Gooooood Morning Suriname!

So I have arrived.  The flights were long and uneventful, especially the transfer at Amsterdam Schiphol, but I am at least here.  It’s a stark contrast to the UK here, with temperatures of 30C all year round (much nicer than the 6C I left behind)!  Upon stepping off the plane, I was greeted with a smell I’d only encountered once before, in London.  It was the smell of the rainforest (hardly a big surprise given that the airport was in the Amazon!).  (In London the same smell may be found inside the Palm House at Kew Gardens in case you’re wondering why there’s a rainforest smell in London).

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Paramaribo is a rather quaint capital city.  There are no high rise buildings to be seen anywhere, and many of the houses are built in the style of Dutch houses.  Palm trees are found everywhere, and there are (what I assume to be) tropical birds singing.  Unfortunately, given that I’m working here rather than holidaying, I won’t get to see much of the city, but such is life.  Something is better than nothing though of course!

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Today is fairly quiet aside from a couple of meetings (in reality this equates a casual chat with various people), but tomorrow the work is likely to ramp up some more.

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Special Edition: Arriving on Easter Island (Day 1)

After an early 5am start to pack and get to Santiago airport, I was on the LAN Chile flight to Easter Island.  Five hours of flying above the blue of the Pacific, with no land in sight, until suddenly, a peninsula came into view.

My first glimpse of Easter Island

My first glimpse of Easter Island

We landed, got through the airport, and I was met by the staff from the hostel, who gave me a flower garland before driving me to the hostel itself.  I dumped my stuff, and went for an explore of the town on the island – Hanga Roa.  There’s not a lot to the town, with it consisting of only about four roads, but there were lots of shops, restaurants, and cafés.  However, that was not was I was first looking for.  Top priority for me was to visit the post office to get a souvenir stamp in my passport.  Owing to the fact that Easter Island is a special territory of Chile, my domestic flight meant that I hadn’t had to go through any immigration procedures, and so the only proper way was to get a special stamp from the post office.  Having come all this way, I couldn’t not!  I went on to browse some shops, and elected to buy a guide book to the island – Amazon link here (written by the Honorary British Consul to the island, and former Cantab – we seem to get everywhere!).

At the end of the road lay the coast, and, with it being Easter Island and all that, there were a couple of moai standing there.

The two moai on the coast in Hanga Roa

The two moai on the coast in Hanga Roa

They are curious statues, and about 1,000 exist in total.  Their size varies enormously (between one and 20 metres – although the average is usually about six or so), and almost all of them face inland (towards where villages once stood in the past).  So many questions remain about them, yet there are no answers.  I appreciated the moai for a while, and gazed out towards the west over the sea.  The next nearest piece of land was 1,200 miles away or so – the Pitcairn Islands (British Overseas Territory), population 50.  I was so very far away from anywhere, but with only four whole days, I had a lot to explore!

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.

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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.

The Eagle Has Landed

Well, what a long journey that was!  After getting on the plane, it became immediately obvious that there were no screens in the chairs. Yeah.  This also meant two things.  Firstly, I had no idea where I would be at any point, as there was no map to see, and secondly, there was no way to charge things on the journey.  In other words, there was nothing to do.  13.5 hours is quite a long time to do nothing.  Luckily, I spent the first hour making a long playlist on my iPod (6 years old, but still got a brilliant battery life), followed by another hour spent eating supper.  11.5 to go, so I spent most of that sleeping :D, it was pretty intermittent, but hey, it means I’m now less tired (which is ideal)!  I woke up somewhere over the Atlantic I think (distinct lack of any lights below), and the stars looked lovely.  The next time was over Brazil I think, with small towns dotted around.  The third and final time must have been over the Amazon Rainforest (as there was just pitch darkness below).

Then the sun began to rise.  At first, it was just a deep blue off to the East, but as time went on, the sky got brighter.  By a stroke of luck, it was just properly dawning as we flew over the Andes, and was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.  Snow capped mountains, looming up from below, silhouetted by a fiery sunrise.  I took some photos, but they definitely do not do it justice.  The Andes’ sheer scale is spectacular, as you cross them, they stretch for as far as the eye can see in all directions, and once you’re over, they just run in a line seemingly ad infinitum.  You can easily imagine people saying that they mark the edge of the world, the towering snowy peaks being impassable, with the possibility of the void on the other side, or more simply, Here Be Dragons.  If Tolkien ever saw this, there could be no doubt that they’re the Misty Mountains.  Atmospheric music here.

Dawn breaks over the Andes mountains.

Dawn breaks over the Andes mountains. (Click to enlarge)

Coming into land was interesting, as the airport was shrouded in a very thick blanket of fog, but all was well, and we touched down.  After passing through immigration and customs, I was picked up by my boss, who’s a lovely guy, and we chatted throughout the journey through downtown Santiago to the hotel, where he dropped me off.

I’ve texted EO, so hopefully she’s around today to meet up.  Ahora, es tiempo por un poco de desayuno.

So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish!

I was debating whether or not to use this title now, or keep it for a later date.  Clearly I decided to opt for the former (mainly because the complete Hitchhiker’s Guide is now residing peacefully in my hand baggage, and I thought it’d be churlish not to).  This is the first post in the new category of “Chile 2013”, and I’ve put a dedicated link on the sidebar so you don’t have to wade through all the rubbishy posts. Sadly, this post may be one of the final daily updates I do, as I’m not entirely sure as to the internet situation where I’m going (although I think the hotel in Santiago does have wifi, so all is not necessarily lost)!

The bags are all packed, and I’ve checked in online, kind of. Essentially my journey is in two parts, flying from Heathrow to Madrid, and then from Madrid to Santiago.  Check in only seems to work online for the LHR-MAD leg, which isn’t helpful, but now it’s all sorted. I had a cup of tea with my father, and dropped off my bag. I also managed to check in for the MAD-SCL leg, and am rather lucky to have a window seat for it, so it’s looking like I’ll be able to watch dawn break over the Andes tomorrow morning (I’ll aim to get a photo for you dear readers). Now I’m just sitting air side at Heathrow waiting for the gate to come up. There’s no free wifi here (boooo!) so can’t use my laptop (hooray for the WordPress android app is all I can say)! The upside is that I’m in the pub with a rather nice pint of Hobgoblin, so it could be worse!

I may update this when I get to Madrid (hey, I’ve got 2 hours to kill at midnight, so there’s not much else to do), but it depends if there’s free wifi or not I guess!

Update: So there’s no free wifi at Madrid airport, but EU data roaming charges are cheap enough for a cheeky update.

The flight was pretty uneventful, but Iberia have excellent maps for their flights. Best of all however was the usb plug on the screen in front. This meant I could charge my phone on the flight AND watch films on it (so glad I bought that large memory card now)!

I got off the plane and ended up in the middle of the terminal. It seems that there’s no distinction between arrivals and departures, as I emerged in the departure area straight away. It’s a vast hall with not a lot going on, and my flight wasn’t listed as having a gate yet. Unhelpfully, the board (of which there only seem to be about two) said that there are no boarding announcements. I went to the info desk, mentally scraping the rust off my Spanish as I went, and asked which gate my flight left from. They didn’t know, and essentially told me to keep looking around. I decided that a sandwich and some water would be a good plan at this point, and after having an impromptu supper, I headed further down the departure hall. By a stroke of luck I came across the gate and sat down to wait.