Day five of the study trip started early. At exactly 6 am our rather quiet bus left Santiago and headed towards El Teniente, the biggest underground copper mine of the world. Two hours later we arrived at our destination surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, with endless mountains as far as our eyes could see. As soon as our group arrived at the mining company’s headquarter, we got a short safety briefing and some drinks and snacks to provide us with energy for our long day ahead.
We were lucky enough to be guided by two very experienced, well informed and friendly tour guides throughout the whole afternoon. We got to see the old and abandoned village of Sewell, where miners used to live with their families. The UNESCO world heritage site includes a leisure center, a church and South America’s first bowling alley. The tour then continued to a museum full of copper relicts from all over the world. After a quick and delicious lunch offered by the hosts, our group got the opportunity to see what a mine looks like from the inside. The last stop was at the main control center of the mine company. This was extremely impressive, as former mine workers were used to extreme darkness and long shifts (approx. 12 hours). Now they do their job in an office surrounded by air conditioning and sun light. The modern miner’s control everything from a base located 30km from the mines. The goal is to have as few people as possible in the hazardous mines. In front of the employees, huge screens are set up with a joystick where they very accurately control every movement of the machine inside the mine. Summed up, the visit at El Teniente was a very impressive and once-in-a-lifetime visit!
Even though we left El Teniente quite exhausted, we still had one last stop at the Swiss company Geobrugg AG. They are specialized in high-strength steel wire nets and matching services monitors and protects against natural hazards such as avalanches, rockfall or coastal erosion. Besides that, the company ensures safety in mountain and tunnel construction. The main reason for Geobrugg‘s activities in Chile is it‘s main customor: the mine in El Teniente.
The employees were very kind and for a change it was nice having the tour partly in Swiss German and English. At the end we also got to watch how they test their steel wire nets while letting a huge metal ball fall on top of it.
Our group was very thankful to cool off with a small apéro at the end.
With that, a long, exhausting but beyond interesting day of learning about Chile‘s main economic sector – mining – ended with our return to the hotel in Santiago.