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Sands of a Thousand Thrills

The last time I rode a roller coaster was decades ago in the US, when I tried out the multi-loop version which had just become popular at that time. It was not exactly a pleasant experience. I lost all the contents of my breast pockets and lost my voice from prolonged stretching of my vocal chords beyond its limits, not to mention taking remedial measures with undergarments. Since that time, I never got on any roller coaster again.

On a recent trip to Ilocos Norte, my hosts, in their desire to make my first visit to that province a memorable one, decided to bring me to the Suba Sand Dunes of Paoay. I have heard so much about the place and have seen it in magazines and on TV. I am fascinated by the fact that what I thought was found only in Saudi Arabia or Morocco is also found in our country.

Sand dunes are built by either wind or water flow and come in different shapes and sizes. The most widely distributed dunes are those associated with coastal regions, same as the ones of Paoay. The dunes protect the land against potential ravages by storm waves from the sea. However, the largest complexes of dunes are found inland in dry regions and associated with ancient lakes, like those in Arabian deserts.

One of the installation art pieces of sculptor Leeroy New

I was excited to finally see for myself this popular adventure destination and was convinced that it was going to be a leisurely ride over what looked like a harmless and picturesque expanse of golden sand. However, when we arrived at the Registration Area, my hosts casually mentioned that it was going to be “like a wild roller coaster ride,” triggering frantic alarm bells in my system, connected to memories of an unpleasant experience decades ago.

It was too late to back out. I was already on-site, and the 4x4 vehicle we were to ride on had already pulled up in front of us. Besides, I didn’t want to disappoint my gracious hosts who looked very eager to manifest their warm hospitality through this thrill ride. So I told myself, “what the heck!” and climbed up the sturdy vehicle which had a big iron bar traversing its width; our driver told us to hold on to it… tightly!

Where Ang Panday (FPJ) killed the villain; Where Nora Aunor knelt down in her multi-awarded Himala

While the driver gave my hosts and me instructions on how to position ourselves when we go over the steep climbs and the deep drops, I made myself busy, mentally calling on the Almighty, all the saints I know, my guardian angel, and even “borrowed” guardian angels of my close friends and relatives, to see to my safety. I also made sure my breast pockets were empty, and reminded myself to keep silent because it would be embarrassing, at my age, to have to stretch my vocal chords on prolonged baritone hysterics!  

So, off we rolled, with our driver’s assurance that it was going to be a thrilling and an interesting “roller coaster cum sightseeing ride” because in between navigating the dunes, there would be points of interest in the slacks (the troughs between the dunes). Just as the 4x4 started to move, the driver immediately told us to hold on as the first steep climb in front of us would be followed immediately by a deep drop. Of course, when we drove over it, all my heavenly pleadings and my vow of silence went sadly askew!

The start of an hour-long thrill, with the sand dunes behind me

This seemingly hazardous but definitely petrifying combination of climbs and drops went on every three minutes or so, as we went over steep crests, sharp curves and deep drops over most of the 88-hectare “playground.” Thank goodness, there were a few breaks in between – when we passed by the exact spot where multi-awarded actress Nora Aunor declared, “Walang himala!” and at the spot where the late Fernando Poe Jr. “killed” the villain in his epic “Ang Panday.”

We also had time to regain our composure and literally cool our heels in the refreshing waters of scenic Paoay Bay which offered a postcard-pretty sand-sea-and-sky photo-op, and marveled at the unique installation art pieces of sculptor Leeroy New which were on display on the slacks.

Sand, sea and sky... perfect antidote to stress for city dwellers like me

What I found remarkable was the traction of those 4x4 vehicles. Many times, it went over sharp curves that kept us, passengers, almost parallel to the ground, yet it never flipped over, even with the various almost-vertical drops it made! I’m now a fervent fan of whoever designed these vehicles!

While still in the dunes, we stopped for a while as my hosts tried out sandboarding, which calls for the same discipline as skateboarding, and a “skateboard without wheels” is what one uses to slide down sand folds. It looked easy and safe because, if you fall, the soft sand serves as your cushion. I didn’t try it anymore because I didn’t want to have sand all over me as I knew I was going to fall most of the time.

The last of the deep drops (20-feet-almost-vertical) which I photographed seconds before we all started to scream to high heavens

Before the hour-long ride ended, our courteous driver-cum-sandboarding-instructor-cum- professional-photographer told us to brace ourselves for “the last thrill” – we went over an almost vertical 20-foot drop which would be our only route back to the Registration Area. This was when the cacophony of sopranos, falsettos and baritones ensued, this time in Dolby Sound, which must have been loud enough to wake up the long departed former President lying in state at the Marcos Museum in Batac 10 kilometers away.

Looking back to that extremely thrilling hour in the sand dunes, I feel like a little boy when I describe the experience in two words… “Again! Again!”



An old guy is driving home from work when his wife rings him on his car phone. "Honey," she says in a worried voice, "be careful. There is news just now that some lunatic is driving the wrong way down the freeway." "It's worse than that,” he replies, "there are hundreds of them!"


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