Saturday, September 28, 2013

Philippines and the Didipio Daze

I recently traveled to the Philippines with the major purpose being a week on site at the Oceanagold Didipio mine working with the geology group. This gold and copper deposit is named Dinkidi and is part of a regionally prospective area for copper. Currently it is being mined as an open pit with its future being an underground mine, giving a total mine life of about 16+ years. Production started later 2012 (just before I first visited) with the mill starting up in late 2012.

One of the road drying payan crops, complete with a local bike club (there were another 15 or so behind us).

Getting to site requires a flight from Manila to Cauayan (Coo-eye-an) and then vehicle transport to site. From Cauayan to Didipio is only about 110km, but takes about 3 hours due to the traffic and the roads. At this time of year the roads are also used as a drying area for the local Payan crop, which causes more delays when there are no shoulders to the road. But once on site it's check in to the camp and then go and meet the geology group for the first time in a year. 

This time last year I was on site setting up the grade control system and there were only two geologists. Now there are seven on site and they were all sharing a small office with me, trying to suck in as much information as they could. The group all certainly did a good job of doing so and as with most training classes it all became a little more relaxed towards the end. The last day on site was spent helping those in need and showing off some of the MineSight product for the engineering group as well. 

The geology group and our native lunch "boxes", a four course meal with rice, soup, a meat and a vegetable compartment. All in a convenient to carry arrangement.

Half way through the stay on site, Typhoon Usagi was within range of the mine, leading to some extra rain and winds for a couple of days. So just like when I was on site a year ago, a typhoon influences the weather pattern. However this time I’m not booked on a plane back to Manila that would be cancelled (leading to a 14 hour drive), but pre-organised ground transport. So only a 9 hour trip. Fortunately on drive out day the winds had abated and skies were back to relative normality.

Looking from the ROM pad over the camp, mine offices and the village of Didipio in the background.

So while the mine is about 270km from Manila as the lethargic carrier pigeon flies, the drive is about 370km. But part of the reason for it taking so long is the average 20km/h for the first hour over rough dirt roads. Then no more than about a 45km/h average until hitting the motorway for the last hour and a half. Those clear skies that were there for the start of the trip certainly disappeared by the second half of it which also didn't help the pace. All the scooter and tricycle riders and passengers were doing their best to stay dry, but for the most part they weren't succeeding.

Arriving back in Manila the weather was rain. Rain, rain and more rain as it’s the wet season, plus the extents of the typhoon as well. But at least the hotel was close to the local shopping center, which makes for a great place to fill in some time. And the office of Freeport McMoran Exploration, Philippines was only a two hundred metre walk from the hotel (and another hundred to the shopping center/resort). So a day was spend with a couple of the FMI geologists and then a last night relaxing in town and making sure everything was packed. This included making sure all flights were on time due to the passing of Usagi into China and causing all sorts of flight delays. So with all flights still on time and confirmed off to bed.

Up on Tuesday, head to the airport, check in. Nope, no check in as the Hong Kong to Perth leg had been cancelled due to the weather. Grrr. Oh well, an extra two nights in Manila it is before tryign to head back again on Thursday. Book into a hotel again and try and organise a decent way to fill in my recently relocated day. I’ve always wanted to go and see Mount Pinatubo and the spare day in Manila would be an excellent opportunity to do so. Unfortunately all volcano tours were not running for the same reason the planes weren't flying. New plan required. So to fill in some time and catch up on work it's up to the business center. 

On the top level of the hotel is the business center, it's not a bad view either. A little distracting from the work though when looking across to the Makati part of Manila.

So while the extra day wasn't the most exciting day, it was good to relax, catch up on reports and the like and generally recover. The level of service from the 15 door and bell hop staff as you walk past the front desk is high, but sometimes it feels like you're back in a department tore with people asking if they can help you and mentioning for you to have a nice day every 5 seconds. I guess I'm not used to it and a little more independent than most of the travelers going through there. Not that I'm complaining mind, it is a good hotel and complex. The adjoining hotel has a central casino and a high quality mall surrounding it. This was good for a bit of sightseeing and a leg stretch as well. Surrounding the Marriott complex is a substantial construction field. As seen in the picture above, the buildings on the left are new apartments being built. There are a good 20 acres of them going up between the hotel and the airport and these are all for a higher class residence. Actually, on that note, Manila as a whole continues to be building up at a fast rate. There are residential towers being built in the city centres as well, and have been for the last few years I've been passing through.

So on Thursday morning it was time to check out again and head for the airport. This time all seems to be good, bags checked in, through security and relax with the knowledge that at least this time all should be as on schedule as any set of flights would be.

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