PAOAY, Ilocos Norte, June 16 – Vast areas of barren sand dunes, unsuitable for growing any plants, have become a place for source of additional income for the locals here.
Thanks to the expertise of retired US Navy serviceman Gilbert de Los Santos, a native of San Nicolas town, who gradually converted the sand dune ranges into excellent venues for off-road riding adventures that attract local and foreign tourists.
De Los Santos, inspired by his experiences on off-riding in the deserts of Iraq, initiated the conversion of the sand dunes in Barangay Suba, this town way back in 2009.
At least 1,479 hectares of sand dunes stretching from Paoay to Laoag were developed as tracks for the 4×4 jeep riding and sand boarding.
“When I came back to the country in early 2000 upon my retirement in the US Navy, I saw the terrains of sand dunes in Paoay as potential for off-road adventure. I tested it using my 4×4 owner-type vehicle,” he said.
De Los Santos, who grew up in Hawaii, was a war veteran in Iraq serving as transport driver of a Humvee vehicle in the Desert Storm II. He became a member of the Off-road Association of the Philippines in 2003.
According to De Los Santos, it was in 2010 when he formally initiated the opening of Paoay Sand Dunes Adventure in Barangay Suba using three units of 4×4 vehicles driven by well-trained drivers.
Each vehicle, carrying not more than five passengers, is rented at P2,500 per hour. The ride traverses the breath-taking sand dunes terrain with sand boarding activity.
During the early days of the off-road driving business operation, he said their earning was normally meager.
But when the 4×4 adventure tour was widely promoted with the support from the provincial government headed by Governor Imee Marcos, the sand dunes adventure became popular and patronized by tourists looking for extreme adventure, especially during Christmas, Lenten and Summer season.
Each operator could now earn a net income as high as P12,000 per day per vehicle during peak season while P4,000 per day per vehicle on ordinary days. Each driver of the 4×4 vehicle can earn P250 per trip.
“Today, the operators of the 4×4 sand dunes adventure in Paoay and Laoag City are grouped into three with a total of 56 members,” De los Santos said.
To ensure the safety of the passengers in the adventure tour, he said all drivers of the 4×4 vehicle should undergo a three-month exclusive training and personal discipline.
“The 4×4 drivers were also asked to be courteous and behave at all times when dealing with the tourists,” he added. (Freddie G. Lazaro/PIA-1 Ilocos Norte)