After a good night it was time to drive to the next town, Calama. To get there we had to climb to get out of the Salar basin, this meant again that we had to go up to around 12,000 ft. As we found out the views behind us were very spectacular, much better than the views coming in from the other side. Apart from these views the rest of the journey just consisted of desert views. On arrival at the town we drove in and found a place to park near the tourist office so we could find somewhere to stop and also to book a visit to the mine. Once this was done we went to a supermarket and did some shopping and then drove to one of the two camp sites in the area and parked up for the night.
17th - Today it was the visit to the mine just north of the town
. We had to make our way to the visitor centre in the north of the town where we joined the other 20 people on the tour. As we found we were the only ones who spoke English,but that was no problem as the guide was bilingual., The tour itself goes by bus first to the ghost town of Chuquicamata. This was first started in the 1920's as accommodation for the workers and was increased in size until it held 25,000 people. All of the buildings were owned by the mine company and included houses, shops, cinemas, church's and hospital. It was decided in the 1990's that it was too close to the mine, only 1 km, and also there were some copper deposits underneath and so the town was closed with the last resident moving out in 1998. Some of the town has been buried under the vast waste tips, but the rest is now being preserved as a museum. We first went to what was once a store and it still had all the original fittings built from American Oregon pine. In addition here was a small museum showing various exhibits and photos. Whilst here we were told about the mine. Basically the mine started in 1915 as the US Anaconda Copper mine and was owned by Guggenheim. It continued in American ownership until the 1970's when it was nationalised by President Allende. At that time he did not pay the Americans anything for it, although a later government did pay compensation. The mine is classed as the largest in the world, the oldest of three separate mines is 4.5 km long, 3.5 km wide and 1 km deep. At the moment it produces some 630,000 tons of copper a year, that is about 30 billion pounds a year!
. Unfortunately for them that is coming to an end, they only have another 30 years production at this rate. The good news is that the other two mines are reckoned to be just as big and still have a life of over 100 years. On leaving the town we next drove into the mine itself where we first went by the old American production facilities Here we could also see one of the old extraction diggers from the 1920's. This digger had a bucket that could shovel up to 20 ton at a time; to do this though it took 12 men to operate it. Nowadays the diggers use buckets that lift 100 tons with only 1 operator. We also found out we are some of the last to see this buildings, within the next few months they will vanish as they take out the deposits below them. Moving on the final stop was at a viewpoint where we could look over the mine. This was near to the top of the crater and you could see the terraced roads going all round and in the distance some of the diggers at work loading the trucks. The trucks are not quite your usual size either, they have two different types in use at the moment one holds 350 ton and the other 400 ton. They are about 5m tall and the driver sits so high that all other vehicles in the mine have to have a 4m high pole with a flashing red light on top so they can be seen easily. The engines are so big they do not work in kms per litre, instead it is 2,500 litres of diesel per day. The trucks run on six tyres that are 2.5m in diameter. These huge tyres cost about $14,000 US each! As we found out they are so large that when they deliver them the delivery trucks need a police escort since the load is so wide for the road. The scale of the mine is so great that these trucks in the distance look like toy trucks. From here it was back into the coach to return to the visitor centre. Although only a short visit it was certainly different. We then returned to the camp for the night.
18th – A bit of a lazy day in the camp catching up on some work.