Before I begin, the more eagle eyed readers amongst you would have noticed that I never mentioned that I’d found a source for some UK tea (Whittard’s in Santiago), in spite of saying that I miss it. That’s because I’d forgotten, and it took me until supper last night to remember. Anyway, after supper last night, the field assistants very kindly showed me where to see Crux in the night sky (as I happened to comment on the way back that I really wanted to see it before I went back to the UK. Now that I’ve seen it, that’s one thing on the proverbial bucket list to tick off.
Today was the visit to the exploration site, and is the first time I’ve been into the field properly as a proper Exploration Geologist (a job has elicited responses that include “very macho”, and “like Indiana Jones” – beautiful irony that any of you who know me personally will appreciate). After breakfast we set off, descending through the clouds, just as the sun was rising over the foothills of the Andes, to the Pan-American Highway. Once on it, I saw the most stereotypical South American sight you could possibly imagine. Yes, it was a bloke on a horse, riding down the hard shoulder, complete with hat and woolly poncho. Brilliant!
We stopped off in a small village called La Ligua, to get some sarnies. The difference between this place and Santiago was huge. Gone were the glass office blocks and high rise flats. Instead, slightly tired clapboard bungalows were in their place. On the side of the motorway were small stalls, their owners flagging down cars to purchase their trinkets and fruit.
We pressed on, and left the Pan-American far behind, and climbed into the mountains, leaving all civilisation behind. Driving up a beautiful valley along a “track”, it felt very remote.
It was only after we’d forded the river where things started to get interesting.
As we drove up the mountains, the “track” was blocked in some places. Not ideal. If you think your commute is tough (maybe if there’s been a signal failure, or ASLEF/RMT are on strike again), at least you didn’t literally have to clear the road of rock with your bare hands.
Anyway, we climbed higher and higher into the mountains, crossing several more rivers in the process, and the scenery was stunning. Breathtaking in fact. Almost literally breathtaking (give the large drop in air pressure from the ascent). We were much higher than the whole of the UK, and kept going, before stopping at an abandoned mine. It was interesting to visit a creepy, abandoned, flooded Chilean copper mine, but we didn’t go in very far for obvious reasons (maybe 10 metres at most).
Over the top of the pass we went, until we got to the final stop (by this point, the “track” was more of a scree slope), a viewpoint that overlooks the whole of the mine that I’m staying at. It was a spectacular sight to take in.
After this, it was time to head home. As we descended, a group of Andean Condors were spotted (right at the very top of the mountain) just flying about. Apparently they only live at 2,000 metres or higher.