Yo Ho, Yo Ho, the Expat Life for Me!

In an earlier post, I promised that I’d write an entry about some realities of being an geologist expat abroad. Admittedly, my stint is only a few months long, so it’s not especially representative of what it’s like to live for a few years, but it’s something to write about.

It’s easy to take a lot of things from home for granted, and the old saying of “you only miss it once it’s gone” is quite true, such as hearing this everyday (a rough calculation for how many times I’ve heard it gives an estimate of around >5,000 times in my life so far)! Luckily while I was in Santiago recently, I popped into Whittard’s, and bought 50 teabags of Assamese tea, so that ought to tide me over for the next fortnight! There’s no milk at the mine, but beggars can’t be choosers! I’ve already mentioned the tea aspect, but what else would I bring with me, were I packing once more?

First of all, I’d definitely have packed my short wave radio. The internet at work blocks lots of stuff, including online radio (I foolishly assumed that this would not have been the case, hence why I didn’t pack said radio), and so a short wave radio would be super handy, as it would enable me to listen to the World Service (I’d die for the Shipping Forecast right now – theme tune, and one such forecast).

Secondly, (applicable only to geologists I’m afraid), I’d have brought my DHZ with me. To those of you unfamiliar with this acronym, it stands for Deer, Howie, and Zussman (not the initials of my friends to whom I often refer – makes a change eh?), who are the authors of a rather helpful book. Essentially it is a guide to minerals (the clue is in the title “An Introduction to the Rock Forming Minerals“), and in geology, it’s difficult to live without it. Those Collins Gem “Rocks and Minerals” books (or those of a similar nature) are nice to read, but geologically, they’re pretty worthless. Yes, emerald and topaz look nice, but let’s be honest, how many rocks have you actually seen with emeralds in? Exactly. They have a tendency to omit the more common minerals, such as plagioclase, k-spar, or biotite for example (all of which are likely to be knocking about your granite kitchen work top), and useful information (such as how the extinction angle relates to the % Albite : % Anorthite in your plag crystal – ok, admittedly I’m not looking at any thin sections here, but DHZ does have lots of stuff about hand specimen appearance, as well as details on paragenesis). DHZ has all the useful information on the important minerals, and so to say it’s handy is rather a large understatement.

To the geologists reading this, imagine trying a GSB/C2/O9 practical that lasts for 3 months, when the nearest copy of DHZ is 8,000 miles away. Not a nice thought right? Does it make your skin crawl? Yes, I thought it might! Clever me for not bringing it is all I can say (although I’ve managed to get a copy of the pdf of the C2 handout – not easy when university sites for some reason are blocked on the company internet – don’t ask why, as nobody knows), so that’ll do the job….ish! To those of you who are not geologists, an appropriate analogy is to imagine yourself as a vicar, and attempting to write a sermon without a copy of the Bible. Fortunately, there’s a book that is a bit like DHZ that they use in Chile, which isn’t bad, although it’s written in Spanish (obviously), so reading it takes quite a while!

Another couple of books I’d love to have brought with me (which only those of you with whom I was at school are likely to know) are Caminos 1, 2, and 3. These were the textbooks with which I was taught Spanish from First Form, to GCSE (in Fifth Form), and so, now that I’m in a Spanish speaking country, having these to hand to do some swotting would be rather good.

The other aspect you need to contend with when living abroad is sorting out everyday chores. The SIM card problem has been resolved, but what about more boring things, such as laundry? There is no laundry at the mine, as very few people actually live here. Neither is there laundry at the hotel. Luckily if you Google “Lavanderías en Santiago” you get a list of places you can go to. Not the most fun way to spend an afternoon, but if you run out of clothes (as I shall in a couple of weeks), there’s not a lot of choice!

Back to Santiago

First off, my form has been found, so I’m not going to be an illegal immigrant. Wooo!

Anyway, enough of that nonsense.  Last night I returned to Santiago for my free weekend, and it’s going really well so far.  After I arrived, I met up with JD, who’s the other intern based in Chile (although he’s at a different mine), and we went over to an Irish bar for supper near his flat.  We had fajitas and cheesy chips (good combination, you should try it some time), and had a good chat before heading home.

Today has been very busy.  I got up, and left my hotel at about 9:45. First I bought some postcards, and then went to a nearby shopping centre, to get a nice cup of tea.

Ahhh, lovely!

Ahhh, lovely!

I wrote the cards (to my family, TKC, PC, and LB), and got them all posted off at the nearby Correos.  After that, I topped up my phone with more internet, and then decided to go and see what Barrio Bellavista was like, having been recommended to go there.  I decided to get the Santiago version of an Oyster Card (called a tarjeta bip! – presumably because of the beep noise the machine makes when you scan it), and took the metro to Baquedano station.

El Metro

El Metro

I found the Patio Bellavista quite easily, which is a small area, with lots of shops and bars/restaurants.  I had some lunch, grabbed some cash from the ATM, and bought a large Chilean flag as a souvenir.  Then I went halfway up San Cristobal hill to Santiago Zoo to see what they had.

At the bottom of the hill.  Because llama.

At the bottom of the hill, in Bellavista. Because llama.

It was quite interesting.  In addition to the usual elephants/lions/giraffes/penguins/etc., they had some native Chilean animals (such as flamingos).  However, what I thought was great, was the fact that they had bog standard mute swans, and guinea fowl (for the latter, luckily I wasn’t hungry, as I’d just had lunch).

Yes, those are just normal swans.

Yes, those are just normal swans.

There was quite a good view from the zoo too.

Santiago from halfway up San Cristobal hill.

Santiago from halfway up San Cristobal hill.

Afterwards, I took the metro to Tobalaba station, which is past my hotel, as I wanted to walk back through all the various small shopping centres that pepper the area.

On the way back to the hotel from Tobalaba station.

On the way back to the hotel from Tobalaba station.

There was a huge amount of variety, and several were themed.  A couple consisted mainly of normal shops, that people use for everyday chores (e.g. cobblers, greengrocers, etc.).

Normal, small, local shopping  centre.

Normal, small, local shopping centre.

I came across a couple that were several floors high, but the floor was a helix, so it wound up and up.  Theme wise, there was a LOT of variation, including electronics, computer games, and… well, what made me think I was in Soho in the 1970s… (no photos of THAT I’m afraid haha)!  The electronics ones reminded me of the similar ones in Mong Kok in Hong Kong, with all the tiny shops selling cameras etc.

Oooooo spirals!

Oooooo spirals!

Anyway, I’m now back in my room, and will be meeting up with JD shortly to go back to Bellavista for the evening.

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.

Let the Packing Begin!

So the pub last night was great fun, and several people rocked up which was lovely.  We ended up going back to NF’s house (via the 24 hour Tesco in Purley) for some more chat and food.

Anyway, this morning was really just about sorting things out before I leave.  I took my bonsai to the nursery, so it’ll be looked after while I’m abroad, and got a new O2 SIM card (for some reason my normal one decided to stop working, but it’s now been replaced which is helpful, as I don’t want my phone to get cut off while I’m away). After getting home, I just got my stuff packed.  Not quite done yet, but the vast majority is finished.  I’ll be meeting SJ tonight for a curry which will be nice.  A pretty relaxed day really!

You’ve Got to Love Modern Technology

After popping to the bank to get a cheque book, and buying a ton of sun cream with SPF “50+” (grrr, thanks rubbishy Northern European genes), I went over to SJ’s house.  I’d not seen him for a while, and we had fun catching up, and watching rubbish TV (as well as Wimbledon, which has started).  JC turned up a few hours later, and, after some more TV, we played ping pong outside, before having a rather filling takeaway pizza.

Once I returned home, I spent a while trying to sort out a new SIM card I’ve got (courtesy of my father’s friend, who’s set up a telecoms company), for when I go to Chile.  Essentially, it’s a global SIM card, which allows you to phone international numbers, but only charges you local rates (or something wizzy like that) – essentially meaning that I will be able to phone home from Chile, but it will only cost me the same as phoning a local Chilean phone number, I think.  I just need to work out how to put credit onto the SIM, and then I’m all ready to go.