A poorly maintained copper mine collapses near Copiapó, 670km north of Santiago, Chile. 33 miners get trapped some 700 meters underground.
The Chilean government, corporations from around the world, and even NASA get to the task of rescuing them, digging boreholes in a desperate effort to hit the exact place where the shelter is located. After two agonizing months, when the hope of finding them alive has almost vanished, this note is found taped around the bit of one of the drills:
"We are OK in the shelter the 33 (of us)" That was the day when truly yours - as the rest of my country's population - was sobbing uncontrollably in front of the TV set. For the last two months we had been following the rescuing efforts closely. Each failure was disheartening. nerve-wrecking. Finding those people alive sounded like just delusional thinking. So when the news came… it was like a miracle unfolding in front of our eyes! We were all ecstatic, beside ourselves!
I took the picture above at the Atacama Regional Museum, in the (goddamn ugly) city of Copiapó, where the current flight is taking me.
I hope you enjoy the report. And don't you miss the tourism bonus, with terrific views of Bahía Inglesa and Caldera, two beautiful places on the coast, barely one hour away from Copiapó!
This is leg 2 of 8 of this trip. You can also read the reports for legs 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.
Pre-flight: A stroll around the barrio alto (“high neighborhood”)
I have some time before boarding my flight. Where to go in a city that’s not precisely a tourist hot spot? Well, I wonder what the mountains look like after the last snowfalls. I will visit the area of Santiago that’s closest to the mountains, the so called “barrio alto”. The name alludes to geography (it’s the highest area in the city) and to its socio-economic status (it’s the most affluent part of the city).
I take the Metro and get off at the last station on the east: Los Dominicos. I emerge at a beautiful park that surrounds the Catholic church of the Dominicans, a religious order that used to be part of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages.
There's a handicraft market inside, but I know I might get stuck there and I don't have much time, so I keep moving.
Oblivious to shameful human history, these little guys eat near the church.
And their black cousins, too.
This street is called Apoquindo Avenue. If you keep walking, it becomes Providencia Avenue, and then Alameda, which is the main street downtown. Line 1 of the Metro runs along the three of them.
I see some funny-looking buildings.
I think architects should take the opinion of window cleaners into account before unleashing their creativity.
Even here, far from the city center, the smog cloud is evident.
If you're not afraid to be run over by a "micro" (city bus) you can go for a ride on them.
Well, I was not very lucky this time. I will have to go even farther east next time if I want to see the mountains closer. I only see buildings here.
I'd better get on my way to the airport. Back to the Metro. That's the entrance to Manquehue station.
First thing first. How's the building work doing? Ahh… loking good! Find detailed information about this project in this report.
Also what used to be the parking area behind the hotel is a construction site now.
Inside, the terminal is not really crowded. I check my bag in no time…
Let’s check if the flight is on time…
No remarks. Gate 21. I have been to that door before. It’s on the third floor.
I think it’s precisely the gate by the red number 3 here.
I have to walk up to the small white square (access to security check), go through security check, and then turn left towards the black square. You might notice that gate 21 is in an enclosed area. The white section below is part of international departures, but the gates in this enclosed area are used for both national and international departures, as needed. In fact, I will be visiting door 21 again in a few days, when I board my flight to Buenos Aires.
Much easier to understand: just follow the red line. I placed that yellow dot there for a reason.
Wonderful! A very short line.
New video explaining the screening procedure while you wait.
Gate 3 is on the third floor, but I walk straight to the place marked by the yellow dot on the second floor.
McDonald’s!! I know I shouldn’t, but it’s lunchtime!
I am amazed at how this waiting area has changed! All this used to be rows and rows of hard, red seats. Now look at it!
Who needs a lounge here?!
I still have some time for a little spotting after my double bacon and fries. Ooh! An elegant British lady is coming my way!
I wonder how I should say hello. I’m so shy!
I know! “Air – hair – lair!! “
And now, a much less refined ”bird”, but not less important…
…because CC-AIB will be taking me to my destination today.
So it's time to go upstairs to the third floor. I've seen a lot of these guys carrying their tools around the terminal today.
Here's the "enclosed" section that I mentioned above.
And here’s gate 21.
I don’t need to wait long. Boarding call as soon as I arrive.
As we descend towards the jetbridge, I read Banco de Chile’s invitation to travel first class on British Airways.
We keep going…
…and going. It’s a long walk.
A severe-looking FA. Just to remind me that I’m flying Sky Airline.
The cabin as we board.
I start my routine inspection at once. Tray-table, barely acceptable.
Inflight magazine: I will be seeing this face for the whole month.
These are Sky Airline’s destinations at the moment. I wonder if they will be opening new routes soon. I’ve heard that LAW (report here) might start flying to Miami very soon.
The contents of the seat pocket.
The view out of my window. Those green stickers peel off easily.
Pushback. An Aerolíneas Argentinas 737-800 in the distance. That will be the second part of my holidays!
Whoa! JetSmart! The new Chilean airline! They just started flying this month! I already have tickets for October and February! Stay tuned for the reports!
We move away from the terminal. See that tail with the word “one” on it? They transport mine workers from Santiago and Concepción to the north of the country.
Ready to go.
We take off towards the south, but soon bank to the right…
…until I see the Andes.
They look much better…
…the Barrio Alto!
North of Santiago the snow has even covered the lower hills…
…closer to the coastline.
I make a pause to buy this wrap from the BOB. It's great, but I seriously think they should serve it warm.
Some minutes later we should be able to see Copiapó somewhere down there, but that fog…
…is covering all the area.
We descend into the fog, and find…
The scarce waters of river Copiapó…
…flow in the middle of the Atacama Desert.
The dark surface of a road in sharp contrast with the desert.
Touchdown. My first view of Atacama Desert Airport terminal (CPO)
Turning round at the end of the runway.
The flight, as seen by flightradar24.com:
The terminal is an interesting building. I think it represents the modelling effect of the dessert wind. (?)
No jetbridges at all. I guess they are considered redundant in such a rainless weather.
A view of CC-AIB on the tarmac…
…before heading forthe arrivals section on the right end of the building.
Ariivals and baggage claim.
Chile es tuyo ("Chile is yours") is a government's effort to promote domestic tourism. Many people complain that spending their holidays abroad is much cheaper than travelling within the country.
If you are using a transfer service, you heget the ticket from some people catching customers as they leave baggage claim.
Then you give the ticket to one of the drivers outside. It's 8,000 CLP (12 USD) to Copiapó.
We leave the terminal. You will see more of it in much more detail in my next report.
Heading for Copiapó. To the left is Caldera, on the coast. The name doesn't mean much to me at this moment, but it will be a nice surprise the next day!
It's barely after 6 p.m., but the night will soon fall over CPO as we leave.
Tourism Bonus: bahía Inglesa and Caldera
Early the day after my arrival I take a bus to Bahía Inglesa. I have seen some TV reports about this beautiful beach town. Also, scallops are a local delicacy. Well worth a visit.
But the bus does not go from Copiapó to Bahía Inglesa. It takes you to Caldera, a town about 5 minutes north from it. In Caldera you have to take a colectivo (shared taxi) that will take you to Bahía Inglesa for 1000 CLP (1,5 USD)
Thie view at Bahía Inglesa is amazing! The white dome on the left is a restaurant.
I get there before 10 a.m…
…so it's very peaceful.
I can't decide…
…which is the best angle…
…for my pictures.
Lots of sea birds.
The water is a bit cold, but you get used to it quickly.
By midday a lady is selling cheese and shrimp empanadas. Yummy!
But let's get real lunch. I go to the dome.
They have parmesan scallops.
I think the scallops are served on their shells…
…but this is what they look like. It's a sort of cheese soup (like a kilo of melted cheese)…
…and the scallops are floating in it. Not bad, but I feel like I have eaten a whole cow afterwards.
When I finish my lunch, more people have gathered on the beach. I stay for a while, but I am intrigued by wat I saw in Caldera. It looked like a nice little town. I want to have a look a it.
BUT… before I leave, I visit these handicraft shops and get some presents for my family. And there is something for one of you, too. Interested? You will find more info at the end of the report!
The driver of the colectivo kindly leaves me here, at the dock of Caldera.
It's a fishing town. A very active one, it seems.
There are some restaurants near the dock, like that pink building on the right.
This is the seafront.
A very nice open space.
The houses look well kept and nicely painted in vivid colors.
I love this facade.
I keep walking along the seafront.
Pizza from Il Fuoco anyone?
Kids racing rented cars. The youngest one stopped and cried because he couldn’t keep up with the other two.
It seems like nothing can break the peace and quiet of this place… until I hear a loud bang, and then a terrible metallic noise. A driver has crashed against that metal thing (don’t ask me about the technical name. I don’t know it even in my own language!) and drags it for several meters! Some tramps (there are several around) run to offer help.
I’m looking at the scene when bang! A taxi driver has followed suit! What are these people thinking?! (or drinking?!) He laughs and says "I was coming to help!"
I can’t help but laugh as I leave.
I walk up to the town center.
Nothing disturbs that dog’s sleep…
And this one is not interested in barking.
The little main square is pretty…
…and has some abstract sculptures.
Everything is so neat and tidy. This might be normal in your country, but not in Chile. Chilean cities are usually defaced by grafitti and vandalism.
Caldera is certainly an outstanding little town. They even collect their plastic bottles!
How about a home made ice-cream before leaving?
What will it be this time? Yum! Maní (peanuts)
While truly yours waits for his ice-cream cone, the time has come to say goodbye. Don't miss the next report of this series. We'll look at every corner of Atacama Desert Airport, and we'll learn a little more about the rescue of those 33 miners in a visit to the Atacama Regional Museum.
Santiago - SCL
Copiapo - CPO
Airline Sky keeps doing a good job. As for their prices, this trip was the last one I purchased at their "first stage" low cost price. No more free checked baggage or preferred seat with them.
SCL Better every day.
CPO Beautiful architecture. Will see more in the next report.
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