Unless you’re a bonafide foodie or a person with a particular fondness for food, Porac Pampanga would not come to mind when it comes to outdoor activities. But thanks to 4x4s, motorcycles and UTVs, they offer us new ways to enjoy an otherwise wasteland of sand, rocks, and shrubs. When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, it left a landscape of massive destruction and desolation in its wake, covering vast areas of Pampanga and neighboring provinces in volcanic ash.
After 25 years, the province had since rebuilt most of the infrastructures destroyed by the eruption, showing only a few telltale signs of the havoc wrought by Mt. Pinatubo. But if you go to certain areas around the crater, you’d be transported to a different world. A world where very little has changed since that fateful day when Mt. Pinatubo unleashed its fury. Accessible only to highly-modified 4×4 vehicles, dual-sport motorcycles, and UTV’s, the riverbed leading to the crater called Sapang Bato and Sapang Uwak are still very much covered in pyroclastic materials from the eruption. For the true adventure seekers, the place offers a surreal off-road experience like no other.
For this story, we borrowed an X-Trail from Nissan, a Polaris RZR 1000 from Polaris Philippines, and a Husqvarna FC 450 production motocross bike from our good friend Bobby Orbe of Wheeltek. We also invited our friend Richard Chikhani, a hardcore enduro rider who just came from Peru, to join us in our off-road adventure.
We chose Sandbox in Porac, Pampanga as our staging area because it’s nearer to Sapang Bato. If you don’t have a Polaris UTV of your own, the Sandbox offers guided Polaris UTVs for rent so you and your friends could go on an off-road adventure. But be warned, whatever the season may be, you will definitely get dirty, so be sure to bring extra clothes with you. The Sandbox offers clean shower rooms where you can freshen up after.
Richard could hardly contain his excitement upon seeing the bizarre landscape of Porac on our way to the Sandbox, but the air-conditioning system of the Nissan X-trail was so darn effective it painted a totally different picture of the world outside. That was until we stepped out of the vehicle. Richard could only describe the sensation as like stepping inside a very big sauna with beautiful sceneries, no less. We could only nod in agreement. The humidity level that day was off the charts, it was almost suffocating. But after acclimatizing to the ambient temperature, meaning sweating profusely, we immediately started our off-road adventure to cool off somehow. Richard hopped on the Husqvarna while we rode on the Polaris RZR 1000 four-seater.
Apparently, getting to Sapang Bato was the tricky part. To get there, we went through narrow, rocky trails lined with razor-sharp grass on both sides. But once we entered the riverbed, the topography changed dramatically, revealing a world so different and isolated that there was not even a mobile signal. All around us was a landscape of grayish-brown sand with patches of green, surrounded by towering pyroclastic sand canyons carved out by the river. It was beautiful in a surreal way. Who would’ve thought that a catastrophic event could create such beauty? Unnervingly, it also gave me the impression of standing on a ticking time bomb, and I realized how volatile the world we live in truly is. After all, Mount Pinatubo is a dormant volcano.
Upon reaching the clearing, Richard wasted no time getting some airtime on the Husqvarna FC 450, which is actually a production motocross bike not really intended for enduro riding. According to Richard, production motocross bikes typically have tall gearing that are meant to be ridden with the throttle wide-open, like during a race. Whereas enduro bikes have short gear ratios that prefer low engine revs more ideal for technical riding, which probably explains why the engine of the Husqvarna kept stalling. To make matters worse, the Husky didn’t have a kick-starter so it wasn’t very long until the battery went flat, leaving Richard exhausted after push starting the bike several times. But apparently, Richard couldn’t care less for he was truly having a blast riding the Husky on the alien landscape.
The Polaris RZR 1000 was simply in its element, blasting effortlessly across the riverbed at high speed. Ruts, rocks, and berms simply vanished beneath its softly sprung high-travel 4-wheel independent suspension. What was more amazing about it was the ease of operation. You choose between three drive modes depending on the terrain: 2WD, 4H, and 4L. Then simply press hard on the accelerator and watch the Polaris do its thing. Without doubt, the Polaris RZR 1000 is as capable as the Husqvarna FC 450 off-road while seating four people comfortably and carrying a large ice chest full of bottled water.
After a full day of off-roading fun, we finally went back to the Sandbox to freshen up. On our way home, we dropped by Binulo Restaurant in Clark because a trip to Pampanga will never be complete without feasting on kapampangan delicacies. Richard particularly loved the pork sisig and sinampalukang manok (chicken cooked in tamarind soup), which he exclaimed as good enough reason to relocate to the Philippines… of course, next to riding motorcycles in lahar land.
Special thanks to Bobby Orbe, Polaris Philippines, and the Sandbox Alviera.