The story of the 33 miners trapped for 69 days at more than 700 meters depth traveled the world. Hundreds of people came to the area of the collapse of the San José mine, in the Atacama Region, while several million viewers, from all over the world, witnessed the outcome.
But after the mega rescue operation, in October 2010, the memory faded. The cameras left and the miners migrated. All except one: Jorge Galleguillos.
“I never left the place. From 2011 onwards I went whenever I had time, once or twice a week. Most of all, I traveled to distract myself, to go see the place where I almost lost my life, “he says.
Galleguillos, who worked for 30 years in the place, says that the San José mine occupies a special place in his memory: there were his beginnings as a miner, there he was when he was notified of the birth of his first child, then his grandson, and in the same place believed that its days would end, after the collapse of August 5, 2010.
For this reason, he details, going around the place again served as a distraction and to overcome what had happened.
In the area they got used to seeing him in the sector, 75 kilometers from his home, in Copiapó. “I became known to the authorities and sometimes they invited me to find out about the mine,” he explains.
Spontaneously, the habit became his new job. The place regularly attracted onlookers and visitors, who were surprised to find there one of “the 33” available to answer questions and tell what happened in the first person. And take photos.
Thus, in 2015 he formalized this work and in 2017 he took over as a guide, in a ceremony in charge of the Municipality of Caldera and the National Tourism Service.
In the place there is an interpretive center, with various audiovisual pieces that range from photographs of the miners to videos of the rescue and of when the well-known message was received: “The 33 of us are well in the refuge.” In addition, information is provided on the San Lorenzo operation of the Phoenix capsules.
There are also 33 flags – 32 Chilean and one Bolivian – representing the miners. From there it is possible to see the entrance to the mine, which was closed, and the sites where the different systems were built to make contact with the workers during captivity.
And in that place, from Wednesday to Sunday, Galleguillos welcomes visitors, explains the information, tells them the story and solves their doubts.
Those who have made the tour, highlight it: “A great experience related first-hand by Don Jorge Galleguillos, one of the surviving heroes of this tragedy with a happy ending. It is very worth the visit ”, details a Tripadvisor user, where the miner stands out for the good reviews obtained.
The guide says that the pandemic has affected the current flow of visitors, but that the previous summer it reached 100 people per day. He even estimates that in the future there could be more.
For the authorities in the area, the mine is key to tourism and regional history. Brunilda González, mayor of Caldera, explains that “it is a seal. The Atacama Region is known for its paleontological and geological wealth, and the San José mine is part of it ”.
In this context, the regional director of Sernatur Atacama, Alejandro Martin, explained that resources will continue to be invested in the site to keep its tourist facilities and services operational.
But Galleguillos’ dream is bigger. His goal is to turn the site into a site museum and “for Chile to remember what happened here, which was very important, very beautiful, and crowned with a rescue in which we all came out alive.”