Ilocos Norte Stories and Tips

The Search for the Sand Dunes

Sunset by Fort Ilocandia Photo, Ilocos Norte, Philippines

The Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes is quite a popular spot for movie locations, often made to look like a desert or a desserted island. Most famous among the Hollywood movies shot here was Platoon, starring Tom Cruise. In the local scene, there have been a lot of classic Filipino movies that were shot in the place. Among these were Panday ("Blacksmith," a folk fantasy flick), Himala ("Miracles," a religious commentary film) and the original and remake of Temptation Island (a campy unintentional comedy about five beauty pageant finalist stuck in a desert island).

Having these films in its roster, it was definitely a must-visit. It was 4.30 PM when we left Paoay to proceed to the Ilocos Sand Dunes. Our problem was we were not sure how to get there. We knew the general direction but had no idea where exactly it was, thus we were hoping there were indicative signs similar to other known locations in Ilocos Norte.

After a while, we came across a spot which had a sign saying "Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes" 2.5KM ahead. The spot was by the Paoay Lake where several travel companies were offering 4X4 rides to the sand dunes as well as sand boarding. This would cost us P2,500 (around $50) which we did not have a budget for the moment.

Since we saw the sign, we knew we were on the right track. However, as we cruised along, we did not see anything that could tell us we were there, so my husband cruised on. After a while I told my husband that we have gone beyond 2.5KM and should start asking people.

This is when the tricky part began. We asked local vendors by the road where the La Paz sand dunes were. They had this confused look on their faces... "sandon? sandyun?" I was a bit alarmed with that reaction. They told us to try and go to Fort Ilocandia, one of the more famous hotels in the area. We decided to go that general direction since we knew that the place was near the sand dunes as well.

As we were reaching Fort Ilocandia, we decided to ask a tricycle driver again. He gave us that blank look again until my husband had the brilliant idea of telling the guy, "that place where they had the Panday shoot?" And there it was, recognition on his face! He said we already passed it and needed to backtrack. He also told us we could proceed to Fort Ilocandia to have a quick view of the place.

Since we were only a short distance away from Fort Ilocandia, we decided to go ahead there. When we reached the place, we saw a small beach resort but not the sand dunes. We asked a security guard about it, and not only did he know where the place was, he told us exactly what to look for. When we backtrack, we had to look for a sign that says "MJG Beach Resort" since it was located by the sand dunes. He told us we can go to the beach and from there we could see some of the dunes.

Since it was sunset, we decided to have a quick go. The sunset was absolutely beautiful! From the beach, we could actually see the dunes. We thought of walking all the way there but figured it might not be a good idea since it was already dusk. We decided to follow the guard's directions.

Finally, we saw the MJG Resort sign and turned right. The road was paved but steep and curving. My husband was a bit worried since there were no lights so we knew we really could not stay long. After 15 minutes, we finally saw a couple of 4x4's parked by the side of a sandy road. We were there!

My husband talked to one of the drivers and informed me that our Toyota Vios can make it up to half kilometer. So we took the car. However, my husband for some reason decided to take the left side of the road but I told him that the right side looks easier to go through. So he steered to the right which became trouble. Our car would not move and the tires were getting buried in the sand! Uh-oh!

It was already more dark than light so he did get worried. I told him to go back to the driver he talked to and see if he could help. I stayed by the car. A few minutes later, a pick up with a bunch of middle aged men came from the dunes and saw our car stuck by the sand. They stopped and asked what the matter was and I explained it to them. They said they will just push the car. With six guys lifting and pushing the car and one of them by the wheel, they were able to get the car out. It was at this time that my husband also came with the 4x4 driver. The one driving drove our car around and brought it back to the waiting area.

Whew! If not for those men, I would have not known what we could have done! It turned out that the one driving was the village captain. I could not be happier seeing a local official than I was that night!

We hardly saw the sand dunes, but boy, did it give us an adventure not to be easily forgotten! Thanks to the kindness of strangers, we made it out safe and sound.

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