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).

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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!

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.

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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.

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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