Scorpion! That is the word able to most aptly sum up our trip to the desert outside of Lima, Peru for a day of sandboarding. It is not what you’re imagining though. At no time were we overrun by the arachnids. Nobody was stung. In fact, I don’t think we saw a single living creature in the desert other than the three of us and our two guides. Even now, years later, a yell of “Scorpion” in our house will be met with two people laughing with the third rolling his eyes and shaking his head in mild irritation.
Julian, Rhonda and I met our guides outside the apartment we were renting in the Barranco district of Lima. Carlos and Gerson greeted us warmly and we climbed into Carlos’s 4×4 truck. He spoke fluent English and was to be our driver and translator for the day. Gerson spoke little English, but was the sandboarding pro and would be the teacher. As we headed out of town, we stopped at a small market where Carlos unexpectedly bought a treat for us. After disappearing for a few minutes, he returned with a small bag full of caramanduca. The warm, sweet bread smelled delicious and tasted even better. Our day was off to a fantastic start.
The miles rolled by and the urban development of Peru’s largest city decayed into ramshackle homes and huts stretched along dusty roads. The greenery of Lima’s vegetation gave way to dull, dirty hills with nary a tree or bush. Carlos explained that because of the Andes and the Pacific Ocean sandwiching the coastal areas, the geography could change very abruptly. Mere minutes outside of the city seemed to be a different world. Poverty took over where the prosperity left off. Clay and arid dirt ruled the landscape. The barefoot children playing amongst the dilapidated homes appeared unconcerned about the surroundings, though.
We stopped at a small shop where we were fitted for boots and sandboards. As far as I could tell, the sandboards were essentially just snowboards with a waxy coating on the bottom to aid in sliding down the sand dunes. A short car ride later and the adventure really began.
The three of us were completely unaware that a portion of our day was going to involve offroading at the hands of Carlos and his truck. Once the paved road ended and the desert began, the ride changed dramatically. We should have been aware something was afoot, since the driver let air out of all four tires and switched into four-wheel drive. The previously casual Carlos was now gripping the steering wheel firmly as his right foot sank to the floor. We shot up a dune and came flying off onto the downslope. I swear we were airborne momentarily. Carlos was unfazed and aggressively yanked the steering wheel to the left as we crested another dune. The truck was listing precariously, seemingly ready to tip over and tumble down the hill, as Carlos whipped the wheel back to the right and we flew down the dune undoubtedly at a speed warranting a ticket if there had been speed limits in the desert. After making us fear for our lives only two or three times, Carlos dropped the three of us off, along with Gerson, at the top of a dune and then sped away to await our eventual arrival at the bottom.
The view was quite intimidating from the top. The slope was probably approaching 80 degrees of verticality and the outline of Carlos was merely a suggestion in the distance below. I’ll skip over descriptions of our first basic lessons and attempts as they are a fairly boring story to tell. I have an extensive background in skateboarding and picked up the skill quickly. Rhonda and Julian’s progress was slower but after several practice runs were ready to go. The fun was about to begin.
With our newfound sandboarding confidence bristling, we were ready to tackle the non-bunny slope version of the dunes. (Ok, so my 80 degree estimate from earlier was probably a bit exaggerated) We were to take turns going down our first steep hill. The thirteen-year-old Julian was eager to show off and went first. Thankfully, we have two different video and audio versions of what was about to happen. Julian wore a GoPro on his helmet and Gerson was waiting partly down the slope with a phone to record us as we went by. Even now, four years later, I can hear it all happen as if it was just last week. We’ve watched the videos dozens of times. I can perfectly hear Gerson saying to Julian as he zipped by “more right, more right….ooooh! You ok?” The response from Julian, distant, feeble and muffled, was simply “no”. What exactly happened you ask? I’m getting to that. Julian was doing really well on his way down, but was venturing a little off course. Gerson, the pro, recognized this and was yelling for Julian (Gerson’s Spanish pronunciation was Hoolian, a nickname that has stuck with him) to go to the right. That didn’t happen. Julian continued left. Right into a spot that made the board stop in its tracks. Julian’s momentum carried his face forward and into the sand. Hard. So hard in fact, that his face was now the sticking point and the residual momentum left in his body forced his feet into the air (with the board still attached). It all happened so quick. There was a faint click we could hear way up on the hill. Once we surfed down the dune to check on him, we inquired as to what the click was. He told us he had kicked himself in the back of the head with the sandboard!!!
Now, I want you, wherever you are, to attempt this for yourself. I want you to lay on your stomach and try to touch the back of your head with your feet. Go ahead and try. This post will still be here. My guess is that you weren’t even close. And trust me, Julian was not a flexible youngster. We can laugh about it now (and we do frequently) because he ended up being fine. He was a little sore after, but no serious or lasting damage.