High-noon Sand Boarding in the Atacama Desert

Published: May 4th 2009
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We decided the minute we heard we could do sand boarding that we would do it. Michelle fancies trying snow boarding in New Zealand so we thought we would have a trial run on the sand. We had seen people doing it the evening before and it looked pretty tough. The best way to do it was by renting a bike and strapping the sand board to your back and cycling 5km to the sand dunes. The cost of renting the equipment was €8 and very reasonable for 6 hours. We got the bikes at 11:30 and with a map in hand, headed towards the desert dunes. There is only one dune that you can sand board on as the rest are protected. The cycle was fine for about 10 minutes until we reached the turn of to the sand dune. The road was rocky in parts and a gradual uphill cycle. Also, there were parts that were sandy and impossible to cycle on. It took us an hour to reach the sand dune and we started to wonder was coming out in the mid-day sun in the middle of a desert a good idea.

The next problem was to climb the sand dune itself. This was particularly exhausting as every two steps you took your foot went back one because of the soft sand. When we got to the top we realised we had the whole sand dune to ourselves. There wasn’t a single person around. The view was amazing from the top and we could see for miles. I went first and found it difficult to get the board moving. Michelle pulled out a candle stick and said the guy in the office said to rub it on it. Boy did I move! I made it so far down before my balance couldn’t hold me anymore. I went tumbling head over heels in the sand until I reached the bottom. Next up was Michelle who had her board covered in candle wax. She took of down the hill and at one point I thought she was going to take off. Luckily gravity required that she also hit the ground and went tumbling down the dune. When she came back up she was covered in sand because of all the sun cream she had on. We continued on sand boarding down the dune for a while. The walk back up to the top was taking its toll in the desert sun and we knew we couldn’t stay there all day. As much fun as it was, it was also exhausting. We got the hang of it quickly and we were able to stay up for most of the way down. After about seven goes each we knew we couldn’t stay in the sun much longer. We turned our boards towards the big sand dune where or bikes were at the bottom. We hoped on and slid down as far a we could. The sand was a bit thicker and slowed us down towards the end.

We were really feeling the heat when we reached the bottom so we decided we’d get our bikes and cycle to a sheltered rock and sit for a while. The cycle back was much easier and we free wheeled most of the way. We hadn’t realised on the way to the dune how much of a hill we had climbed. A few minutes on the bikes and we met an American couple who were staying at our hostel. They had earlier asked us if we fancied sharing a jeep to see the surrounding areas. As we had already seen what they were going to see we opted to stay with our sand boarding adventure. When we met tem they were stuck in the sand and unable to move the jeep. We volunteered our service’s and helped push them out of the sand. We then all took shelter from the sun behind a rock and talked for 20 minutes or so. They offered to give us a lift back in the bikes but we said we might as well finish what we had started.

Our cycle back took us only 15 minutes compared to the hour it took us to get there. We left the equipment back to the office and then went to the hostel for a shower to remove the sand that had lodged itself just about every where. Later that evening we would be going out into the desert to see the stars with a French astronomer so we planned on a little siesta. That didn’t happen though as we stayed talking to others in our room and had laundry to collect as well. As we were heading to Bolivia the next day we needed o get some Boliviano. I ran around to shops looking for the money. The rate they were giving was extremely poor and we were only getting 5.1 boliviano for every dollar when we should have been getting 7 at least. There was nothing we could do as we would be three days in Bolivia before reaching an ATM.

At 7pm we joined up with our next tour to go and see the stars. A bus collected us from the office and brought us out to a French astronomers house outside the town away from any light. He brought us outside and made us form a large circle. He began by explaining different things about astronomy and how the earth is shaped. He had a green laser that pointed at the stars and every time he put it on I felt like making the light saber noise from star wars! After explaining all the different constellations’ he brought us to look through all his telescope’s. Some stars shone like diamonds and others we saw were distant galaxies. We also got to look at Saturn and you could quite clearly see the rings. We also got to take a photo through the telescope of the planet. The tour was excellent and very informative. Afterwards he brought us into his house and made us all hot chocolate. He talked for awhile until our bus came and brought us back into town.

We had a big journey ahead of us the next day. 3 days/2 nights travelling through southern Bolivia to see the salt flats and many other sights. We will be staying in very basic rooms with freezing cold showers in the middle of nowhere. We will reach heights over 5000m above sea level. That’s 5km distance into the sky from any of our house’s at home! The air will be thin but we are armed with plenty of aspirin this time. We are a bit apprehensive about entering Bolivia after the Irish guy who was shoot dead by their police a few weeks ago. Bolivia is far from the safest country in the world but most crime is petty and not harmful. We have been looking forward now for a while to get to Bolivia and we hope it lives up to our expectations.

In a bit. DH

Song of the blog: Monkees - I’m a believer

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