I Used To Be A Geologist Like You…

But then I took a cactus to the face.

Ok, so I rehashed a (now old) internet meme simply for the purposes of a new title.  I haven’t actually taken a cactus to the face yet, hence why I am still a geologist (although I’ve come quite close on several occasions).  The cacti around here are vicious, they have massive spikes, that are pretty tough (although I did see a camel eating one at the Santiago zoo – the cheeky smug git).


I must admit, the working environment of a mine is much more dangerous than your average office.  The mine itself has lorries that can carry 300 tonnes of rock each driving around, as well as blasting everyday at 5pm (which makes a loud bang, and the office building shakes for a few seconds).  The processing plants are risky places too, where you’ve got giant rock crushing machines, and 20 metre deep “swimming” pools of sulphuric acid (it’s ok though, as I’ve got safety specs).

Overall, it makes working in the field seem a lot safer (at least it certainly seems that way).  I’m spending these days out doing fieldwork, and one of my colleagues warned me about an insect that I was unlikely to come across, but you never know.  It’s known as a vinchuca, and apparently likes living on rocks, although it’s winter, so there might not be any.  Of course, there is a twist (isn’t there always a twist?).

Some of these vinchucas are apparently infected with a delightful little parasite that causes something called Chagas’ Disease.  Often, this is symptomless.  Doesn’t sound so bad?  Well, it’s also incurable, and for those for whom it is not symptomless, things can get a bit… unpleasant.  Things along the lines of an enlarged heart, or intestine.  Sudden death 30 years down the line is another possible option.  Charming!  The only piece of good news is that after digging around the internet for a bit, it appears that Chile has managed to eradicate transmission via these charming chappies. I’ll avoid the little critters anyway though if I see any, just in case!

Anyway, the field is great, it’s much more like proper geology (walking around the mountains looking at rocks is more fun than reading papers and reports).  The weather yesterday was lovely, topped off with a few Andean Condors flying around the area.

Hey Mr. Condor, how's it going?

Hey Mr. Condor, how’s it going?

I had a surprise when I got home though, as on the front door was a very large scary looking notice, written with lots of red capital letters and a rather fetching skull and crossbones motif in the top corner.  Not quite what I was expecting.  Essentially, for some reason (of which I hadn’t be told, rather worryingly), a company had popped in to give the place a nice dousing in pesticides.  Quite why this was needed I have no idea, hopefully it wasn’t a plague of Chagas’ infected vinchucas!

Wasn't expecting to see that on my front door!

Wasn’t expecting to see that on my front door!

 Today is an office day for me, as the field assistants have a few things to do down at the drill core storage facility, and we wouldn’t have enough time to get to the field (it’s a 2-3 hour drive each way).  I’ve got some stuff to read about alteration textures, and have the Fourth Ashes Test scores up too, with a nice cup of tea on my desk too of course, so I’m sorted!  I did get a lie in this morning, which was marvellous (I didn’t have to get in until 9am)!  Hopefully the same will apply for tomorrow!

Risky Business

So now I’ve been in Chile just over a month, and the weather is still freezing cold in the mornings.  There is no force as powerful as the attraction of a nice comfy warm bed, in a freezing cold room, at 7 am while it’s dark outside.  However, life goes on, and work must be attended.

Now, pretty much everyday since I’ve been here, I’ve been wearing my green Sedgwick Club fleece to keep warm.  However, today I thought that it needed a break, and, at great risk of looking like a muppet, I donned my new poncho.  As I was walking to the office, a pickup truck pulled up alongside.  Nothing unusual about that, he was just asking whether I wanted a lift.  I politely declined, saying that I preferred to walk, however, I paid close attention to whether I could see any smirks or not.  Luckily there was none.  First hurdle passed, acceptance from a randomer.

I emerged out of the woods at the office, and waved at my colleague through the window, who gave me a thumbs up.  I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or not, as he’s got a pretty solid sense of humour.  I went in to ask, and he said it was fine, although it would look better if I had a horse and a hat.  Hmm, subtle indication of a stupid look perhaps?  I decided not to beat about the bush, and asked him if I looked silly, to which he said no (hooray).  However, rather handily, he gave me some tips on how to wear it (when you’re outside, you keep your arms inside, but inside you roll up the edges so your arms are totally free).  Second hurdle passed, acceptance from colleagues.

The colleague with whom I share an office came in a few minutes later, she seemed to like it a great deal, and said it had nice colours.  At this rate, I’m almost bordering on stylish. Yeah right :P.  Either way, I was extremely warm on my walk to work this morning (as it’s a mixture of sheep and alpaca wool), so it doesn’t really matter!  All I need now is a cup of tea, and I’m sorted!

High As A Kite

Firstly, the title here is not a reference to the apparent psychological state of a shady and rather unsavoury bloke in the loos of the bar JD and I went to on Friday night (although admittedly, it could well be).  It is instead referring to my high altitude medical test that I had this morning.

“What did it involve?” I hear you cry.  Well, surprisingly, it didn’t actually involve any running on a treadmill, or breathing air with less oxygen.  Therefore, quite how I was actually tested for altitude remains something of a mystery to me.  I had an ECG done, an X-Ray, blood tests, and a brief test of my eyesight, but nothing that seemed obviously useful with respect to altitude.  The only part of the experience that was relevant was a piece of paper with advice for dealing with altitude written on it.

Anyway, that was how I spent this morning, before heading back to the mine with my boss, to arrive just in time for lunch.  This is the final shift here before my little excursion to live in the Atacama Desert, and I’ve got a few things planned (like visiting the actual mine part of the mine – i.e. where they extract the ore, rather than just the bits around it).  This shift only lasts ten days, as Thursday week is a national holiday (so I’m finishing on Wednesday week instead).

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.