This morning we are visiting the Chuquicamata mine with our guide Marta. The company was nice enough to send a bus into Calama to pick us up, though we had some fun navigating Calama’s morning rush hour to the Codelco building. Commuting by bus is how many of the mine workers in this area regularly get to work as well. They live in Calama, or even further afield, during their off time, and in dorms at the mine site while on the job; typically working 7-on and 7-off.
On the way to the mine, Marta provided some history on Calama and geology, with Ryan putting his Spanish to good use translating for us. Calama has grown from a small oasis to a city of a quarter-million today, in concert with the expansion of mining in the area. It has long since eclipsed the original concentration of people at Chuquicamata.
The lifestyle in Chuquicamata was strongly influenced by mining’s ties to America, dating back to early investors, like the Guggenheim brothers. Eventually up to 5000 Americans made up a fifth of the Chuquicamata population. The entire town celebrated typically American holidays like Haloween, had many of the first appliances, like color TVs, in South America.
Conditions in town, however, were not ideal so close to the mine as it grew. It has sat empty since the last family moved to Calama in 2008.
Some of the town is now being buried under tailings. There is also a theater in town modeled after one in Virginia.