It was quite impressive really to see such a large operation in tents next to the runway. It was even complete with white boards of flight arrival times, an overpiced Chilean knick knack store, and best of all a temporary Dunkin Donuts stand! (Did I forget to mention that Chileans run on Dunkin? No joke, Coolattas are new frappachino... yum?)
Next we drove across the desert to Calama, which had some breath-taking desert scenery, and we got to see giant mining equipment go hurtling down the highway. The next day we actually got to visit Radomiro Tomic, the largest mine of CODELCO, the largest state-owned mining operation. We spent the day driving around the dusty site with our cheery guide Carlos Gomez to learn about the extraction and refining process of this precious metal. I had forgotten how water intensive this process is ... which is interesting to think about when you consider that this mine is in the middle of (what our guide claimed as) "the most arid desert in the world." Also comical was the size of the tiny ecological center in charge of public outreach ... I got the vibe it was more of a PR kind of thing.
Nonetheless our stay here was highlighted by amazing views in the Valle de la Luna. And although getting up early on the final day was a rough start to a Friday, we got to watch the sun rise over the desert. Being there made me realize how much I miss California, especially Modoc National Forest.