Sunny Afternoon

It’s a Sunday afternoon, which, while at the mine, means for me that it’s a work day!  Huzzah.  So I’m sitting in the office, listening to some great tunes (Katrina and the Waves – Walking on Sunshine anyone?), reading some papers.  I’ve just popped out with the field assistant to get some snacks for later (sandwich and some biscuits), as well as picking a lemon from the tree outside the office (which is pretty nifty).  It’s pretty good, but I’m definitely looking forward to next weekend a lot too.  Already I’ve been having a think about what I’ll probably get up to.  That’s the trouble with working on a Sunday, the mind has a rather overwhelming tendency to wander.

First of all, I think I’ll buy one of those traditional Chilean ponchos, because, well, why not?  I’ve been in two minds about it, but then I remember the last time I opted not to buy something that I thought would be cool on my travels, (a reindeer skin from a street market in Helsinki in case you were wondering), and remembered that I’ve always regretted not buying it.  Therefore, this time, I won’t fall into that trap!

There’s a part of downtown Santiago that I’ve not explored yet that apparently has some nice traditional shops etc., so I’ll have a dig around and see what I can find, although I’ll have to top up my tarjeta bip! first.  Also, I’ve been chatting to a couple of the Chileans that I met last week, and I’ve tentatively arranged to meet up with one of them, to go to a restaurant with traditional Chilean food, so that ought to be fun!

Another Day Dawns

As I was walking to work this morning, in the cool wintery mist, whistling the Blackadder theme tune, I suddenly remembered that one of my colleagues told me that cougars live in this part of Chile (not in the older woman sense, although I assume there are some in Chile, but in the “RAWWWRRR! I’m like a lion!” sense).  They like living in forested and rocky areas apparently, which is exciting, as I walk through a forest every morning.  Needless to say, I’ve not actually seen one yet, which is disappointing, although that does mean I haven’t been eaten, which is good.  You never know though, I might find some exciting animal life on my way to work one day, what with these cougars living around here, along with tarantulas (and who knows what else), although I’ll let you know if I find anything.  So far, it’s been Andean Condors and lizards, so I’m sure there’ll be something else to add to the list at some point.

Anyway, that (not especially interesting in hindsight) digression aside, what does today hold?  Well, I visited the exploration site earlier, and also helped to wash the pick-up trucks that we use to move around the mine (and exploration places). 

Also, I’ve come up with an exciting travel plan for a future free weekend (probably at the end of August), although I’ll need to square it with the boss on Monday, as it’ll be a couple of days away, i.e. not in Santiago.  So for now, it’ll have to be kept under wraps (as it probably won’t happen), but I hope it’s ok, as free time is by definition, your own (and the plan is extremely simple).

Finally, I’ve just been told that tomorrow (Sunday), I don’t have to arrive at the office until 9 am, which is great, as I get to have a bit more of a lie in :D!

Rewriting the Textbooks

So Castellano and Chilean Spanish do vary, just in case it was too easy for me. While talking and listening, I’ve noticed a few differences between the two, and, although I’m aware of them, old habits die hard, and so I can only assume that I have a very obvious Spanish accent (or, more accurately, an accent of an Englishman speaking Spanish from Spain).

So, la lista:

1. People here speak very quickly (I’ve been told this by my Chilean colleagues).

2. The lisp that you have when saying stuff like “verdad”, “usted”, or “doce” doesn’t exist.  So you get “verdaD”, “usteD”, or (ok I’m not sure how to write this, but for “doce” it’s “do-say”, not “do-thay” – with a short “o” like in “hot”).

3. Plurals don’t seem to exist.  Ok, that’s clearly a lie, but what I mean is that the “s” at the end often appears to be silent (so in fact it doesn’t actually appear at all)!  For example, if I were to say something like “gracias”, it is actually pronounced as “gracia”“Dos horas” instead is “do hora”.

I admit that all this could be total rubbish, but it’s what I’ve noticed to be the case thus far!

I’ve also been taught some Chilean Spanish words by various people, including “fome”, which means “boring”, and “bacán”, which means “great”.

Plan B

Update time, as the situation with respect to my working in the Atacama is resolved (ish).  Essentially, the new plan is as follows:  For the next two week block (that starts on the 5th August), I shall be back at the mine, and after that, I’ll be transferred to the deserty/tenty exploration site for the next fortnight.  The final fortnight will be back at this mine.  Nice and simple (and makes renewing my work permit a LOT less hassly – woo!).

This weekend is the weekend with just me and a field assistant, and I’ve spent this cold Friday morning reading some geological reports about the mine and surrounding area.  I’ll not lie, it’s freezing here, and also, for once, it’s cloudy outside (which is pretty rare, as usually the clouds are either absent, or below the office in the valley).  Never mind!

Some good news though, as today is pay day!  To complicate matters, I’m technically hired by both the London company, and the Chilean one, so it does mean that I am paying some UK tax (booooo), which means lots of fun forms to fill in when I get back courtesy of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (probably the least popular government agency)!  In Chile, all I have to do is go to a bank with my passport, and they give me some cash (which is much simpler).  Luckily though, I am now actually capable of paying for my trip to Easter Island in September now (which is handy).  Whatever’s left (unlikely, but you never know) I’ll keep, as I’d like to go for a holiday to South East Asia (Thailand/Laos/Cambodia/Vietnam) next year, because travel is great (PC, that means I’ll aim to come and visit you, you have been warned), although let’s be honest, I’ll probably spend it in the pub invest it in a local business!

Why So Serious?

One of the great things about South America is that everyone is so much more relaxed about life.  In Britain, we’re always rushing around, but never really end up going with the flow of life.  Here on the other hand, things just tend to happen, plans don’t always succeed, but hey, that’s life, and it’s not worth worrying about.  Two good examples of that have happened to me today (so far).

The first involved a visit to the exploration site.  We left the mine at about 8:30, and were driving up the track towards the site.


The river we had to ford (which wasn’t a problem last time – see previous post entitled “Time to Explore” for pictures of the area etc.), was now quite high, and so we couldn’t pass (without risking becoming beached on a rock, without any immediate method of rescue).  So, we just went back to the mine (via a beautiful small village, famous for making woollen clothes), where we bought a kilo of avocados for about £1.20.

Upon returning to the office, the next instalment of “things that didn’t quite work out according to plan” was encountered.  The basic plan for my time in Chile is to work for four weeks at the mine, and then spend the next six weeks in the desert.  However, my boss has just informed me that there’s a “minor problem”, and so I’ll be spending at least two more weeks at the mine.  Quite what the problem is, I don’t know, but anyway, that’s the situation.  I don’t really mind though, as I’m enjoying my time here at the mine anyway.

A Pretty Quiet Day

First of all, the Prince of Cambridge now has a name. Woo!  He’s now Prince George, which means (assuming that Prince Charles takes George as his regnal name – as being known as King Charles III would probably lead to comparisons between the first two Kings Charles, who were rather controversial to say the least), that he’ll boost the number of Kings George up to eight (putting it as joint most popular, along with Edward and Henry).  However, one could argue that Edward is the most popular, as there were three Kings Edward prior to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (after which the numbers start, as does modern English history).  In chronological order, these Kings were: Edward the Elder (reigned 899-924); Saint Edward the Martyr (reigned 975-978); and Saint Edward the Confessor (reigned 1042-1066). In a way it would have been cool for him to have been named after one of the ancient Kings of England, although I somehow doubt that we’ll have another King Æðalstan (the first King who unified the whole of England in 927, after trashing the Vikings up in the North – reigned 924-927 (Wessex), and 927-939 (England)). (See previous Special Edition entitled “Old Letters (or the Four “Billy No Mates” of the Alphabet)” for information on those old letters if you’re unsure). Anyway, that Saxon history lesson out of the way, what have I been up to?  Well, yesterday I visited the sulphide plant, where the vast majority of the mined copper ore gets sent (in diggers carrying 300 tonnes each).  They dump it in a pile, and it gets crushed and processed to make a sort of powder/paste of 30% copper (which gets sent by road to a smelter elsewhere).  There was a huge amount of heavy machinery (such as a 15 metre high giant rock crushing machine), and it was very interesting.  The afternoon was quite quiet, but one of my colleagues popped in and asked if I was scared of snakes.  I replied that I wasn’t, so he duly dumped a small lizard into my hand (who had been caught outside, and was now named María).  It was very small, and pretty sweet, and after taking some photos, we released it back outside. Apparently their natural predators around here are tarantulas which is rather sad (but luckily, the tarantulas aren’t really about during the winter). 

María the lizard

María the lizard

Today is pretty quiet, and I’m on my own in the office this afternoon, as everyone else is at a first aid course.

Special Edition: An Historic Day

It’s been an exciting day, but of course now, the wait is over.  I am of course referring to the birth of HRH the new Prince.  I’m probably in the same boat as the rest of the UK (and the Commonwealth Realms, Crown Dependencies, and British Overseas Territories), in that I’ve been keeping a very close eye on the live news feed (radio and TV etc. are all blocked on the company internet), waiting to see whether we’ll have a future King or Queen after HRH The Duke of Cambridge.  Anyway, it’s jolly good news indeed, and congratulations must go to the Duke and Duchess!  There’s no news on the name front yet, but if I were to bet, I’d go for George.

God save the future King!

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, the Expat Life for Me!

In an earlier post, I promised that I’d write an entry about some realities of being an geologist expat abroad. Admittedly, my stint is only a few months long, so it’s not especially representative of what it’s like to live for a few years, but it’s something to write about.

It’s easy to take a lot of things from home for granted, and the old saying of “you only miss it once it’s gone” is quite true, such as hearing this everyday (a rough calculation for how many times I’ve heard it gives an estimate of around >5,000 times in my life so far)! Luckily while I was in Santiago recently, I popped into Whittard’s, and bought 50 teabags of Assamese tea, so that ought to tide me over for the next fortnight! There’s no milk at the mine, but beggars can’t be choosers! I’ve already mentioned the tea aspect, but what else would I bring with me, were I packing once more?

First of all, I’d definitely have packed my short wave radio. The internet at work blocks lots of stuff, including online radio (I foolishly assumed that this would not have been the case, hence why I didn’t pack said radio), and so a short wave radio would be super handy, as it would enable me to listen to the World Service (I’d die for the Shipping Forecast right now – theme tune, and one such forecast).

Secondly, (applicable only to geologists I’m afraid), I’d have brought my DHZ with me. To those of you unfamiliar with this acronym, it stands for Deer, Howie, and Zussman (not the initials of my friends to whom I often refer – makes a change eh?), who are the authors of a rather helpful book. Essentially it is a guide to minerals (the clue is in the title “An Introduction to the Rock Forming Minerals“), and in geology, it’s difficult to live without it. Those Collins Gem “Rocks and Minerals” books (or those of a similar nature) are nice to read, but geologically, they’re pretty worthless. Yes, emerald and topaz look nice, but let’s be honest, how many rocks have you actually seen with emeralds in? Exactly. They have a tendency to omit the more common minerals, such as plagioclase, k-spar, or biotite for example (all of which are likely to be knocking about your granite kitchen work top), and useful information (such as how the extinction angle relates to the % Albite : % Anorthite in your plag crystal – ok, admittedly I’m not looking at any thin sections here, but DHZ does have lots of stuff about hand specimen appearance, as well as details on paragenesis). DHZ has all the useful information on the important minerals, and so to say it’s handy is rather a large understatement.

To the geologists reading this, imagine trying a GSB/C2/O9 practical that lasts for 3 months, when the nearest copy of DHZ is 8,000 miles away. Not a nice thought right? Does it make your skin crawl? Yes, I thought it might! Clever me for not bringing it is all I can say (although I’ve managed to get a copy of the pdf of the C2 handout – not easy when university sites for some reason are blocked on the company internet – don’t ask why, as nobody knows), so that’ll do the job….ish! To those of you who are not geologists, an appropriate analogy is to imagine yourself as a vicar, and attempting to write a sermon without a copy of the Bible. Fortunately, there’s a book that is a bit like DHZ that they use in Chile, which isn’t bad, although it’s written in Spanish (obviously), so reading it takes quite a while!

Another couple of books I’d love to have brought with me (which only those of you with whom I was at school are likely to know) are Caminos 1, 2, and 3. These were the textbooks with which I was taught Spanish from First Form, to GCSE (in Fifth Form), and so, now that I’m in a Spanish speaking country, having these to hand to do some swotting would be rather good.

The other aspect you need to contend with when living abroad is sorting out everyday chores. The SIM card problem has been resolved, but what about more boring things, such as laundry? There is no laundry at the mine, as very few people actually live here. Neither is there laundry at the hotel. Luckily if you Google “Lavanderías en Santiago” you get a list of places you can go to. Not the most fun way to spend an afternoon, but if you run out of clothes (as I shall in a couple of weeks), there’s not a lot of choice!

An Exciting Weekend

Well, it’s the end of my free weekend in Santiago.  Tomorrow morning (at 5:45), I shall be leaving for the mine for the next 11 days.  I’ve had a great time this weekend.

Friday night with JD was a lot of fun.  We went to Barrio Bellavista, and had a quick and cheap meal, with a couple of terremotos [link in Spanish] on the side (we decided not to go to the crazy bar as we’d been warned by lots of people that going at night was definitely not a clever move).  Terremoto is an interesting drink, and a very potent one at that.  It’s very good though, and I’ll try to get the recipe, so I can introduce it to the UK!

After that, we went to another bar, and had a chat with some Chileans, who were very charming indeed.  JD can’t speak Spanish, so I was interpreter.  Not the easiest task after two terremotos, and a litre of beer, but hey, I like a challenge!  They left, but then the people at the next table chatted with us for a while.  Then they took JD and I to another bar down the road (called En Secreto – Google Maps, you can see it on Street View), which was tiny, but absolutely packed.  There was karaoke galore there, and we had a fun time talking with all the people we’d met.  At about 4:30 we decided it was time to go home, and walked for ages.  Turns out it was completely the wrong direction.  We asked some people for directions, and they said it was 40 blocks away.  Nice!  We cut our losses and just jumped in a cab.

Saturday morning was a complete write off, but in the afternoon JD and I visited Pueblito los Dominicos, which is in the outskirts of Santiago.  It’s a group of artisan craft shops, and it was lovely.  I bought an alpacan wool scarf, and a bombilla (although I’m not quite sure how to use this yet – I’ll ask my colleagues later).

After dumping our stuff, we essentially repeated what we did on Friday night, and ended up at En Secreto again (after the compulsory terremotos and litres of beer), and had a chat with some new friendly Chileans.  JD and I decided to do a little karaoke ourselves, so I ended up doing a rendition of Sultans of Swing (admittedly a pretty poor one).  The advantage of Dire Straits though is that most of their songs only involve Mark Knopfler saying the words rather than actually singing (thereby mitigating any issues with being out of tune on the karaoke front)!  We went home at about 3 ish, this time getting a cab all the way.

Today was pretty quiet, and consisted solely of my buying of some tea from the Whittard’s down the road (in the large shopping centre by the massive new tower).  No more Té Club for me anymore!

A sleepy street on a Sunday in Santiago.

A sleepy street on a Sunday in Santiago.

I then met JD, had some tea in a café (the same café where I wrote the postcards on Friday, at a shopping centre near my hotel), grabbed a burger for supper, and went home.

The biggest burger I've had in my entire life.  Beef, 3 cheeses (blue, mozzarella, and cheddar), mushrooms, red onion, and lettuce. (Click to enlarge)

The biggest burger I’ve had in my entire life. Beef, 3 cheeses (blue cheese, mozzarella, and cheddar), mushrooms, red onion, and lettuce. (Click to enlarge)

Back to Santiago

First off, my form has been found, so I’m not going to be an illegal immigrant. Wooo!

Anyway, enough of that nonsense.  Last night I returned to Santiago for my free weekend, and it’s going really well so far.  After I arrived, I met up with JD, who’s the other intern based in Chile (although he’s at a different mine), and we went over to an Irish bar for supper near his flat.  We had fajitas and cheesy chips (good combination, you should try it some time), and had a good chat before heading home.

Today has been very busy.  I got up, and left my hotel at about 9:45. First I bought some postcards, and then went to a nearby shopping centre, to get a nice cup of tea.

Ahhh, lovely!

Ahhh, lovely!

I wrote the cards (to my family, TKC, PC, and LB), and got them all posted off at the nearby Correos.  After that, I topped up my phone with more internet, and then decided to go and see what Barrio Bellavista was like, having been recommended to go there.  I decided to get the Santiago version of an Oyster Card (called a tarjeta bip! – presumably because of the beep noise the machine makes when you scan it), and took the metro to Baquedano station.

El Metro

El Metro

I found the Patio Bellavista quite easily, which is a small area, with lots of shops and bars/restaurants.  I had some lunch, grabbed some cash from the ATM, and bought a large Chilean flag as a souvenir.  Then I went halfway up San Cristobal hill to Santiago Zoo to see what they had.

At the bottom of the hill.  Because llama.

At the bottom of the hill, in Bellavista. Because llama.

It was quite interesting.  In addition to the usual elephants/lions/giraffes/penguins/etc., they had some native Chilean animals (such as flamingos).  However, what I thought was great, was the fact that they had bog standard mute swans, and guinea fowl (for the latter, luckily I wasn’t hungry, as I’d just had lunch).

Yes, those are just normal swans.

Yes, those are just normal swans.

There was quite a good view from the zoo too.

Santiago from halfway up San Cristobal hill.

Santiago from halfway up San Cristobal hill.

Afterwards, I took the metro to Tobalaba station, which is past my hotel, as I wanted to walk back through all the various small shopping centres that pepper the area.

On the way back to the hotel from Tobalaba station.

On the way back to the hotel from Tobalaba station.

There was a huge amount of variety, and several were themed.  A couple consisted mainly of normal shops, that people use for everyday chores (e.g. cobblers, greengrocers, etc.).

Normal, small, local shopping  centre.

Normal, small, local shopping centre.

I came across a couple that were several floors high, but the floor was a helix, so it wound up and up.  Theme wise, there was a LOT of variation, including electronics, computer games, and… well, what made me think I was in Soho in the 1970s… (no photos of THAT I’m afraid haha)!  The electronics ones reminded me of the similar ones in Mong Kok in Hong Kong, with all the tiny shops selling cameras etc.

Oooooo spirals!

Oooooo spirals!

Anyway, I’m now back in my room, and will be meeting up with JD shortly to go back to Bellavista for the evening.