Monday 2 July 2018

Antofagasta and Atacama.

Sorry its been a while since we last posted. I could say that its down to poor internet connections, which is true, but the reality is that we have just been having great time here in the regions of Antofogasta and Atacama. We love it here.

Since our last entry we hopped up the coast stopping on rocky outcrops, beautiful beaches and high mountains , the weather has got progressively better and we have managed to get a serious amout of relaxing in as well as visiting some incredible places here. 

The landscape has definately changed. We are now in mainly desert regions and we have also discovered the joys of altitude.

With our friends Robert and Claire we managed to stop on the rocky coast near Chanaral and on the edge of a beautiful white sand beach just south of the entrance to the Pan de Azucar National park. The road to it was a bit trick but what a place .

The sea was freezing but it was just heaven 

The National Park itself was really our first taste of the Lunar Landscapes that we have since become accustomed to and love 

You might remember in an earlier blog that we visted the European Southern Observatory ( ESO ) in La Silla. Well we loved it so much that we then headed for its sister site "The Paranal" at Cerro Armazones. This area high up in the mountains at 3000 meters gets the some of the blackest skies in the world and averages at 350 days a year with no cloud. This is very important as this site houses some of the biggest optical telescopes in the world as oppose to the Radio telescopes in La silla and ALMA .

I thought about writing loads of geeky stuff but I think the video below describes the sites perfectly , so the geeks among you enjoy and those who are drifting into a coma move on quick .

And if you really can't get enough have a look at

For years we have seen photos of South American travellers standing in front of a large hand shaped Monument, " Mano Del Desierto " in the desert area of Antofagasta. It has always been on our bucket list to get there and have our moment . This was our next stop and the weather was kind to us.

Back on the coast just north of Antofagasta we stopped at the  "Portada de la Antofogasta" and for the first time crossed the Tropic of Capricorn.

We stopped a couple of nights  near the river Loa near the town of Maria Elena and met a young british  couple "James and Gemma " who were just finishing their journey in a little van they converted. We had a great games night but do you think Pat might be peeking

Having re met up with Robert and Claire we set off on our pre booked tour of the largest copper mine in the world " Mina Chuquicamata" just outside the town of Calama.

Everything was huge. The pit was huge , the diggers were huge and the trucks were enormous. It was like being in the Lilliput.

The surface of the pit sits at 2850 meters above sea level. The pit is 5 km long over 3 km wide and  has a depth of  1.1  kilometers. The trucks in the bottom are barely visible .

It was opened as an "open pit" in 1915 and has grown into a facility that is in effect a very large industrial town, It has its own smelting plant, Its own hospital, the biggest Sulfuric acid plant in the southern hemisphere and uses 2000 litres of water per second 24 hours a day for 365 days of the year.

I dont profess to understand the process but from what I understand is that the rock is dug out of the ground constantly. Only 10 % will actually contain usebale Copper Ore. It is then crushed almost to dust and washed . The sludge is then mixed in huge vats with the sulphuric acid and the copper is extracted by electrolysis and magic.

In 2012 it produced 443000 tonnes of Copper and 330910 tonnes in 2017

Sadly, the bi products of this plant are very obvious. Firstly there is all the dust and pollution to the environment and secondly for many many kilometers around the plant there are hundreds of artificial mountains created by the dumping of the other un useable 90% of excavated rock. Its an amazing place but not pretty.

It used to have its own residential town for the workers and their families but due to the very high level polution and Arsenic this has now become derelict and is slowly being covered in waste rock.

There were signs everywhere telling workers to wear dust masks, but we saw very few who did. 

China is its biggest customer. 

In 2010 an $18 billion expansion project was approved to meet the world demands for Copper.

This expansion will be sited about 7km away and is due to open in 2019. This will be a more traditional underground operation and is hoped to extend the mines life by another 40 years.

These trucks just keep working 24/7 hauling rocks up from the bottom of the pit . Fully loaded they weigh 500 tonnes and have a payload of 350 tonnes. They use 300 litres of fuel every hour, thats 7200 litres per day and probably have a carbon footprint the size of Alaska.

Ok You can put your Anoraks away now. 

Our next pit stop was in the very pretty riverside town of Chiu Chiu. Pat and I manged to have a nice walk around the town and get to see inside its beautiful small church. Although not religious it was quite moving to see several nuns in the church praying. One had a guitar and was singing like a bird. Sadly the bird in mind would have been a crow .

The Geysers at Taito near San Pedro de Atacama were always on our list but we were a little bit worried about its location being at 4200 meters.

The drive up there was amazing and we had been told that the best time to see them was at sunrise 

We spent the night outside the gates and not only did it get down to minus 18 but we both suffered a bit with the altitude. The 5 am alarm was a struggle for us and the truck.

San Pedro de Atacama is the main town in this region. It is very tourist and popular with younger people who are looking for some adventure and night life.

Although its main industry is probably tourism it still has a very strong and traditional local population .

We were lucky to witness one of their annual festivals that involved a parade through the town.

The surrounding area of San Pedro de Atacama is mainly desert .  Although greenery is a bit sparse it has an incredible beauty that we have come to love.

It has been a highlight.

One of the big attactions here is the "Valle de Luna" . Its the best 5000 pesos we have spent. It was truly wonderful.

For those close to us, you will know that our journey to get here hasn't been easy, but to see Pat crawling on her knees through a narrow underground passage and then climb up to the top of the highest peak for sunset was fantastic .

We have truly loved Chile and its people. It is likely that we will be leaving soon but will remember this marvelous country for ever. 

Don't forget you can always see more information and Pictures  on our route map on the "Places and Photos" page of this site.

Hasta Luego