san pedro de atacama - sandboarding

  • group getting ready
  • board on back
  • all the way to the top
  • all the way down
  • first go
  • showing off for the ladies
  • the group
  • volcano in distance
  • is this mars?
  • ready to hit the jump
  • landing the jump
  • ants on the dune
  • instructor and me
  • going up for sunset
  • this is not ice or snow but salt
  • more of mars
  • people watching sunset
  • giant salt crater with volcano
  • start of sunset
  • sunset with more colour
  • end of sunset
  • almost completely gone
  • sipping on some beer and loving the white socks

I'm in a tiny desert town called San Pedro de Atacama in the middle of the Atacama desert in Northern Chile. The place is known for it's salt lakes, geyser, sandboarding, stargazing etc. I started my first day here yesterday by going to the internet cafe to upload a few photos, catch up with the family etc. When I walked out the cafe something somewhat surreal happenned - I bumped into Aisling! I was pretty stunned considering this is a place miles away from anywhere either of us had planned on going. The rest of that story, is somewhat personal so I won't get into it on here.

I booked myself into a sandboarding excursion, followed by a trip to the Valle De Luna (Valley of the Moon), so called because the terrain resembles that of the moon. Actually I think more like the terrain on Mars, from photo's I've seen. In fact, I was told that NASA used the area to test their Rovers for the Mars missions. I was not disappointed. The area is like nothing I have ever seen before. Dunes, rock formations that really look like another planet, salt covered valleys and mountains that from a distance you'd think were covered in ice and volcanoes and craters in the distance. This place is one of the driest places on earth, receiving only about 4 days of rain per year, and when it does rain on those days, it's apparently only for about an hour - there are some spots around here that haven't received a drop of water in hundreds, even thousands of years.

Having recently been on a snowboarding trip, I was pretty confident that I would handle the sandboarding well, and it did go pretty well. The instructor gave everybody a bit of advice and then the people who had never snowboarded before stood to the side with him for some more lessons. I took a couple of test runs down the short side of the dune, and then headed for the big dune - roughly 120 metres long, so not much of a ride compared to the slopes on the alps, but great fun all the same. There were a few things that make the experience a little bit rough, but I think all the more fun:

  1. The temperature out on the dunes is probably about 30 degrees, so even just standing there you work up a sweat.
  2. Every time you hit the bottom, you have to walk back up the dune in the sweltering heat - more sweat.
  3. All this sweat means that when you bail, the sand sticks to you in every exposed part of the body - and sometimes unexposed parts

When I got more confident, the instructor and I started hitting a small jump. I'm happy to say I landed both my jumps, and just wish the jump was bigger for some more air time.

After the sandboarding, we drove over to Valle de Luna to watch the sunset and have a couple of cold beers while doing so. The scenery wa spectacular and you really do feel like you're on Mars or the Moon. I hope the photos I've taken can show what it really looks like.


This afternoon, I'm going on an excursion to the salt likes, said to be saltier than the dead sea.