After two days of mountain biking and a late night stargazing excursion in the desert, we decided to haul ourselves out of bed and tackle one more activity in San Pedro de Atacama before flying to Santiago because, really, how often do you get to play in the amazing landscapes around San Pedro? I didn’t want to regret not trying sandboarding while we had the chance in such an amazing setting. Leo and a local driver with a good four-wheel drive pickup truck and a bed full of snowboards collected us at the hotel and we headed up Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). The valley received its name from a Jesuit named Gustavo Le Paige who spoke such poor Spanish that when tried to describe his impression of the valley, he mispronounced “Marte” (trying to liken the place to the plane Mars) and people thought he said “Muerte”. Anyway, the place is indeed a twisted mass of sand and rock, and the drive up was fun in the truck. We arrived at the base of a large sand dune and found that Walter, our other excellent guide from Rutas Andinas, had found a clever form of transportation in the dunes.
We had to manage with our own legs and began the hike up with our boards — you have to earn your turns and wipeouts! Leo snapped this photo of the three of us plus another woman making our way up for our first run.
The views were stunning and distracted from the calf burn from the soft sand and breathlessness from the altitude.
Note the volcano (one of many) in the distance.
Once we got the top, it was a much quicker ride down — especially when we took the time to wax the bottom of our boards using old candles.
Especially when you sit on the board and point it straight down the hill, as Clark demonstrates.
After a few hours of fun, we were pretty well covered in sand. Clark pulled two handfuls of sand out of his pockets.
Our boots were filled with sand, too.
It was a blast. We had just enough time to make it back to our hotel, shower, and devour a quick lunch (including our daily avocado ration) before Walter and Leo drove us to the airport in Calama for our flight to Santiago. We saw two guanacos on the way, perched on high outcroppings in the desert. We enjoyed our time in San Pedro immensely, thanks in large part to Walter and Leo.
*All photos are copyright Peter Roady and may not be reproduced or reused without written permission*