The heroes of Copiapo
Etienne Lavigne and the riders and drivers still in the Dakar 2011 welcomed the miners of Copiapo to the bivouac on the event. Amongst gifts, smiles, photos and embraces, thirteen of these brave survivors discovered the sport and its environment.
"Is that it? Can we start?" asks Etienne Lavigne. Marta replies, "No, we're still waiting for three of them". Marta Contreras works for the regional government and her job, since recently, has been to coordinate the visits and appearances of the miners of Copiapo. The Rally Director receives the message loud and clear and everyone relaxes again, waiting in front of Fenix, the machine which brought the 33 trapped miners back to the surface after 69 days underground. The minibuses arrive, and ten of the miners, guests of the rally and the bivouac, climb out, provoking a frenzy of camera flashes, whilst Fenix remains unflappable.The settle in quickly, just next door, under the canvas of the Chilean tent, which accompanies the life of the bivouac each evening. A new photo session starts, but instead of a metal machine, they surround Carlo de Gavardo. Giving the thumbs up and a broad smile, the former KTM rider again sees just how popular he still is: he is the one signing the autographs. Pablo Rojas, 46 years old and a miner for 20 years at Copiapo, does not really have a clue of with whom he has to do the next photo, but willingly goes about the exercise. Carlos Sainz, with his VW cap firmly sat atop his head, lets him know that, "I'm very happy for you". Pablo Rojas, the son of a miner, admits he prefers football, "But all these machines are very impressive".In the hustle and bustle, acquiescing to all the requests for photos, their visit to the bivouac follows the same hectic pace as all their other appearances. Dario Segovia, 48 years old, recognises that their day-to-day life is starting to resemble a routine again, but not that of work. "I don't know if I'll go back to the mine. For the moment, I'm working a bit with my old 1993 Nissan. I do favours for people and transport parcels".All the miners proudly wear sunglasses with a modern design, a classy touch. Claudio Acuсa takes them off and shows the bottom of the left-hand lens, which is engraved with 'Los 33' (the 33). "It was an American who sent us these. I don't even know who he is". He has mining in his blood, because his father also worked as a miner. "He was in the 4th region at Punitaqui. I've been going down the mine in Copiapo since the age of 15 years old. But now, that's finished for me. We'll work at the surface now". The long episode in the mine has propelled them into a quasi-celebrity world that Claudio does not really appreciate: "I like peace and calm," he says, "even though I enjoyed being invited to Los Angeles and Manchester. It's good to see other places". Other places? The son of Jorge Galleguillos will probably be able to do without a near catastrophe for that: "He is 21 years old and is studying at the University of Copiapo". Aged 56 years old, with his long beard and straw hat, he seems to be the grandpa of the group. He has known mines since the age of 6, when he accompanied with his mother to fetch his father. At the time, the family lived south of Vallenar, and moved with work from one mine to another before settling down further north here at Copiapo. "I've been here since 1979 because there was plenty of work," he smiles, then pauses. Jorge still talks about the journeys the 33 have made. "I like to see other things and meet other people. It's amazing to see huge airports like in Paris where we took a connection".All of a sudden, the Chilean tent empties. The race to meet people resumes. This time it is a French television channel: sports journalists Gerard Holtz and Luc Alphand await them for a live broadcast. Marta is getting a little stressed. "Esteban isn't here, where's Esteban?" And Claudio, where is he? She does not have to go looking for Luis Urzua, though. He is already on the France Televisions studio set. Luis was the last of the 33 to be brought back to the surface in the capsule -- he is not keen on being last again.