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!

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.

The Great SIM Card Hunt

Today is a public holiday in Chile, and so the geologists weren’t in.  Yesterday, as their computer was very slow, a couple of them decided to decorate a large cardboard box as a coffin as an office prank, and leave it (in an ominous fashion) in the field assistants’ office.  This morning, the field assistants promptly responded by writing the geologists’ names on the coffin, and leaving it for them to find.

Anyway, after all the fun and games this morning, it was time to find the SIM card again.  We first went to a small town called Nogales, but nowhere was open.  We did however see a large church procession with dancing and music going along one of the quiet streets.  Anyway, after that, it was back to La Calera, and, while most shops were shut, one telecoms place was open.  As luck would have it, they had the right sized SIM for my phone, so I bought it.  Good stuff.  Finally I could chat to some people back home – hooray.

Afterwards, we had some lunch back at the mine, followed by a bit of drill core examination.  Now I’m back in the office, sorting out plans for the weekend with the other intern (who is currently in Santiago, as he is based at a mine near the city, so has an apartment from which he commutes in each day).  He’s probably around this weekend, so we’ll be visiting an interesting bar if all goes well.  It’s quite famous, with a drink called terremoto (lit. “earthquake”) – allegedly because it’s difficult to stand up afterwards.  I’ll let you know on the weekend whether this is true or not.

Time to Explore

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.

A street in La Ligua

A street in La Ligua

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.

The track in the hills

The track in the hills

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).

Creepy abandoned mine entrance.

Creepy abandoned mine entrance.

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.


Not too bad a view for your work environment! (Click to enlarge)

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.

Andean Condors flying about

Andean Condors flying about


Solamente Hablo En Español

Righty ho readers and reader-esses, I’m firmly out of the anglosphere now.  I’ll admit, it’s pretty daunting, however slowly but surely, my Spanish is forced to emerge from the deep recesses of my mind (although at a pace that would make a snail look like Usain Bolt).  It’s quite enjoyable in a way, in spite of my typical eloquence being hindered somewhat, and I am adapting.   Being an expat is very exciting, but rather daunting at first (especially when you don’t know anyone and are pretty poor at the local lingo), however I am loving it!  Of course, there are a few things that I miss from Britain, but overall, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing at the moment.  It is very interesting to experience this, as I’ve only seen it from the other side (as a local seeing foreign expats in Britain).  In due course (i.e. when I get back to Santiago), I’ll write an entry about generic expat-y stuff (including stuff I wish I’d brought but didn’t), as well as differences I’ve noticed between Castellano spoken in Spain, and the local Chilean variant of Spanish but at the moment, I’m a wee bit busy (because ¡¡¡¡GEOLOGÍA!!!!).

Anyway, what has today involved?  First of all, I went to breakfast with the field assistants, who are lovely people, and are extremely kind, before going to the office to check emails and to swat up on copper minerals (as I know nothing about them so far, save for their names).  Then we went to the drill core analysis place, and spent a couple of hours looking at a newly done core, and the assistants showed me example of what several copper bearing minerals looked like (such as chalcopyrite and bornite).  After that, it was time for lunch.  What special Chilean food did I have today I hear you ask?  The answer (obviously) is vegetable soup, bangers and mash, and jelly.  (I am in Chile, not the local pub, I promise).  I’ve been drinking a lot of tea while I’m here (at every meal), although it’s not quite the same as tea in the UK.  It looks like tea, but doesn’t really taste like it (sorry Té Club, it’s nothing personal)!.  Even so, the fact that it wasn’t available at lunch was painful.


Mine food!

Lunch having been eaten, I was very kindly bought some snacks from the kiosk at the canteen by the field assistants, before heading back to the office to check my emails etc.  Shortly (i.e. after I’ve written this) we shall be heading back to the core place in order to spend some more time looking at the rocks.

¡Hasta luego mis amigos!

¡Hasta Lunes!

It’s Thursday afternoon, and in the exploration department, that means it’s time to go home for the weekend.  Essentially, in the type of exploration based at the mine, the hours are from 8:00-20:00 on Mondays and Wednesdays (and you sleep at the mine), while on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you work 8:00-17:30, and get the bus back home.  As the intern, because my time is limited here, I’m staying at the mine this weekend.  Tomorrow and Sunday will involve me looking at a core and familiarising myself with all the lithologies, while on Saturday, I shall be going on a trip to an exploration site to the north of the mine (although the absence of a tunnel means there’s a two hour journey each way, even though you can see it out of the office window).  I’m not alone though, as the two field assistants don’t get the weekend off (their shift is 9 days on between 8:00-17:00) and 5 days off, but all the geologists have gone home.

Today, I started by visiting the site at which a recent drill core was taken (the core that I’ll be looking at tomorrow), and saw some lovely scenery on the way (as well as an avocado farm which was cool).

An avocado tree

An avocado tree

After that, I popped down to watch some of the core analysis taking place, then, after lunch, I did some reading.  When I’m back in Santiago this time next week, I shall put up some scenic photos for you dear readers!

Woo scenery!

Woo scenery!

Let’s Get to Work

Apologies for being away for a few days, it’s been difficult to get internet here.  So, what have I been up to?  On Monday morning, I was collected by my supervisor from the hotel, and we went to the main office in Santiago to sort out my work visa, and to meet people in the exploration division there.  After that, we headed to the mine.  It’s pretty big, and impressive, and is on the side of some big mountains (although they are small by Chilean standards).  I spent the afternoon meeting people, and having a safety meeting, before grabbing some dinner, and going to the house at the mine where I shall be living for the next few days.  All accommodation and food is provided, which is really handy! 

Yesterday was mainly spent going through papers talking about the geology of the mine, and the surrounding areas, and I had some meetings on the geology, and on safety.  My colleagues are all very nice, and the office is great too.  It’s a small building set aside from the main building, just for the exploration group here.

This morning, I met a few more people, I did some more reading, and am now waiting for someone to come up from Santiago who will show me how to go through some drill cores, so that ought to be fun.