Sand. Oh the places it will go.
I have an unhealthy track record with the art of boarding. A long time ago in Nagano, Japan, I attempted snowboarding. I lasted for all of 30 minutes before I broke down in tears and traded in for skis. The coordination. The trapped legs. The icy plummet. F*&$ that. My motto in life: no natural talent= moving on. But sandboarding. Surely, at least the death factor would be taken out of the equation. If I wipe out, sand is more forgiving. Right?
After other Chilean adventures including diving Easter Island and hiking to Torres del Paine, it was time for sandboarding Atacama. It’s one of the many checklist items that every tourist coming through the tourist town of San Pedro de Atacama must complete and subsequently Instagram. That along with packaged tours out to lakes, flamingo lagoons, and stargazing viewpoints, all very beautiful and all very anti-social and predictable. But sandboarding Atacama I could be talked into, if only for the anticipated drama. Plus, we wouldn’t want to be left in the dust, er, sand.
As with all things in the San Pedro, prospective sandboard clients have their choice of about 5,000 different shops. We went with the likely option: Sandboard San Pedro. Duh. They also happen to be the only company in town to specialize in sandboarding Atacama, as well as one of the oldest. Obviously assuring maximum safety (or so I told myself). For a cool $30, you get several hours of either morning or early evening sandboarding… enough to satiate the craving, I can now attest. I pleaded with the instructor to bring along a set of skis, as well as a “bike,” well aware of my lack of balance. He agreed to the bike which Robbie begrudgingly dragged along.
The dune within Death Valley was massive. And steep. And there were already tons of sandboarders tearing down the thing as if fear was an annoying pest. I strapped on my helmet, cut off the circulation as best I could, and grabbed the boots and board delegated to me. “Are you regular or goofy?” the instructor asked. WHAT THE F*&$ does that mean? Turns out I’m regular (yay?), and with that, we started the long sludge up the dune. That’s when I learned all you need to know about sandboarding Atacama:
The hardest part about sandboarding isn’t sandboarding. It’s climbing that damn dune. Wanna feel like a fat f*&$? American tourist fueled on holiday libations: meet DUNE.
Once at the top, we got some quick pointers. I interpreted that my toes needed to be pressing down, my weight on the back leg, something about pointing my shoulder. Yet I’ve heard all of this before. And it landed me on my ass. Thankfully, there wasn’t much time to consider life choices as the rest of the crew sailed off. So I thought YOLO and anticipated the pearly gates.
Much to my surprise, I didn’t perish. Nay, I was actually decent at something for the first time in my adult life. This was not snowboarding; it was considerably easier. Sure, I still sucked. I tumbled with each run but managed to even improve like some weathered, badass chick. I would finish somewhere near the bottom (usually have gotten stuck and left flailing about) and saunter haughtily over to the van for yet another gulp of water. That’s right, I’m a natural.
Most of us survived about five runs before our thighs screamed for mercy. It also didn’t help that my boots, eyelids, underwater, and scalp acted as sand reservoirs. But that’s the thing about being in a desert I suppose. And plummeting head first into a sand dune as if it were a Slip-n-Slide.
For information about sandboading Atacama at night, check out Living the Dream’s blog. For some great photos, Eat Work Travel documented sandboarding Atacama nicely. Where and Wonder has a fantastic activity guide to San Pedro de Atacama, which includes sandboarding Atacama, naturally.