Day 1 of our tour of grand old Ilocos got a lot of things right. 

No sign of Bagyong Lando in the horizon and we were pumped up to start the adventure.
Let's start it with a bang by bringing out the big guns:

Our very first stop that first morning was none other than the Unesco World Heritage site, Paoay Church.

Officially called the Saint Augustine Church, this structure was initially built in 1694 and was completed in 1710 by Augustinian friars. This work of ingenious architecture and engineering has been here for more than 300 years, withstanding earthquakes, storms and yes, maybe even time itself. 

Its baroque facade remained defiant against the centuries. 

It's like it's telling Time and Change to go find some other church to bother. 

After that terrible 2013 earthquake that leveled and damaged a lot of historical churches in the Visayas, including my dearest beloved Basilica del Sto. Nino, it is so heartwarming to see that there are still stunning, centuries-old churches out there, waiting for you to come discover them.

I wouldn't call me a history junkie (sounds sooo self-indulgent), but I'm one of those weirdos who actually read the Sibika and Kultura books back in grade school. Paoay church was history. It was supposed to exist only in the books we read, so to be there in real life is humbling and beautiful, and is definitely something off my non-existent bucketlist.

Best to come here in the afternoon, if you want a good photo of the church. The sun is behind the church in the mornings. Against the light and all that. But I couldn't be bothered. :)

I wish we could stay longer because the church compound itself is easy and breezy and so well-kept, but we had a long and adventure-filled day ahead of us.

Our next stop was Paoay Lake.

Now I've never seen a proper lake in my whole entire life. 
Never once have I been in the presence of a body of water within land. To have the legendary Paoay lake as the first one I've ever seen is gratifying, because it's beautiful.

The lake is right by the roadside on the way to the famous sand dunes. I've learned it's actually been named as a national park. It's hard to imagine that some years ago, this tranquil piece of water was full of fish cages and was contaminated with E. coli. It has since been decontaminated and rehabilitated to the beauty it is now.

Good job, Ilocos Norte for keeping your treasures taken cared of.

Legend has it Paoay lake used to be a town of rich and selfish people who thrived on corruption and evil deeds. One day an old lady warns them of punishment and tells them to change their ways. Of course, they refuse and so their evil, selfish little town gets flooded and sunken, taking along all the selfish, materialistic townspeople with it. 
Like your very own Sodom-and-Gomorrah-slash-Atlantis kind of bedtime story. 

Some say that they can still catch fish with the wealthy's jewels on them.

Some say that if you look closer enough, you can see the old town at the very bottom of the lake.

Which is something I'm not really keen on doing. 

Now, I've learnt that there are two kinds of sand in Ilocos. One is the corny, figurative sands of time. Dependable, stable, beautiful historical sands of time trickling away in stable beautiful historical Ilocos.

The other one is quite literal: the one that hits you in the face and gets in your eyes and makes you want to scream for your mom.

Yes, the #stupidtourists finally find themselves in the big, the bad Paoay Sand Dunes.

And it wasn't even 8:30 in the morning yet.

The best way to welcome oneself to the dunes is to scream with excitement and stupidity and have some tour guides smirk at your #stupidtourist behavior. That's what we did. One good kilometer away from the actual spot, we were already screaming. 

We didn't know what was coming.

No time for chitchat, the nine of us were split into two groups and were assigned a badass 4x4. The Hello Kitty one, of course, was the baddest ass of them all.

The sand dunes 4x4 experience is Php2600 per vehicle. Each 4x4 can accommodate 5 people. We got two jeeps, divvied it up by 9 and we each got to pay around Php600 on top of our original scheduled tour itinerary. This also gets you some unlimited sand boarding adventure! Best to come here with friends so that you can divvy up and save a lot. This is an optional part of the tour with NEC, but one can not go to Ilocos and not try this slice of adventure. So book. Your. Tour. With. This Bad. Boy.

Look at us, trying to look ready.

No one is ever ready for this jelly.

And I mean no one.

Here are some survival tips for the 4x4 ride:

1. Find a way to secure one's camera/GoPro without the use of arms. You'll need all the limbs you can use for this bad boy.

2. Do not eat breakfast prior to the ride.

3. Don't drink a lot of iced tea either, you'll end up embarrassing yourself.

4. Hold on to one's pride and prepare throat for some screaming. 

5. Don't talk too much unless one wants to either ingest sand or send spit flying from one's mouth.

5.  Keep eyeglasses and hats where they wouldn't be blown away.

6. Keep your sanity inside a safe place and take it out when all this is over.

How do you even describe this?

One big, sandy, rollercoaster ride in which you do no have safety straps whatsoever, where you have to hold on for dear life while the wind and the sand and the scenery all do a  good job of literally taking your breath away. A sure-fire way to die of a heart attack. The best most exciting time of one's little introverted life.

What is this even!

Why did I sign up for this!

I'm going to pee myself!

Holy &*#^ my glasses just got blown away!!!

These were just some of the things you think of when riding the 4x4.

And my glasses really did get blown away. We found it, though, in the middle of 830 hectares of sand. Miracle.

This was one of the best things we've done this whole entire trip. The dunes--they only look fluffy and sandy and tame but they're really more of steep little hills of pure, crazy excitement. Imagine yourself on top of a 4x4.
Imagine it driving through the steep drop. Imagine your whole life flashing right in front of you.
Rinse and repeat for 30 whole minutes.

It never crossed my mind that something so barren could be beautiful. Deserts always made me think of wastelands. But this huge swath of sand right here was absolutely nothing like waste.

In the middle of the dunes, you can find the sandboarding adventure area, where you get unlimited tries to embarrass yourself. I know I did. 

Sandboarding involves a lot of balance and hand-eye coordination and sheer dumb luck, which most of us don't have. You have the option of doing the boarding upright if you're feeling cool and confident, or sitting down if you don't wanna topple over.

Best do it standing up though. That way you know you've lived. :D

Can't be bothered to post my wipe-out video though! Ma-viral pa lang. :D

Hello #stupidtourists!

One thing that I love about this tour is that their guides and 4x4 drivers sure know their way with a camera. They can't stop making you do jump shots against your will! It was so fun!

The dunes are right next to the beach. No tame seas around here. Nothing like I've ever seen back at home. It was wild and raw and breathtaking.

On our way back, we passed by what I think are old movie sets. Or whimsical stuff meant to give the impression that you have been spirited away, I'm not really sure. The place is so picturesque a lot of movies have been shot here over the years like cult films Himala and Panday

In remembrance, they even have a statue of  Fernando Poe Jr's Ang Panday. 

It was all crazy beautiful, but it was also crazy hot. Needless to say, we were the last tour group to leave the place. Shaking off the adrenaline and still screaming the way we arrived, we took one last look of the best adventure place we've ever been to and bid it goodbye.

Of course, I can't say goodbye without posting this:

Oooh lookie how badass I am, I got a nasty bruise from lacking decent motor skills. Haha! :D
Our next stop for the day will be but another post. That sand dunes adventure was way too much!

Meanwhile, you can visit NEC tours here and book an itinerary and have loads of fun before the year ends! 

This is still the first part of first day. We haven't even scratched the mere surface of this crazy journey. Stay tuned for part 3!

I hope you enjoyed this, 


  1. why man dili ka comment ang mga tao? lol

  2. Nice one tiana! Informative and i was smiling the whole time im reading this. U refreshed my memory. Post the vid na para mas fun. Hhahaha

    1. kinsay anthony jorantes uy?? hahaha I tried to post the vid but embarrassing au imu tamay na katawa hahahaha

  3. this looks super fun! never got to try this when we went there last summer though! but will def. do next time! :D