A Bit Of Argy-Bargy

Another Friday night in Bellavista, more fun was had, with a few more anecdotes to add to the rather long list.  As per usual, it started off with some food (hamburguesas a lo pobre) and beer.  JD and I got talking to some people at the next table who suggested a club to go to.  Unfortunately, we forgot the name, and so were unable to find it. We stopped and asked a few people, but to no avail.  A couple of blokes we asked politely offered us something that’s best described as “slightly suspect” to smoke.  Clearly we declined this offer.  After learning we were from Britain, one of them, who was Argentinian, decided to start talking about the Falkland Islands, at which point I made an executive decision to disappear off, dragging JD with me, as in spite of thinking along these lines, some things are best left unsaid. Being attacked by a 40 year old stoned Argentinian guy didn’t feature especially high on my agenda.

We returned to our old haunt, En Secreto, but unfortunately, it was full, which we’d never come across before.  Apparently there was a half hour wait to get in, which wasn’t ideal.  Some of our friends were already inside, and they came out to try to persuade the bloke to let us in, but without much success.  One guy waiting outside got a bit impatient with the delay, and so decided to indulge himself in a brawl with the chat guarding the door.  Unfortunate for him, but ideal for us, and, because his attention was somewhat diverted, we seized this opportunity, and sneaked inside while his back was turned.  It worked perfectly, and we stayed for a few hours (with of course yours truly doing some singing, as per usual).  Anyway, we had a good night, and, owing to the fact that I had to meet my boss this morning, I left JD to it (at about half 3 or so), and walked the two miles back to the hotel.

Anyway, I’m now in the hostel where I’ll be staying until Monday (when I fly to Easter Island), and it’s very near to Baquedano station, so assuming that tonight will be spent in Bellavista as well, the walk back will be nice and short.

A Trip To The Mountains

Hello again everyone!  I know it’s been a while, but nothing really happened while I was in Santiago on Monday and Tuesday (I spent most of my time watching videos on YouTube and eating takeaways).

Anyway, on Wednesday I went to visit another mine owned by my employer, which is in the mountains behind Santiago.  It’s about 3600m above sea level, and is very different to my mine.  For a start, it is much much larger, and secondly, there’s no vegetation, merely lots of snow, wind, and rock.

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It was an interesting place to visit, and it was a good opportunity to see more of the business, and more mining operations, but I have to admit, I prefer working at my mine!

A Taste Of Home – Part II

Following on from Part I of this two part special, it’s time to tackle the Indian meal I had last week.  Indian restaurants are very difficult to track down in Santiago, but luckily there was one about a ten minute walk from my hotel, and so that seemed the easiest place to go.

It’s situated on Av. de 11 Septiembre, which is the same road as my hotel, but it’s much further down.  I’m by Pedro de Valdivia metro station, whereas this one is nearer Tobalaba (two stops on line one to the East).

I opted for the set menu, for about £6.00 or so.  With that you got a starter of cheese balls, with a main course of “Chicken Curry”, rice, and naan bread.  Quite what type of curry “chicken curry” was, I wasn’t certain, and I ended up having a bi lingual chat with the waiter (with me resolutely sticking to Spanish, while he opted for English). Unfortunately I also got a menu primarily in English, but fortunately it wasn’t a shambolic Google Translate job (unlike one incident I recall in a hotel in Bayeux, where the English menu offered “roofing tile” for pudding.  I still don’t know what that could have been – if you’re ever in the Bayeux area, definitely check out the tapestry)!

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Anyway, I enjoyed my chicken curry very much, although again, it’s not as good as curry in the UK!

A Taste Of Home – Part I

Last weekend, I was having some time off in Santiago, and I thought that now I’ve been in Chile for six weeks, it’d be nice to have some food from home.  Clearly, the only option was to get a Chinese and an Indian, which is exactly what I went to do.

Chile, not really having much experience in either Empire-building or Colonialism when compared to Britain’s efforts out in India and Hong Kong, has a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to foreign foods.  If you want your American fast food chains, then Santiago is full of them (McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Subway, etc. – although not that many Starbucks interestingly enough).

Anyway, yesterday was time for Chinese for lunch, so I duly went on a explore to find a restaurant.  Stumbling across one in a side street, I ventured in.

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The menu wasn’t especially diverse, and the classics that everyone has in the UK (such as sweet and sour/crispy duck) were conspicuous by their absence from the menu.  I went ahead and ordered some spring rolls, followed by “mixed rice”, and “Peking chicken”, which duly arrived nice and promptly.

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Peking chicken and mixed rice

It was nice, with a very generous helping of chicken, and at the end I was very full.  Overall, it was a solid meal, but I get the impression that foreign food here is more of a novelty, rather than something serious.  I guess it’s a bit like it must have been in the UK in the 70s.

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 Courage Of Your Convictions

I’m a lucky guy.  Ok, not the luckiest bloke, but I have been lucky enough to have inherited my father’s rather nifty sense of direction (if you’ll excuse some rather uncharacteristic boasting on my part)!  A few weeks ago, I decided to walk home, rather than get a taxi (as a cab is just a waste of money right?).  I didn’t know the way, but knew which way roughly was my hotel, and walked it, based solely on my thought of “I reckon that way is east”, and a very basic knowledge of the map of the Santiago metro.  Two kilometres later, I got to my hotel, without any faff/muggings/murders (an exercise I have repeated twice more since).

A similar thing happened tonight.  It was 5 in the morning, and JD and I decided to follow a group who said there was a bar open until later (as our favourite haunt – En Secreto had shut at this point).  Sadly, this turned out not to be true.  So what happened next?  We walked east, until we got to a road.  A road that was easy to follow home (Avenue de Pedro de Valdivia).  Unfortunately, we went south, rather than north, which wasn’t ideal (I needed around number 100, but we ended up at about number 3100).  At this point JD decided to ask for directions, and decided to go east, while I looked at the numbers of the buildings, and returned north (to my hotel).  In other words, I decided to trust my instinctive sense of direction (ta muchly father dearest :D).  It was at this point that we parted.  I decided to back myself (a favourite motto used within the Sedgwick Club), based solely on my sense of direction, and made it back fine (although it was a decent walk of at least two miles), augmented by solar navigation (as dawn was breaking at this point).  Turns out JD opted for a cab in the end, which was a good shout, although much more expensive (£4+ vs. £0.00) 😛 hehehe, (although to be fair, I only had the equivalent of about 50p on me at this point and hence had no real alternative)!

I have however made errors with solar navigation in Santiago in the past, as the first day I was here, I forgot that in the southern hemisphere, the sun is to the north (rather than the south) at midday, which is different to the northern hemisphere (and hence different to London), a forgotten piece of information that made me get a tad lost! Seriously, solar navigation is really helpful.  It might not be the most accurate, but it does give you a vague idea of what direction you’re going in (as long as you know roughly what the time is too), which can be invaluable!

Into The Unknown

Today is my last day at the mine (at least for the next three weeks), and I’m all packed and ready to go.  On Monday morning, bright and early, I’ll be flying to the city of Calama, from which I shall be driven for a few hours to the camp in the middle of the Atacama Desert.  It’ll be very interesting, and I’m excited, although I have no idea what to expect (apart from a lot of sun and sand).  However, today is quite quiet.  This morning, I had a mine safety induction (so that for my final two weeks, when I’m back here at the mine, I may go and visit it), which should be interesting!

I do have another free weekend in Santiago to look forward to, which will be great.  I get an extra day this time, as tomorrow is a public holiday, and so nobody is at work.  Anyway, all this week, the other geologists are at a training course in Santiago, and my boss is in the north doing some field stuff, so it’s been just me with the field assistants for a week.  I’ve enjoyed it, and haven’t spoken any English for ages.  I think I’m starting to take up Spanish a lot more, as I’ve had to stop myself writing some Spanish words when messaging my English speaking friends!

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).

Ponchos, Protests, and Architectural Plagiarism

So it’s my Friday off, and I’m back in Santiago.  First item of the day was to go to the office with my boss to sort out something.  We did nearly meet an early death as we crossed the road, as a bus decided that a banterous start to the day would be to attempt to run us over. Anyway, the office stuff only took about ten minutes, and then I was free to enjoy the city.

After topping up my phone and tarjeta bip!, I ventured over to Santa Lucía, which is one of the downtown areas of Santiago.  My colleagues had told me that there’s a market there that sells Chilean things. Along the way, I saw down the road there was a tower.  Maybe it’s just me, but it looked extremely familiar.  Yes everyone, it was a sort of replica of London’s iconic Post Office Tower.

Post Office Tower 2

Post Office Tower 2

After walking around for quite a while, I eventually found the place.  It was dull of small stalls with various wares.  Some bloke, spotting that I wasn’t local (those of Saxon heritage are as subtle as a punch in the face around here), tried to flog me some “silver” that he said was “very cheap”.  The words “seems legit” popped into my head at this point, and I politely went on my way.  Shops seem to open late here, and a lot of shops were still shut (it was gone 11 at this point). Anyway, after some perusing, I got talking to a very nice lady who ran a shop that sold ponchos.  I explained that I needed something warm for the desert, and she showed me the various types that she had.  I thanked her, and went to look at the other shops.  I came back to hers, as she had the best selection.  After asking which type she preferred (as they were all the same price), I bought one.

The market of Chilean stuff

The market of Chilean stuff

I looked around some more, and also popped into a copper shop, and bought a small jug.  I thought I had to buy some copper at some point, seeing as copper is sort of my job here.

I emerged from the market to come across a protest.  Quite what they were protesting about was unclear.  Only two people had signs, with the vast majority opting for Chilean flags and vuvuzelas instead.

After this unusual spectacle, it was almost lunchtime.  I’d been recommended a place near the hotel, but I decided to stick around the Santa Lucía area instead, as I wanted to explore some more.

Yes, people have vandalised that church.

Yes, people have vandalised that church! (Click to enlarge)

While walking around looking for somewhere to eat, I came across more themed shopping places.  The first one was a small centre for jewellers, while outside was what can be only described as the optician district.  Quite why you need 40+ (genuinely, there were this many) opticians in one block beats me, but there you go!

Anyway, the food I’d been told to try is called completo, which is a sort of Chilean hot dog.  I came across a place that was rather originally called El Completo, so there wasn’t much imagination required to work out what they served.  Admittedly, it looked a bit like the sort of place where food poisoning could come as a free side order, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained (and I decided its effects couldn’t be worse than those from a dodgy lunch I had in China once).

I went in and was utterly bewildered by the choices.  I had absolutely no idea what the different types were, so I took a punt, and opted for the italiana.  A few minutes later, it was brought to my table.  A large hot dog, with tomatoes, sour cream, and guacamole.  Not bad for £1.50!  A lucky gamble if I might say so myself!

Completa Italiana

Completa Italiana

After lunch, it was time for more walking.  Yes, I was a bit lost, but lost in a good way.  All sorts of shops are around here, from ships that sell posters, to shops that sell postres.  Not a couple of words you want to get mixed up, unless the idea of nailing cake to your wall is how you get your kicks (you sick people)!

Another interesting shopping centre loomed up, and I went in in order to cut through to the next street.  I passed a café called Café Matte, which I assumed meant they sold mate which is on my list of things to try.  “Ideal”, I thought, “I can try mate here!”.  That thought process was brought to an abrupt halt upon closer inspection.  Quite how the combination of a tea room, and what appeared to be a pole dancing venue would work eluded me, but I decided that it would have to remain one of life’s little mysteries.

Seedy tearoom, or just clever advertising? You decide!

Seedy tearoom, or just clever advertising? You decide! (Click to enlarge)

I continued through the shopping centre, and emerged in the midday sun, greeted by a powerful smell of urine, to Santiago’s answer to Covent Garden.

Live music, and about a million artists selling paintings were in the square.  On the other side, a few of the protesters from earlier were standing about.  Turns out it’s the postmen (presumably on strike).

Postman Pat's on strike again!

Postman Pat’s on strike again!

The square was called Plaza de Armas, and the Museum of National History was there.  However, so was a group of loud shouty people with drums and megaphones (accompanied by sirens).  I decided at this point that discretion was the best part of valour, and a hasty retreat at this point might be sensible, just in case, so I headed out of the square to the north.  The streets turned into high rise blocks of flats, with small (and very tired) shops hustling around at the bottom. It reminded me a bit of Croydon High Street the week before the riots (yes I was there looking for jobs, glad I didn’t find one, as half the area was razed to the ground the next week).  I ended up wandering for a while, hopelessly lost amongst the streets, before I stumbled back upon optician land.  From there, I headed back to the hotel, satisfied with the morning.

Me in my new woolly poncho

Me in my new woolly poncho

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!