beautiful spot, we returned to our boat for the second half of our extreme ride, this time an exhilarating 10.5-km. and much longer upstream ride (called the “Salmon Run Experience”), back to the takeoff point in Sitio Campo Uno.  This time our boat trip, now going against the Ulot River currents, would meet and feel the onrushing waters and we were to experience even bigger splashes as our boat plunge through the waves.  Everyone heaved a sigh of relief every time we pulled out of a challenging rapid.

The waterfall at Deni’s Point

At a particular area called the “Salmon Run”(referring to a time when salmon swam up the river to spawn at their place of birth), the drop is around 3 to 4 ft.  Here, tourists normally would have to get off the boat so that the boatmen could pull the boat up the rapids.  However, since we were only three, we were allowed to stay on board the boat.  Back at Campo Uno, we had some snacks and soft drinks at a nearby sari-sari store (there are no eateries here) before indulging in another favorite river activity – kayaking.

Nicky manhandling the torpedo boat at Salmon Run

We each had a crack at this on a single yellow-colored kayak, me being the last to try.  I wondered why Cherwine and Jandy gave up after just one short round but I soon found out. Going with the flow of the water was easy, going against it wasn’t.  It was a struggle just getting back to the takeoff point.  After this very tiring activity, we decided to just loll around in the quiet river waters, still with our life vests on.  Thus sated, we left the place by 3:30 PM and we were back in Tacloban City by 5:30 PM.  Truly an experience of a lifetime.

Jandy tries his hand at kayaking

Samar island Natural Park: Sitio Campo Uno, Brgy. Tenani, Paranas, Western Samar 6703.  Mobile number: (0917) 702-7467.  E-mail: sinp.tenani@yahoo.com.  Website: www.samarislandnaturalpark.com.  The Torpedo Boat package costs PhP1,800 (maximum of 5 tourists per boat), inclusive of the SINP entrance fee, boat rental, tour guiding fee, safety gear rental and community development fee.  A single kayak rents for PhP50 while a tandem kayak rents for PhP75.  Tubing (PhP20 rental fee) is also offered along the Ulot River.  

Our torpedo boat team – L-R: Gilbert, Nicky and Oscar

The SINP headquarters also has accommodations for visitors wishing to stay overnight.  It has 3 airconditioned rooms.  One room has dorm-type double deckers good for 15 people (PhP100/pax/day) while 2 other rooms can accommodate 4 people each (PhP150/pax/day).

Sandboarding and 4x4s at La Paz Sand Dunes (Laoag City, Ilocos Norte)

Ida Noelle tries sandboarding while the others look on

After our nostalgic trip down the Marcos trail and some visita iglesia, it was now time for adventure back at Laoag City – sandboarding and 4x4s at  the unique La Paz Sand Dunes in Brgy. La Paz.  These low-lying, 10-30-m. high (some reach as high as 90 m.) elongated hills, along  the coast, north of the Laoag River, are locally called Bantay Bimmaboy (because of their pig shapes) and are declared National Geological Monuments.  They form, together with those stretching south of the Laoag River, a 16-km. long beach. Sandboarding is like snowboarding but done on sand and the sand board is very much like the snow board – just slip your feet to the straps attached to the wooden board.  In La Paz, this sport was first unveiled on August 2, 2009 by the Laoag Eco-Adventure Development (LEAD) Movement, a group that promotes adventure and eco-tourism.

Sandboarding on my butt

Instructors at the steep site (called “Devil’s Drop”) showed us how to strap our feet, properly mount the sand board, and where our center of gravity should be on our way down. Boards are waxed  first. prior to mounting.  You can sandboard standing up or, for those who balk at the thought of speeding down a  steep, 25-30 foot high hill, you can do it sitting down.  Having had a sprain on my right foot since my Anuplig Falls hike, I wasn’t going to do this standing up.  Even when seated, I still fell halfway. Getting back up on the slope, via the loose sand, was a great effort (you have to use the board as a prop). Finally, I succeeded on my second try.  Some in our media group were naturals or have done this before, effortlessly surfing, standing up, down the dunes without a hitch. For the newcomers, it took a while to find their balance and many  also fell halfway down the slope.  However, once you find your rhythm and balance, you’re hitched, wanting to do it all over again and again.

4×4 off-road vehicle

The thrill of the 15-min. 4 x 4 ride, patterned after that in Dubai, comes from riding at the back of the 4×4 off-road vehicle, with only a grab bar for you to hang on for dear life as you speed up a very steep hill then go down even faster. At one point our expert driver, barely into his teens, sped up a hill then suddenly let the vehicle fall back in reverse, making us grab the bars even tighter.  Truly a great adrenaline rush.  Of course, accidents can happen and we almost had one as our driver sped up the hill only to find out, at the last moment, that another was also heading up, on a collision course, at the reverse slope.  Close call.  Our driver had to back down.

The sand adventure package, consisting of the 4×4 adventure and sandboarding, costs PhP2,500 for one hour, maximum of 4 persons per jeep. Mobile number: (0919) 873-5516, (0932) 358-7521 and (0917) 523-0331).
After our La Paz Sand Dunes adventure, we again boarded our shuttle bus for San Nicolas   where we were invited for a buffet dinner at Ilocos Rosewell Hotel and Restaurant’s atrium-style lobby.
Laoag Eco-Adventure Development (LEAD) Movement, Inc.: Tel: (077) 772-0538.  Mobile number: (0919) 873-5516. Website: http://leadmovement.wordpress.com/.
Ilocos Rosewell Hotel and Restaurant: Brgy 1, San Francisco National Highway, San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte. Tel: (077) 670-6528 and 781-2122.  Fax: (077) 781-3700.  Website: www.ilocosrosewellhotel.com.

Water Fun in Subic (Subic Freeport Zone, Zambales)

The popular and entertaining banana boat ride. 
That’s me up front


Aside from our relaxing overnight stay at Lighthouse Marina Resort at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, members of our Lakbay Norte 2 media group were treated to a round of watersports activities courtesy of Networx Jetsports along the Subic beachfront.  While the others opted to just watch or swim, a number of us, me included, dabbed on a lot of sunblock lotion and donned  life vests to try out what was on offer.  While others eagerly jumped into the jetskis, a number of us (Nina Fuentes, Melissa Dizon, Karlo de Leon, Ivan Mandy and yours truly) hopped on the popular and entertaining banana boat ride.  The boats, pulled by a powerful jetski, could accommodate a maximum of 10 persons.

Returning to shore after our dunking


Once on board, we all held on to the bar in front of us and tried to balance ourselves as the jetski  slowly pulled the banana boat. We all bent down to maintain our balance and when the boat turned left, we leaned to the left, when it turned to the right, we leaned to the right.  The jetski tried to catch the us off guard (and off the boat) by going fast and slow and succeeded on two occasions. It was fun for me but distressing for Karlo and Mel as they both irretrievably lost their expensive shades to the sea (luckily mine was hooked to my ears).  Getting back on board the boat was also difficult for some (including me).  I’ve tried banana boating before in Boracay but that ride was tame and uneventful compared to this one.  Rates for the banana boat ride are PhP250 er person, minimum of 4 and maximum of 10.


Jetskiing is addicting


Next on my itinerary was the addicting jetskiing, a first for me.  It is said by many that by riding the waves, it quenches the need for speed and gives one a feeling of power.  Upon climbing the jetski, a safety strap was attached to my wrist to ensure an automatic stop in case I should fall off, thus avoiding possible injury.  After basic instruction on how to operate the jetski, I was off and on my way, riding the waves standing up but making sure to get back on my seat as I made a slow turn.  I avoided places where people were swimming. Jetskiing was truly what it is hyped up to be.  Too bad there was no one to record my moment, either on film or video.  Jetski (Yamaha VX 110, 4-stroke engine) are  rented for PhP1,900 for 30 mins. and PhP3,000 for 1 hour. 

A Hobie Kayak Tandem

Karlo and I also tried out the Hobie Kayak Tandem.  The clear, calm waters surrounding Subic make it an ideal kayaking site for novice and experienced paddlers.  Our kayak was different from the kayaks I’ve tried before as this one had a kick-up rudder system and a hand-controlled steering system at the rear (where I was seated).  The Hobie Kayak Tandem rents for PhP500 for 30 mins. and PhP800 for 1 hour while the single rents for PhP300 for 30 mins. and PhP500 for 1 hour.. Networx Jetsports also offers parasailing (PhP1,500 per person, 10 mins. airtime), speedboat cruises (XR 1800-2001 models, maximum of 5 riders, PhP10,000 for 1 hour) and Pelican pedal boats (PhP400 for 30 mins. and PhP700 for 1 hour).  Networx Jetsports was established in 1997 by Emmanuel “Dong” B. Arcilla, an avid jet ski racer.  

Networx Jetsports: Waterfront Road, Subic Freeport Zone, Zambales (beside Gerry’s Grill).  Tel.: (047) 252-3469 .  Mobile number: (0922) 812-9832.  Email: jetsportssubic@yahoo.com.  Website: www.networxjetsports.com.ph

Le Mans Go Kart Track (Subic Freeport Zone, Zambales)

Ready to burn the track


Prior to our checking out of the Subic Yacht Club, I decided to check out, with my son Jandy, the Le Mans Go Kart Track just across the street, beside the Bicentennial Park and next door to the Magic Lagoon Park Grill and Bar.  Go karts are smaller version of race cars that are much closer to the ground.  Still, they are  exciting enough for someone wanting the feel of a quick-turning, fast moving vehicle without risking your life. 

Jandy


They have various types of go-karts that can be rented at different rates.  The single and double (perfect for parents to supervise their kids, PhP400 for 10 laps) seat go-karts, safe enough for children, are generally just for fun rides or test runs. For experienced kart racing enthusiasts, there are really fast racing kart models (PhP600 for 10 laps), ideal for annual racing competitions, that can run one 420 m. (1/4 mile) long track lap in a quick 10 seconds. 

Frank and Gelo burning rubber


There were still a number of racers using the track when we arrived.  However, it wasn’t long before they left, it being near noon and lunch time, and soon we had the track all to ourselves.  We opted for single seaters and were only allowed to go around 10 laps for a fixed rate of PhP250 per person. Jandy and I were both first timers at this and, thus, we were both excited.  My son had first crack at it and, after a short lecture on how to operate the steering wheel, brakes and accelerator and donning his helmet, was soon on his way, warily at first, then more confident later on.  Upon my turn, I got my frustrated-racer anxieties out on the paved track, pretending I was Mario Andretti.  Later, my brother Frank and his son Gelo came out and joined us on the track, making it a true Layug family fun run.


Le Man’s Go Kart – Rizal Highway, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Zambales. Tel: (047) 252-2272. Open 10 AM to 7 PM.