For a nice little spot of adventure, myself, Chris, Leila and Christina went sandboarding today, at the dunes near San Pedro de Atacama. First time I've ever tried sandboarding — or boarding of any kind, really (the girls, on the other hand, are keen snowboarders) — and despite the annoyances and the post-activity aches, it is totally kick-a$$ fun. It's definitely got me inspired to try snowboarding, sometime this year.
There’s me, boarding down the dune. You look kind of like you’re surfing when you’re going down, eh?
They do a pretty good deal, down in San Pedro: USD$10 per person, to hire a bike and a sandboard, and to cycle the 7km's to the dune and back (map and instructions for getting there are included). You get 5 hours to make the journey by bicycle, and to actually do the sandboarding at the dune. You can pay more for a lift (by ute) and for an instructor; but really, it's not necessary, and it's more fun and relaxed to just do it on your own. Besides, there's always someone else there who's paid for an instructor; and that instructor always inevitably feels sorry for you, and gives you a few beginner tips free of charge (especially if you're a beautiful, blonde, 21-year-old Swiss girl — lucky we brought one of those with us :P).
Blonde Swiss girl: take her wherever you go, along with your army knife.
Sandboarding is really, really fun: you pick up a hell of a lot of speed, whizzing down the dune; and despite barely being able to turn (without crashing spectacularly), you do feel amazingly alive and in control of the world, while you're on the board. Stacking (i.e. falling over) occurs regularly, but is really quite safe in the soft, powdery sand (much like in snow, only not so cold).
The only bad things, really, are the fact that you have to walk back up the dune each time you want to board down it (no chairlift, like in skiing / snowboarding); and the annoyance of having to clean and wax the bottom of the board, every time you go down the dune, and every time you stack (otherwise the board ain't smooth enough, and you simply do not move). There's also the mountain of sand that you get all over yourself, in your hair, and in your ears (still got a hairful of the stuff, a few days later). But these are just minor annoyances, and despite them, it's still great fun.
Lunch on the dune.
We took it easy today, and headed off to the dune on our hired bikes (with the boards on our backs, wedged behind our backpacks) at about 11am. We had quite a few runs of sandboarding on the dune; then we snacked on some greasy donuts for lunch, and sunbathed for a while. We still had time left for more sandboarding: but we were so buggered, that we just headed back to town on the bikes; and we returned all the hired gear an hour earlier than we had to. It's harder work than it looks, all that sandboarding! Much showering was required, when we returned to the hostel: the amount of sand that we'd all accumulated on our persons, is probably only legal in about 2 states.