Shake Shake Shake

As you are no doubt aware, I’ve not been sleeping too well lately, owing to the altitude.  Last night, I had the best night sleep since I’ve got to the desert, or rather, I would have, had I not been rudely surprised at half past four this morning.  I’d woken at 4 am, just randomly, and was just about to go back to sleep around half an hour later, when it happened.  My bed started to move of its own accord. Evidently, there was only one explanation, namely that there’d been an earthquake.

Obviously as a geologist, I HAD to know more about it, and so, in spite of only having about 4 hours of sleep this point, I went immediately to my USGS earthquake application on my phone to get the details (and decided to ignore the requirement for sleep).

Screenshot of the USGS earthquake Android application.  Data from the USGS

Screenshot of the USGS earthquake Android application. Image data: USGS

After a quick look at Google Earth later on in the morning, it turned out that the epicentre was 48 miles from the camp, which explained why it was easily felt, and was quite deep, showing that it is associated with the subduction of the Nazca Plate under South America.  Anyway, it’s another thing on my to do list that I can tick off.  The past 24 hours seems to have been quite good for getting those sorted, what with the astronomy last night, and now the earthquake this morning!

If you want more information about this earthquake, then there is a lot of information available from the United States Geological Survey website (including fault plane solutions).  The link is here.

Seeing Stars

I wasn’t going to do another post today, but after I’d had supper, it dawned on me that the moon hadn’t risen, and so I was privy to a dark desert sky (i.e. no light pollution).  This seemed too good an opportunity to miss, as one of the things I’d wanted to do whilst in the desert was to enjoy the Southern Sky properly (as lots of the constellations visible here are not visible in the UK).  So, what did I do?  I decided to think along the lines of carpe diem, (or more accurately in this case, carpe noctem).

I am fortunate enough to own an excellent piece of software called Starry Night Pro, which simulates the night sky from anywhere on Earth (amongst many many other things).  Given that my phone has GPS, all I had to do was type this into the program, to get the exact night sky from where the camp is, displayed on my laptop.  Clicking a few buttons to highlight where each constellation was, and to project the equatorial coordinate system, I was ready to go, and I ventured out into the night with my laptop (not too far though, only behind the containers, but I had to be very careful not to trip over the large satellite dish/pile of drill cores)!

First, and most easy to find was Crux, and moving away from that, I quickly clocked Triangulum Australe, Pavo, Centaurus, Octans, Scorpius, Corona Australisand Libra.  I was also aiming to find the Small Magellanic Cloud, and I think I saw it, but I’m not 100% sure (and the moon had started to rise at this point, making life rather difficult).  It was a blue moon a couple of days ago which, owing to the fact that it is a full moon, totally ruins the darkness of the sky.

Anyway, I decided to rush out with my camera to try to nab a cheeky photo of the sky.  Yes, I know it’s a bit rubbish, but hey, I don’t have a tripod, so I had to hold the camera by hand (hence the slight blurring), and I don’t own/know how to use Photoshop or any photo editing stuff (hey, I’m a lazy git purist, I like my photos with warts and all)!

In this image, we can see very clearly Crux towards the bottom centre.  The two bright stars above it belong to Centaurus, while to the left of them we can see Triangulum Australis.  Above that lies Ara.  The Milky Way is also visible as the fuzzy vertical stripe through the centre of the image.

In this image, we can see very clearly Crux towards the bottom centre. The two bright stars above it belong to Centaurus, while to the left of them we can see Triangulum Australis. Above that lies Ara. The Milky Way is also visible as the fuzzy vertical stripe through the centre of the image.  The fuzzy patch to the left is just a normal cloud.

Fieldwork Galore

Today was my first proper day of fieldwork in the Atacama Desert, and I’ll be honest, I’m knackered.  It’s not the easiest environment to work in, but it’s definitely one of the most scenic!


Exploration geology involves a LOT of walking about, as quite a few of the outcrops that need to be looked at are rather inaccessible (i.e. you have to scramble up cliffs etc.).  It is very tiring, especially with the altitude, but it is good fun (and superb cardio training!).  Today was mainly spent taking soil samples, a high tech process involving the latest technology money can buy (a trowel, sieve and a bowl).  After a tough 8 hours in the desert sun, it was time to call it a day, and we headed back to camp (for some snacks).

The drive home was wonderful, as the sun was setting, and to be honest, there’s nothing quite like a desert sunset.

Atacaman Sunset

Atacaman Sunset

A Taste Of Home – Part II

Following on from Part I of this two part special, it’s time to tackle the Indian meal I had last week.  Indian restaurants are very difficult to track down in Santiago, but luckily there was one about a ten minute walk from my hotel, and so that seemed the easiest place to go.

It’s situated on Av. de 11 Septiembre, which is the same road as my hotel, but it’s much further down.  I’m by Pedro de Valdivia metro station, whereas this one is nearer Tobalaba (two stops on line one to the East).

I opted for the set menu, for about £6.00 or so.  With that you got a starter of cheese balls, with a main course of “Chicken Curry”, rice, and naan bread.  Quite what type of curry “chicken curry” was, I wasn’t certain, and I ended up having a bi lingual chat with the waiter (with me resolutely sticking to Spanish, while he opted for English). Unfortunately I also got a menu primarily in English, but fortunately it wasn’t a shambolic Google Translate job (unlike one incident I recall in a hotel in Bayeux, where the English menu offered “roofing tile” for pudding.  I still don’t know what that could have been – if you’re ever in the Bayeux area, definitely check out the tapestry)!


Anyway, I enjoyed my chicken curry very much, although again, it’s not as good as curry in the UK!

Life On Mars?

Not only an excellent David Bowie record, and a superb BBC drama series, but also possibly (not really) what it’s like in the desert.  To be fair, parts of it have been compared to the conditions on Mars, except I doubt that Mars has any wifi, or a ready supply of orange juice!

So, what is it like, to live in a camp in the desert?  Well, ironically, the food and communications are much better here than those at the mine.  I have good wifi, and as the camp is so small (a maximum of eight people live and work here at any one time), the food is excellent. I won’t talk about the food at the mine, as there is a review of that on the way, but the difference is unbelievable!  We have a dedicated chef here, who makes delicious meals.  I’ll do a dedicated post of the food here too at a later stage.

The desert camp in its entirety

The desert camp in its entirety

The camp consists of five containers, and a tent, which house the bathroom, canteen, kitchen, storage facilities, bedrooms, and office. There is a satellite internet connection, as well as a phone and tv, and there is plenty of hot water (although the water supply gets cut off at 8 pm, as otherwise it freezes up the pipes).

A view from my front door (with Volcano Palpana in the background)

A view from my front door (with Volcano Palpana in the background)

Owing to the fact that space is at a premium, the office that I work in also doubles as my bedroom.  It does mean that my commute is the sum total of about 30 cm, which I don’t really mind.  It certainly is extremely handy!

Working from home, or living in the office?

Working from home, or living in the office?

However, having been here for a day or so, I am feeling more used to the altitude.  Last night, I slept appallingly, and this morning, woke up really dehydrated (compounded further by the desert air) with a rotter of a headache.  However, my addiction to water has started to wane, and my headache has decided to cut its losses and naff off.  Hopefully I’ll sleep much better tonight!

A Taste Of Home – Part I

Last weekend, I was having some time off in Santiago, and I thought that now I’ve been in Chile for six weeks, it’d be nice to have some food from home.  Clearly, the only option was to get a Chinese and an Indian, which is exactly what I went to do.

Chile, not really having much experience in either Empire-building or Colonialism when compared to Britain’s efforts out in India and Hong Kong, has a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to foreign foods.  If you want your American fast food chains, then Santiago is full of them (McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Subway, etc. – although not that many Starbucks interestingly enough).

Anyway, yesterday was time for Chinese for lunch, so I duly went on a explore to find a restaurant.  Stumbling across one in a side street, I ventured in.


The menu wasn’t especially diverse, and the classics that everyone has in the UK (such as sweet and sour/crispy duck) were conspicuous by their absence from the menu.  I went ahead and ordered some spring rolls, followed by “mixed rice”, and “Peking chicken”, which duly arrived nice and promptly.


Peking chicken and mixed rice

It was nice, with a very generous helping of chicken, and at the end I was very full.  Overall, it was a solid meal, but I get the impression that foreign food here is more of a novelty, rather than something serious.  I guess it’s a bit like it must have been in the UK in the 70s.

High And Dry

The fact that you’re reading this (and I’m writing this) means that yes, there does happen to be wifi at the camp, which ironically means the facilities in my room here (which is a shipping container) are actually better than those found at the mine itself!  I did have all the backup posts lined up, but I’ve postponed some of them (I’ll publish a couple about food though soon).

So at 4:30 this morning, I got up, and headed to the airport for my flight to Calama.  I managed to get a window seat which was brilliant. First, I got to sneak another peek at dawn over the Andes, which is always nice.


Brrrr, wouldn’t like to get lost in that!

I also flew over the Atacama, and so was able to see it from the air. It looked so desolate it was unbelievable!

The Atacama Desert from the air

The Atacama Desert from the air

Shortly after, I arrived in Calama, and disembarked the plane.  The city is at about 2200 metres of altitude, which equates to the same amount of air pressure roughly as inside the plane whilst airborne, and so there was no need for ears to be popped on the descent.

Calama Airport

Calama Airport

My boss was waiting for me outside, and soon, we were driving off to the field camp.  It was about 100 miles away from the city, and the scenery was incredible.  It was very flat, with nothing at all, just sand and rock, and a tiny bit of snow on top of the highest mountains.  We drove past San Pedro, and San Pablo volcanoes, the summits of which are about 6000 metres or so.

San Pablo and San Pedro volcano.  You can see a lava flow to the right hand side (the black horizontal bit) and a new cone developing to the front.

San Pablo and San Pedro volcanoes. You can see a lava flow to the right hand side (the black horizontal bit) and a new cone developing to the front

We kept driving, and eventually made it to the camp, at an altitude of 4100 metres.  The altitude means that the air pressure is only about 620 mbar (about 62% of that at sea level), which also means there is significantly less oxygen (and 72% blood oxygen saturation). However, for the time being at least, I feel completely fine, so I hope that doesn’t change.  It is exceptionally arid up here though, and you can physically feel your lips drying out which is interesting!  More details about the camp to follow in the next (not Santiago themed) post.