I’ve been glued to the television watching the rescue of the miners in Chile. Thirty-three men have captured the world’s attention after they became trapped a mile underground following a mine collapse. I’m not alone in watching this drama play out, with a rescue capsule being lowered into the earth, then loaded with a miner, and slowly reeled up, back to the surface to the cheers and tears of those watching around the world. As I write this, the third miner is being brought to the surface, his wife waiting in the wings, her face showing the emotions we all feel. The tribulations each of these brave men must have gone through, having survived the collapse of the mine, living like troglodytes for almost 70 days underground, and separated from their friends and family by a mile of dirt. It is hard to imagine what they have felt, not only during this historic event, but as a miner in what is being reported as an unsafe mine. I’m looking forward to hearing their stories, as I’m certain we will, and the path each took in their lives that lead to this fate.
As I watch this dramatic event unfold on the television, I’m reminded of my own chance meeting with a Chilean miner. In late 2009, I spent a few weeks backpacking through Chile and Bolivia. For one section of my journey, I traveled 1,471 miles by bus, from Pucon north up to San Pedro de Atacama. On this bus, I met Claudio.
The Atacama Desert of Chile
Claudio was a 40-year old miner with salty dark hair and sharp facial features. He wore a neatly pressed short-sleeved collard shirt which hung untucked over his clean dark jeans. He looked more like a mathematician than a miner, but I would learn that he has been working for mines for over 15 years. His English was rough, but much better than my Spanish. We chatted on and off for the course of the 20-hour bus ride through the dry and desolate Atacama Desert. He was on his way to the El Tesoro Mine, an open-pit copper mine near Calama. “It means ‘the treasure’ in Spanish,” he said proudly about his employer. Claudio leaves his wife and two children in Santiago and takes this muscle-atrophying bus ride north to Calama, one of the driest cities in the world, where he works long and hard hours as a mechanic. The mine provides him simple room and board between shifts for eight days, after which he has eight days off and takes a bus back to Santiago and his family. Every month, he commutes over 7,500 miles (12,144 km) spending 80 hours on a bus. Must be a sweet gig to spend so much time to get to and from his job, right? “My job is very unsafe,” Claudio tells me, “but the pay is good.”
Claudio exiting the bus in Calama, Chile
Before traveling to Chile, I signed up for a Google Alert on anything regarding the country. For weeks, I received a daily summary of the news stories coming out of Chile. The global economy was tanking and Chile was being hit hard in many industries. However, copper was soaring in price, and since Chile is one of the world’s largest producers of copper with at least one-third world share followed by the USA, Indonesia, and Peru, mining was hot. Chile produces over 1,200 pounds of copper every year and despite the doubling of prices of copper, wages for miners weren’t moving and this lead to strikes across the country.
Claudio told me that these strikes do not effect his job, but he knows that some of the larger copper mines in the area are on strike. He might use this to his advantage: “They have threatened to fire everyone and hire a new staff. If they do this, I will apply because they pay more!”
Claudio and other miners in Calama
We pulled into the dusty town of Calama, a town that is completely dependent upon the men who work in the surrounding mines. I said good-bye to Claudio and watched him retrieve his small suitcase from the belly of the bus, as did other miners who journeyed from Santiago.
Two lives from completely different backgrounds came together for just a moment in time. While watching the parturition of the thirty-three miners from their underground womb, I think of Claudio and the indelible impression he left on me. I got a brief glimpse into what it is like to be a miner in Chile. I hope he is safe, wherever he is.
Isle del Sol, Bolivia - photographed on my previous trip to the area, in 2004.
In just ten days, I will be departing for South America to spend three weeks exploring the wonders of Chilé and Bolivia. I’m excited to see for the first time northern Chile and re-visit Bolivia, especially the Lake Titicaca area (above). I know it has been a while since I’ve blogged on this site (mostly because I’ve been blogging over at 100hikes.com instead), but I hope to update here from time to time in the next month. If I don’t have a moment to take a break from the trip to blog, I’ll definitely post a few write up’s after my return in December.
You can also follow me on Twitter (user: kahunna), where I imagine I’ll be sending more frequent updates than here.
One of the common questions I get asked by friends and co-workers when I tell them about a recent trip is, “How much did it a trip like that cost?” Many are surprised by the answer. One excuse “someday” travelers make for themselves is that travel is too expensive to consider, especially during our economic crisis. But if you’re a glass-is-half-full, always-looking-for-the-silver-lining type, like my brothers are over at BootsNall.com, you might use this as an opportunity to finally make that Big Overseas Trip. The website specializing in independent travel recently discussed in their e-mail newsletter the opportunity this economic crisis offers: The economic downturn “has caused airlines and hotels to become desperate, to the point that they are slashing prices to unheard-of levels.”
If that isn’t enough incentive to plan – and I mean really plan – your overseas trip, consider the fact that there are still places in the world that you can travel comfortably in for less than US$40 a day.
I recently sat down and reviewed all of my expenditures from my recent trip to Nicaragua. I’m a quite fastidious journal writer when I travel. Among other details, I tend to write down every centavo, santim, pence or penny I spend on an international trip. So allow me to answer exactly how much a trip to Nicaragua cost me.
Keep in mind a few things:
I am a mid-budget traveler. I’ll generally stay at a cheap hostel (“it’s just a bed”) or camp in my tent. If i have my camera gear with me, I’ll usually get a private room.
When exploring a city, I tend to enjoy walking around a place rather than visit a museum.
I’ll spend a bit more on public transportation if it will get me to my destination faster (i.e., a taxi over a bus).
If I opt for a guided trek, I’ll usually look for experience & reputation before price. I don’t care about the amenities they might offer (such as camping gear or food).
With that said, here’s the breakdown of my expenses. Costs are in US Dollars. At the time of travel, US$1 = 19/20 Cordobas.
Nicaragua 2008 Trip Report
November 26th – December 14th
Airline ticket (including taxes): $442
Total amount spent in country: $626
Average amount spent per day: $35
For my South America trip in December 2004, I created a book that would act both as a guide and a journal. I included what I felt wad pertinent information from a collection of over fourteen books about Peru and Bolivia. Creating the book by hand turned out to be a time-consuming project in which over 100+ hours were spent designing, printing, and building the 250-page book, but the hard work produced something that I will always cherish.
In 2004, I fulfilled a life-long dream of visiting the land of Incas: Peru & Bolivia. I did three treks during the trip, hiking to the famed Machu Picchu, as well as two relatively unknown Inca trails on the Copacabana Peninsula and in the Jungas of Bolivia, north of La Paz. In all, I hiked over 80 miles in three weeks was amazed by the people, culture, and sights along the way. Some of the photos I took on this trip are still amongst my favorite. For instance, the photograph below is of a small hut on Isla del Sol (“Island of the Sun”) in Bolivia. It has been the main image on my travel website, kahunna.net as well as on my business card. I have created a new gallery of forty photos taken on this trip, including some that have not seen the light of day the web until now. All photos were taken with a Canon PowerShot G5. Enjoy!
Every year, on the evening of December 7th, Nicaragua comes alive with prayers, singing and fireworks. In communities big and small, they celebrate “La Gritería,” or the immaculate conception of Mary. I witnessed the main celebration in Leon in 2006 (here’s a couple of photos here and here; a video here) and had an equally rewarding experience this year in the town of San Jose del Sur on the island of Ometepe.
The celebration involves visiting altars made in honor of of the Virgin Mary. The small community of Las Cruces, located a mile or two south of San Jose del Sur, created this altar with what looks like a considerable amount of care:
On December 7th at 6pm, the celebration begins! Communities come together around the altar as it is lit up in Christmas lights. When most of the locals have had a chance to view the ornate display, they disconnect the altar and the platform becomes portable. Selected citizens carry the altar into the street followed by the community, all singing songs about the Virgin Mary or worshiping in their own way.
I had my camera recording during some of the singing and chanting. Click on the play button below to listen to it:
In our walk towards the center of San Jose del Sur, a few men walk ahead of the procession lighting rockets every few minutes. They shoot 50 feet into the air then explode into a star burst of sparks.
The procession ends at the main square of San Jose del Sur, an area about the size of an American football field. On the south end of the square stands the small church. A church bell rings in the bell tower, which stands nearby. It is disconnected from the church to provide more stabilization on this volcanically-active island. Many aftershocks have destroyed lesser structures.
The atmosphere is similar to a fair, but without the entertainment. A woman walks around distributing free drinks – a sugary, spicy drink served in a small plastic bag. The drink seems to be popular based on the number of children crowding around the woman and her tub of tied bags, but I found the drink tasted too spicy. Our group tried subtly to dispose of the drink without offending the locals. Children, mainly boys ages 10-16, run around lighting fire crackers and throwing them near unsuspecting people. We hoped they would not them near us as we were their source of fire. A girl sings a song over a loud speaker as a man plays guitar. Most of the younger men ages 20-40 are not participating. They can be seen playing pool in the local open-air pubs.
During the festival, the sky opened up and poured on the island. It fell as hard and as dense as a shower, instantly soaking everyone as they ran for cover. We hugged a large tree as I tried desperately to shield my camera bag with my body. These two resourceful women used their lawn chairs as umbrellas.
As quickly as it started, the rain abruptly stopped. Out came the moon, lighting up large cumulus clouds rolling slowly over a backdrop of twinkling stars. I left with the other gringos and headed back to our hostel, a mile or so down the road. As we walked using just the light of the moon, I felt extremely honored to have experienced La Griteria on Ometepe.
National Geographic has opened two huge stores in London and Singapore late last year. From the images I’ve seen online, they look like Disneyland for NatGeo fans! According to a NGS press release, these stores offer more than just their praised maps, books, and DVDs. Here’s what they wrote about the London location:
More than a traditional retail environment, the Regent Street store will feature compelling interactive visual displays and state-of-the-art design dedicated to stimulating, educating and inspiring visitors to celebrate global cultures. In addition to its retail marketplace, the store will feature an exhibition area, auditorium, tapas café, travel desk and photography studio, set across three floors and approximately 1,800 square metres (19,375 square feet).
I’ve compiled seven links that share images, videos, and experiences of those who have written first-hand accounts of the new museums stores.
DVD with a Genographic Project overview hosted by Dr. Spencer Wells, visual instructions on how to collect a DNA sample using a cheek scraper, and a bonus feature program the National Geographic Channel/PBS production The Journey of Man.
Exclusive National Geographic map illustrating human migratory history and created especially for the Genographic Project.
Buccal swab kit, instructions, and a self-addressed envelope in which to return your cheek swab sample.
Detailed brochure about the Genographic Project, featuring National Geographic photography.
Confidential Genographic Project ID # (GPID) to anonymously access your results at www.nationalgeographic.com/genographic
Located at Vivo City, Singapore’s largest shopping mall in the vibrant HarbourFront precinct, the new National Geographic store is designed to appeal to Singaporeans’ taste for adventure and diverse cultures. More than a traditional retail environment, the 1,500-square- metre (16,146-square-foot) store will feature a retail marketplace, exhibition space and unique “experience zones” for multisensory activities designed to stimulate, educate and inspire visitors.
It was with great excitement that I was invited by Pat Law of Ogilvy PR to the exclusive preview of Asia’s first National Geographic Store in Singapore! Never have I ever thought that the National Geographic would have a physical store and much less open one in Singapore.
The bloggers were told to meet at Newton Food Centre and were chauffeured by a grand convoy of 17 SUVs from the great volunteers at www.suvec.org. A personal SUV for every blogger! How cool is that?
This is a first in Asia, the only other store is in London. The bigwigs of NatGeo…shared quite a bit on the concept of the store. Go there, be inspired, be edutained (they kept using that word and i thought it was hilarious) about our life earth environment. They made it easy to do with the interior of the store. It feels like home, only 100x bigger and with very very cool things. There’s alot more to look at but i was pretty much drawn to the ‘old gentlemen’s club’ parts of the store so my pictures only say so much.
This story about National Geographic’s first Asian store in Singapore, however, is a unique one I will treasure for the rest of my life to come. For a start, I didn’t have to tell the story myself. And I still don’t. I didn’t have to think of an angle that will get people listening. And I still don’t. By virtue of its 120-year rich history and its authencity, the people are quite happy being their own storytellers.
When I first stepped into the National Geographic Store in Singapore, memories of my days with Made With Love flooded through my mind. (Posts about MWL here and here.) The feeling was almost identical! The black interior, the spotlights, the floor, the smell of a newly renovated store and even the temperature inside was so similar! But of course, MWL is no where close to the size and set-up of the world 2nd National Geographic store.
This is going to be an image intensive post. To prevent slow loading of the homepage, you’ll have to click to read more about it. But I assure you, its going to be worth the read!
I created a little video of the great people I met while traveling. To make it a little less boring, most of the clips are playing at twice the normal speed. The music in the background is Cake Parade by Georgie James.
When you get to the YouTube page, I suggest that you click on the “Watch in HD” link just below the video.
My latest journal cover is plain except for a hoof mark from a horse or cow. I had lost it while hiking in Nicaragua. Twenty hours later, a determined one-man search and rescue operation was launched during a tropical rain storm. After retracing my steps for a few soggy miles, I found it on the side of a country road, just where I must have dropped it while taking a photo of the green pastures, the grazing cattle, and the volcano looming in the background. Despite the rain, the pocket Moleskine was unscathed, except for where an animal had stepped on it. When I look at the mark on the cover, I’m reminded of how close I came to losing the most precious item I carry on my when I travel, even more so than my camera.