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!

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!

An Exciting Weekend

Well, it’s the end of my free weekend in Santiago.  Tomorrow morning (at 5:45), I shall be leaving for the mine for the next 11 days.  I’ve had a great time this weekend.

Friday night with JD was a lot of fun.  We went to Barrio Bellavista, and had a quick and cheap meal, with a couple of terremotos [link in Spanish] on the side (we decided not to go to the crazy bar as we’d been warned by lots of people that going at night was definitely not a clever move).  Terremoto is an interesting drink, and a very potent one at that.  It’s very good though, and I’ll try to get the recipe, so I can introduce it to the UK!

After that, we went to another bar, and had a chat with some Chileans, who were very charming indeed.  JD can’t speak Spanish, so I was interpreter.  Not the easiest task after two terremotos, and a litre of beer, but hey, I like a challenge!  They left, but then the people at the next table chatted with us for a while.  Then they took JD and I to another bar down the road (called En Secreto – Google Maps, you can see it on Street View), which was tiny, but absolutely packed.  There was karaoke galore there, and we had a fun time talking with all the people we’d met.  At about 4:30 we decided it was time to go home, and walked for ages.  Turns out it was completely the wrong direction.  We asked some people for directions, and they said it was 40 blocks away.  Nice!  We cut our losses and just jumped in a cab.

Saturday morning was a complete write off, but in the afternoon JD and I visited Pueblito los Dominicos, which is in the outskirts of Santiago.  It’s a group of artisan craft shops, and it was lovely.  I bought an alpacan wool scarf, and a bombilla (although I’m not quite sure how to use this yet – I’ll ask my colleagues later).

After dumping our stuff, we essentially repeated what we did on Friday night, and ended up at En Secreto again (after the compulsory terremotos and litres of beer), and had a chat with some new friendly Chileans.  JD and I decided to do a little karaoke ourselves, so I ended up doing a rendition of Sultans of Swing (admittedly a pretty poor one).  The advantage of Dire Straits though is that most of their songs only involve Mark Knopfler saying the words rather than actually singing (thereby mitigating any issues with being out of tune on the karaoke front)!  We went home at about 3 ish, this time getting a cab all the way.

Today was pretty quiet, and consisted solely of my buying of some tea from the Whittard’s down the road (in the large shopping centre by the massive new tower).  No more Té Club for me anymore!

A sleepy street on a Sunday in Santiago.

A sleepy street on a Sunday in Santiago.

I then met JD, had some tea in a café (the same café where I wrote the postcards on Friday, at a shopping centre near my hotel), grabbed a burger for supper, and went home.

The biggest burger I've had in my entire life.  Beef, 3 cheeses (blue, mozzarella, and cheddar), mushrooms, red onion, and lettuce. (Click to enlarge)

The biggest burger I’ve had in my entire life. Beef, 3 cheeses (blue cheese, mozzarella, and cheddar), mushrooms, red onion, and lettuce. (Click to enlarge)

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.

Well This is Awkward!

Good news everyone!  My passport and work visa have arrived!  Unfortunately, that’s where the good news stops.  Essentially my work visa is valid for a month, after which it gets renewed (and then renewed again each month until I go home).  While in itself that’s quite simple, with no hassle at all, there is a minor problem.

When you enter Chile as a tourist, you have to fill in a tourist immigration form.  When applying for the work permit, your passport and this gets sent off.  Finally, you need this form to leave Chile, as it’s a record of your arrival and departure from the country.  All in all, this piece of paper is quite handy, and not something you want to lose.  Except that’s the problem.  Someone has lost it.  I last saw it as I handed it and my passport over 10 days ago in Santiago (both of which were needed for the work visa application, ergo, it cannot possibly be in my possession), and now my passport has returned without it.  Nice!

What does this mean?  Well, that’s anyone’s guess.  Maybe I can’t renew my work visa?  Maybe I’m soon to be an illegal immigrant?  Maybe I’m stuck in Chile forever, having to adopt a secret new identity, living in a cave in Tierra del Fuego?  Who knows!  I asked what happens if they don’t find it, the answer I got was “I don’t know”!  I promised myself I wouldn’t write this in my blog, but #YOLO! (hehehehe).