Broken down in the Atacama desert

Why stop in the driest desert in the world?

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This was the reason… the fluid in the radiator was boiling

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We could only drive for 30 minutes, then we had to stop for 30 minutes to let Lance cool down. We quickly realized, that we had to go to the nearest town, which was Calama. A distance that should have taken us 2 hours to drive took us 5 hours, but we made it safely to the Petrobras gas station in Calama. Since we arrived on a Sunday afternoon, there was not much we could do everything was closed. After talking to the staff at the gas station, we could stay at the gas station for the night, but they also told us that Monday was a holiday, and that everything would be closed.

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Several people came by and tried and help us, but the problem was still the same. First we thought had the radiator was clogged, but after reading about radiator problems online, Esben figured out, that it was the lid of the radiator, that was broken. The broken lid caused, that the radiator could not built up pressure, which caused the cooler fluid to boil. Monday morning we drove all around town to find a store, that was open, and had a new lid for the radiator. It was a holiday, and we couldn’t get a hold in a new lid. Calama has a bad reputation, and several overlanders had reported the same thing on www.ioverlander.com. We still had to spend one more night in Calama, but didn’t feel like spending one more night at the gas station. Some local recommended “La Cascada” (Find it here: http://ioverlander.com/places/73842-la-cascada).

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“La Cascada” means waterfall, but it was not just one waterfall. As the river descended through the canyon it created many smaller waterfalls and pools. While everything else was closed the butcher was open, so we bought meat, and grilled it during the afternoon.

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Finally Tuesday morning everything was open again, we found a radiator workshop, which did work on the heavy machinery in the nearby mine “Chuquicamata”. They had time to look at our radiator, but it would take the rest of the day, since they had to fit it in between their regular work. To kill time, we decided to go on a tour to the Chuquicamata mine.

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Chuquicamata is  the largest open pit copper mine in the world by excavated volume. It is 5 km long, 3.5 km wide and 1.1 km deep

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The Chuquicamata opened in 1882, but copper has been mined for centuries at Chuquicamata as was shown by the discovery in 1899 of “Copper Man”, a mummy dated at about 550 A.D. which was found trapped in an ancient mine shaft by a fall of rock. Despite over 100 years of intensive exploitation it remains one of the largest known copper resources. Copper mining has long been the most consistent of Chilean exports; and in current day, it still accounts for almost one-third of all foreign trade (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuquicamata).

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Here at the Chuquicamata the cobber are extracted in two different way (Oxide Line and Sulphide Line), and after the last process of refinery the cobber reach a purity of 99.99%

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In the distance the vehicles looks small, but they are huge. A power shovel (left picture) is a bucket-equipped machine, usually electrically powered, used for digging and loading earth or fragmented rock and for mineral extraction. The size of the shovel varies a lot, but some of the biggest one can scoop 60-80m3. 60m3 equals a normal bedroom that is 2 meters high, 5 meters long and 6 meters wide. You can easily park 2-3 cars in one of the shovels. The mining methods at Chuquicamata is conventional. A conventional truck-and-shovel operation constitutes the mining activity. Large quantities of the ore are crushed within the pit. Underground conveyors transport the crushed ore to the mill bins.

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A new underground mine is being developed to access the ore body situated beneath the present open pit mine. The underground mine will start operating in 2019, and will comprise of four production levels, a 7.5km main access tunnel. The tunnels will deepen the mine by nearly 787 meters by the end of production in 2060. The underground mine will produce an estimated 140,000 tones of ore per day. The mine is expected to produce 366,000t of copper and 18,000t of fine molybdenum per year (Source: https://www.mining-technology.com/projects/chuquicamata-copper/). The visit is free, and we were really impressed by the size of the mine. We also got to visit the Chuquicamata ghost town.

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The original Chuquicamata town, which housed all mine workers and their families from early in the mine’s development. Health and safety concerns over the high levels of dust from the mine and gasses from the smelting plant caused the mine company to relocate all families. It took four years to relocated all the families, and the last family left in February 2008, because it is still on mining company property, it has suffered very little decay and vandalism (Source: http://fromheretonowhere.com/south-america/visiting-chuquicamata-ghost-town-and-mine).

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After the town was abandoned the part of Chuquicamata with the hospital covered with heaps of rocks from the mine

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The abandoned playground and stadium

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Back in Calama we picked up Lance at the radiator workshop, and not only had they changed the lid, but they had also welded the smaller leaks. They did a great job, and the radiator is working again. We left Calama the same day and headed towards San Pedre de Atacama – only delayed by 3 days.

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We camped in the desert just before getting to San Pedro de Atacama

The Atacama desert is the driest place in the world, it only receives 1-3 mm of rain per year, and some weather stations in the Atacama have never received rain.  Evidence suggests that the Atacama may not have had any significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971. To comparinson Denmark receives about 800 mm of rain per year, and Machu Picchu receives 1.600 – 2.300 mm per year. The Atacama desert is a very dry place.

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Enjoying the amazing desert sunset

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So 2 days of delays here in Calama, but we also got delayed 1 day, when we stopped at the Humberstone ghost town. Check out our visit in Humberstone in the next post, before our visit to San Pedro de Atacama.

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