December 5, 2005
I was in a rush this morning to leave Pablo's place before he had to go to work and I had to meet Matthieu and Julien for our tour of the mine. When I got to the hotel where Matthieu and Julien were staying, however, I found out that the mine didn't have any tours until the afternoon. We ended up spending the morning walking to the mall and relaxing.
Finally, after waiting around for several hours, we left for the mine. The town where the mine is located is twenty minutes away from Calama, so we had to pile into a taxi that goes back and forth between Calama and Chuquicamata all day. The taxi driver turned twenty minutes into ten by driving 100 MPH the whole way.
When we arrived in Chuquicamata, we got into a large bus with lots of other tourists and were driven to the mine. I knew what to expect from talking to others who had been there, so I wasn't too surprised when I saw how big the mine was. It's the biggest open-pit copper mine in the world at over 800 meters deep, and 600,000 tonnes of copper are excavated from the mine each year. Needless to say, it's a very different mine from the one I saw in Potosi.
Upon arriving at the mine, we were allowed to see an example of one of the trucks used to haul out the copper. The truck's tires alone were over 3 meters high and cost $12,000 each. After looking at the truck, we were led to a platform overlooking the mine. Trucks like the example I had just seen constantly went into and out of the mine, hauling out the freshly-excavated copper before returning for more. The hugeness of the mine made the trucks look small, until I saw one pass a normal van and once again realized how big everything was.
Unfortunately, the tour was very short. We just got to look at the mine for about twenty minutes, and we didn't get to see any of the refining processes or go into the mine. This disappointed me because I wanted to see how the safety compared to the Potosi mine.
After Matthieu, Julien, and I returned to Calama, we got some lunch and met up with Adi, from Sweden, who Matthieu and Julien had known from a hostel they stayed in together a few weeks ago. The four of us hung out for awhile at night. Adi and I will head to San Pedro de Atacama tomorrow. From there, I'll head south toward Santiago, and Adi is going to go through Bolivia. He'll be there during the elections, so it will be interesting to see how things go.
The photo album for this entry is here.