San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Our guide Roberto speaks only Spanish and here we are, Kara, Helen, Tom, Eric and I, trying to learn sandboarding on a sand dune just outside San Pedro de Atacama and I'm the only one that could understand a few of what the guy says. Eric has experience with snowboarding, having the mountains of Alberta, Canada as his playground but none of the girls has had any and so do I. Sounds like a recipe for a disaster right?

We were picked up by Roberto early this morning for the three hour session and soon we were driving off the main highway from San Pedro and into this surreal landscape that might as well be in the moon or Mars. Weird formations of wrinkly hills, weathered by erosion followed by what looked like ancient lava flows in a helter skelter formation greeted my eyes until we reached our destination, a 150-meter high sand dune.

Roberto gave each of us the board and I held mind nervously, yet excitedly. Am I really doing this? I'm not even sure now if the travel insurance I bought prior to this trip covers injuries from sandboarding. What if I fracture something? "No, you'll be fine", one of the girls reassures me. "Oh yeah, like you've done this before", I said laughing. We were also given candles - to be used as wax on the board's underside for a smoother run down the dune.

Walking up the dune with our boards was fine but the moment I realize that we'll be making several runs would also mean several hikes up into the crest. Just a few seconds of run and we're up for a few minutes of walking up. Roberto immediately tests us for our dominant leg by pushing each one of us almost to the edge. Finding that my reflex action was to move my left leg first, Roberto instructs me to position myself sideways on top of the board with my left leg in front and my right leg behind. This position would allow me to maneuver my dominant leg to the direction I want.

We asked Eric to be the first to try as we finished waxing the boards and strapping our feet. He goes to the edge and down he goes, slowly at first then he zooms and ends up tumbling down below. He looks up at us and yells, "this is fun!". I wonder if he's saying that with his mouth full of sand.

It's my turn after Tom went down as the girls prodded me on. I hovered close to the edge, looked down below and with some twisting motion, careened down while struggling to stand up only to find myself on a seating position as I was losing balance, gaining more momentum in the process until I tumbled down on my right side with grits of sand blasting my face. Wow, it's fun indeed. But at this rate I'm falling, I'll be having sand for my next meal.


Helen and Kara followed us down and we all thought it was exhilarating. Roberto was grinning as we made it back to the top. We waxed the boards again and resumed the run - we were the only ones in the dune at the time, so who cares if we look like we were eating sand for breakfast? We even had our other group members who were horseback riding around the area taking a look at what we're doing.

After four runs down the dune, I felt ill. I got so nauseated that all I could do was just sit down and close my eyes. The sunlight in this elevation is so harsh and even with my Transitions lenses, my eyes were squinting a bit. I vomited some saliva just after one of the girls asked if I'm all right. I watched them play after reassuring them I'm not feeling that bad, most likely a simple case of motion sickness.

By mid-morning, some folks came also to do sandboarding and so there goes our exclusive dune. I walked a bit higher up in the crest and took photos of the action going on around me. From this vantage point, I feel like the area around me is the set for Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica - it's truly out of this world! I imagine Darth Vader suddenly appearing out from nowhere except he's brandishing a sandboard this time.

Before going back to our car, the four of us decided we should go sandboard down the dune for that final run. I'm so well enough to do it. After securing our stuff in our daypacks and strapping ourselves again to the boards, we all went down for it, down for that last hurrah to a mouthful of sand to bring home to Hotel Takha Takha. I know I'd be clearing my ears and nostrils of sand later on.

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