Screaming, shouting, whooping… The clamour was deafening as we were thrown out of our seats, shoulders straining against the seatbelts. We smacked back down to the ground and simultaneously veered around a dune, banking treacherously to the left. I couldn’t hear myself, but I knew I was adding my voice to the noise. Terrified or exhilirated, I couldn’t tell.
I was in the back of a dune buggy, clutching my camera tightly with one hand and trying desperately to keep my goggles on with the other. I had signed up for a two hour evening sandboarding tour in Huacachina, a one street town built around a desert oasis in Peru. Volcano boarding in Nicaragua had been such an adrenaline rush, I couldn’t wait to try sandboarding which promised to rival its lunacy. As the buggy came to a halt and we jumped down from its monster truck tyres, we were so distracted by the view that we didn’t notice that steep bank behind us where our driver was setting up the boards. Snapping away, we were still incredulous that a desert of this size and beauty existed in Peru. Although I’ve been here a week, it is still a country that I associate exclusively with the Andean mountains, not deserts. As the sun filters through the clouds, bathing the undulating dunes in a golden glow, it’s hard to remain heaven-sceptic.
Lying flat on my stomach, gripping the velco shoe straps, the guide gently nudged me over the ridge of the dune. Suddenly I was off, gliding down a sheer bank on sand, toes poised for braking action. I needn’t have worried. The ride is smooth, fast and so much fun. Being able to see the slope and the dunes around me made a lovely change from volcano boarding, where grit and ash make it impossible to see passed the already scratched goggles. Once at the bottom, I rolled onto my back, laughing at the exhilaration.
We boarded down nine or ten sand dunes that evening, some almost vertical, others including a tactical curve or even a double dune. I can still feel the bruise on my stomach from the dune that sent me up into the air and down with a thump that could me heard 30 metres up the incline. The majority I flew down head first, having fallen over at least three times in my attempt to go down the dune with the board strapped to my feet. In a picture perfect comical moment, I had toppled to my knees, my face buried in the sand, giggling hysterically at my pathetic attempts to board. Skiing always was my preffered winter sport anyway.
Alternating sand dunes with mad cap buggy driving, I barely saw the two hours pass. As a last send off, we clambered to the top of the steepest dune, peering over the top at the valley far below. Looking back at our first dune, I’m not sure how we could have baulked at it – a kitten in comparison to the behemoth that we were now gazing at. But after two hours, we were clearly expert sandboarders and we jumped on our boards, eager to fly down the dune one final time…