Sandboarding in the Atacama Desert

Sandboard San Pedro

[Written on the evening of sandboarding]
All of my buddies' boards

There is still sand everywhere. Every crevice in my ear is full of it. My hair is now officially 'sandy' in color. Pockets of my pants? Quantity of sand rivals that of Miami Beach. How in the world did this happen? Well, since I am a connoisseur at snowboarding (been exactly twice, spent majority of time on behind), I decided to give sandboarding a try. Yes, sandboarding. The board is similar to a snowboard and where else to try it for the first time but the dunes of the Atacama Desert? The thought process in the decision to go was, "Wow, this seems cool-- I'm definitely going to try it!" to being a bit more than worried on the drive over to the area to climbing up the dune, board in hand, seeing the slope at a 60 degree angle (no, not 30, don't invert) and thinking "IS THIS INSTRUCTOR F&*$# kidding!?" Getting to the top, I think every curse word in every language I knew came to my mind and probably out of my mouth.

Stunning sunset photos after the jump...

My kid's sized board
For those of you that don't know, I have an acute fear of heights. And for those of you that don't know still, I try my best to overcome them by trying things like rock climbing, hiking the 2nd deepest canyon in the world, or doing the highest via ferrata in the world. Has any of this worked? Not particularly. So I thought, what the heck, why not give sandboarding a shot? What could possibly go wrong?

After hiking to the top on the first attempt, I was faced with the steepness mentioned earlier with 29 of my new best friends on this sandy decline into jagged rocks. Oh, did I mention that this part of the Atacama desert is called Death Valley? There is some urban legend that the original name was supposed to be Mars Valley (Valle de la Marte) in the indigineous language but that word was so close to the word for death ('muerte') in spanish so Valle de la Muerte won out. While the area did look like Mars on the way to our sandboarding destination, with quite narrow drive ways and sharp jaws of reddish orange rock that spike out of the earth from 3 to 20 meters high, I did not believe for one second that the name 'Death' was mistaken for 'Mars' when standing atop the hill, strapped to my newly waxed sandboard.

After hesitating and telling dread-locked Sebastian that in no way, shape, or form was I sliding down this thing strapped to a piece of plastic, I saw a few people attempt (even avid snowboarders!) and quickly plop on their butts after about 1 meter down the hill. This wasn't going to be so bad after all! Courage percolated in my gut and I strapped in both feet again. Sebastian decided to hold my wrists and tell me the same directions regarding directing my board/body I had heard on two previous snowboarding lessons. I manage to stall my way down half of the hill, which was perfectly acceptable to me since I had no intention of whizzing down only to watch my innerds gush open on the rocks at the bottom. So it goes, I hauled myself up the dusty and windy slope at least six more times, utterly dehydrated by the end of it.

The height was a little less unnerving each time, since I kind of figured out how to slide down the hill as slow as possible without just sitting. This does not mean that I didn't fall spectacularly into the sand (not rock!). I believe it was run #4 that I decided I could turn AND go fast at the same time. I couldn't be more wrong: I did some amazing flips, NONE of which I intended but ALL of which involved head making contact with the ground . While it was a soft thud in the sand, I was still confident that I was going to die of hemorrhaging of some sort . After I hydrated a bit and decided that the worst would be a concussion and that all I had to do was stay awake for several hours, I went up another two times, still collecting sand on my way down. Conclusion of the day, as I told A: "This sandboarding thing is a piece of cake! I could TOTALLY start a pro league."
The video has only me stalling and looking completely cluelss [yawn]. Unfortunately, my spectacular fall was not recorded though I can assure you that it happened.

Hike after sandboarding: Moon Valley
Moon Valley

Still setting sun at Moon Valley



  1. Great Pics Pav between you and Yusevian I'm never going back to work. Spent this afternoon looking at random global airfares. Living vicariously for now tho!!

  2. That's excellent! Come to LatAm!