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.

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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

 

The Eagle Has Landed

Well, what a long journey that was!  After getting on the plane, it became immediately obvious that there were no screens in the chairs. Yeah.  This also meant two things.  Firstly, I had no idea where I would be at any point, as there was no map to see, and secondly, there was no way to charge things on the journey.  In other words, there was nothing to do.  13.5 hours is quite a long time to do nothing.  Luckily, I spent the first hour making a long playlist on my iPod (6 years old, but still got a brilliant battery life), followed by another hour spent eating supper.  11.5 to go, so I spent most of that sleeping :D, it was pretty intermittent, but hey, it means I’m now less tired (which is ideal)!  I woke up somewhere over the Atlantic I think (distinct lack of any lights below), and the stars looked lovely.  The next time was over Brazil I think, with small towns dotted around.  The third and final time must have been over the Amazon Rainforest (as there was just pitch darkness below).

Then the sun began to rise.  At first, it was just a deep blue off to the East, but as time went on, the sky got brighter.  By a stroke of luck, it was just properly dawning as we flew over the Andes, and was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.  Snow capped mountains, looming up from below, silhouetted by a fiery sunrise.  I took some photos, but they definitely do not do it justice.  The Andes’ sheer scale is spectacular, as you cross them, they stretch for as far as the eye can see in all directions, and once you’re over, they just run in a line seemingly ad infinitum.  You can easily imagine people saying that they mark the edge of the world, the towering snowy peaks being impassable, with the possibility of the void on the other side, or more simply, Here Be Dragons.  If Tolkien ever saw this, there could be no doubt that they’re the Misty Mountains.  Atmospheric music here.

Dawn breaks over the Andes mountains.

Dawn breaks over the Andes mountains. (Click to enlarge)

Coming into land was interesting, as the airport was shrouded in a very thick blanket of fog, but all was well, and we touched down.  After passing through immigration and customs, I was picked up by my boss, who’s a lovely guy, and we chatted throughout the journey through downtown Santiago to the hotel, where he dropped me off.

I’ve texted EO, so hopefully she’s around today to meet up.  Ahora, es tiempo por un poco de desayuno.