Part III Begins!

I appreciate that it’s been quite a large number of days since I’ve posted something, but it’s been a wee bit busy (as in, I’ve been sorting out starting my research project, and enjoying being back at Cambridge).

So, what’s been going on?  Well, first of all, and most importantly, I’ve started my research project (which forms a significant amount of my grade this year).  I’ve been working on it for a week or so, and I’m enjoying it which is pretty lucky!

I went to visit AJ and EB at their London flat, and JW, JM, and AD came along too.  A great evening ensued, and it was lovely to catch up with them again, as it’d been too long.

This week is pretty quiet, with me mainly working on my research, but I went to the pub yesterday with the Sedgwick Club (and will probably do so again at some point this week too).

Other than that, there’s not really been that much to report I’m afraid!

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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!

Risky Business

So now I’ve been in Chile just over a month, and the weather is still freezing cold in the mornings.  There is no force as powerful as the attraction of a nice comfy warm bed, in a freezing cold room, at 7 am while it’s dark outside.  However, life goes on, and work must be attended.

Now, pretty much everyday since I’ve been here, I’ve been wearing my green Sedgwick Club fleece to keep warm.  However, today I thought that it needed a break, and, at great risk of looking like a muppet, I donned my new poncho.  As I was walking to the office, a pickup truck pulled up alongside.  Nothing unusual about that, he was just asking whether I wanted a lift.  I politely declined, saying that I preferred to walk, however, I paid close attention to whether I could see any smirks or not.  Luckily there was none.  First hurdle passed, acceptance from a randomer.

I emerged out of the woods at the office, and waved at my colleague through the window, who gave me a thumbs up.  I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or not, as he’s got a pretty solid sense of humour.  I went in to ask, and he said it was fine, although it would look better if I had a horse and a hat.  Hmm, subtle indication of a stupid look perhaps?  I decided not to beat about the bush, and asked him if I looked silly, to which he said no (hooray).  However, rather handily, he gave me some tips on how to wear it (when you’re outside, you keep your arms inside, but inside you roll up the edges so your arms are totally free).  Second hurdle passed, acceptance from colleagues.

The colleague with whom I share an office came in a few minutes later, she seemed to like it a great deal, and said it had nice colours.  At this rate, I’m almost bordering on stylish. Yeah right :P.  Either way, I was extremely warm on my walk to work this morning (as it’s a mixture of sheep and alpaca wool), so it doesn’t really matter!  All I need now is a cup of tea, and I’m sorted!

Special Edition: How To Make The Perfect Cup Of Tea

In amongst this plethora of posts about expat life in Chile, I thought it would make a change to inject a touch of the familiar back into the blog.  What better way to do this than talk about tea.  I must put a disclaimer in at this point, and say that it probably won’t make you a perfect cup of tea, not least because the term is a subjective one anyway.  So really, this post is about how I make tea (assuming that I have the time, energy, and inclination to do it properly, which I’m afraid is usually not the case – I know, I’m the worst Englishman ever, don’t judge me).  With that in mind, the most accurate title for this entry would be “How I Should Make A Cup Of Tea If I Want To Do It Properly”, but I’m sure you’ll all agree, that it’s not quite as catchy as the title I opted for (not that it is that catchy anyway).

Anyway, pointless and irrelevant preamble aside, let’s get on with it.  In true Blue Peter style, I am of course drinking “one I made earlier” as I write this.

For this exercise, you will need the following items:

1. Tea leaves (not bags, and it has to come from Camellia sinensis).  Herbal “tea” isn’t tea (an analogy would be saying your glass of wine was a type of beer). “Ooo, I love this delicious wine beer” sounds rather silly doesn’t it?  Anyway, all flippancy aside, you get my point.

2. A kettle.  Electric is easiest, but if you have a metal one, and want to boil it over a wooden fire, then that’s equally fine. 

You at the back!  Yes, you! Don’t you dare even think about using a microwave!

3. A teapot

4. A mug (or a cup and saucer, I don’t really care, but it depends on number 8 – see below)

5. A tea cosy (optional)

6. A jug of cold milk/bowl of white sugar (granulated or lumps) – brown sugar is for coffee (also optional)

7. A supply of water (not optional, but it being free of contaminants is highly recommended)

8. Biscuits (optional, but your best bet would be rich teas, digestives, hob nobsor ginger nuts).  If you go for biscuits, the cup and saucer arrangement is better, as the saucer can hold your biscuit as well as the cup of tea.

9. A tea strainer (to catch all the leaves, unless you like eating them/plan to “tell someone’s fortune” – although we know that’s a load of old cobbler’s – and yes, that apostrophe is deliberate, I checked)

Right, shopping list out of the way, what do you do with all this stuff?

Method:

1. Empty the kettle, and add new water.  Then boil the water.

2. Put boiling water into the teapot.  The teapot has to have no tea in it at this stage.

3. Boil kettle for a second time.

4. Empty hot water from the teapot, and add tea leaves to it.  The number of teaspoons of tea leaves you need to add is one per person, and one “for the pot”.  (i.e. n+1 spoons where n = number of people for you Mathmos out there).

5. Add boiling water to pot, and leave to brew (length of time varies according to how strong you want your tea, but don’t leave it too long, as you don’t want it to stew).

6. Putting the strainer over your cup, pour the tea in.

7. Add milk/sugar to taste.  I know I’m provoking a huge row of monumental proportions here, but it’s definitely better to add milk afterwards (as then you can control how milky your tea is.  If you add it before, and you put too much in, then you’re stuck).

8. Put tea cosy over pot (if applicable).

9. Enjoy your nice cup of tea.

I can’t advise on biscuit dunking techniques I’m afraid, as I’m rather lacking in those skills.

Anyway, that’s my guide on how to make nice tea :).

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)