Well, since it IS my last day in Chile I guess I should take a few moments to records some thoughts and so on and so on blah blah blah. This was mi viaje primero a Sur America.
I spent a week with a group of engineers that work for the company Codelco. They are in charge of the Chuquicamata mine (the biggest open pit mine in the world). Actually, I spent some time last night searching around and it appears that Chuqui and the Bingham Canyon copper mine are about the same size.
My first impressions of Calama were not that good. It appeared to be out in the middle of nowhere! I crashed in my hotel room after a 26+ hour trip traveling via Atlanta, Lima, Santiago, and finally Calama.
I guess I stayed in the nicest hotel in Calama. Food was good and I became good friends with the hotel staff. The hotel had a nice pool outside but since it was winter and the pool was not heated, it was butt cold.
By the way, Calama sits around 7500 feet above sea level and the mine is closer to 10000 feet above sea level.
I spent the next five days working with a group of mining engineers teaching them groundwater modeling principles and how to use GMS.
It wasn’t until day 4 or 5 that I learned that Calama was actually a real town, with a main bus stop and even a mall! Up until then, we had always traveled on the outskirts of town. There is a great deal of construction going on because they are moving everyone out of the Chuquicamata town. They have a big arsenic problem there but the real issue is that they need some place to put all of the material that they are pulling out of the mine. So what is going to happen is over the next 20 years or so, the town will be completely buried. They are leaving everything, buildings and such, even the cemetery. Pretty bizarre. They have already closed off a bunch of sections and started putting burying stuff.
Another thing I got to experience was the wind and dust. Apparently the months of August and September are really bad. For the first 4 days I was there the wind blew hard all day long. It did remind me of home a bit. The wind kicks up the dust so that visibility is basically nothing. It is not a pleasant thing but the people deal with it. During this time there are lots of accidents on the roads because you cannot see where you’re going. Many people die each year so the roads to and from the mine are lined with an assortment of crosses and memorials. I took a picture of one of the bigger ones. I’ll try and post it.
Everywhere I went the people were very nice. Food was just fine. I had a lot of fish and some meat. Their salads are most often lettuce-less and I didn’t think much of their desserts until they learned my love for helado (ice cream). After that, I was a happy camper.
On one of my last days, the guys took me to meet the general manager of the mine. I got to see them do some blasting. Kind of cool. Then we smuggled some ore out so that I could bring some home. Pretty cool.
The engineers were pleased how the training went and so we’re planning on doing some additional work over the next year and a half. Our next meeting will be in Santiago instead of the high desert.
Stillwater, Calama, and now….Back to Berlin!