Rescued Chile miner plans to return to the tunnels
“It felt like the earth was giving birth and I was the child of the Earth Mother. I was reborn.”
Omar Reygadas is relaxing in his back garden as he tells me about his journey up the escape shaft from the San Jose mine.
His grandchildren run around his feet, shouting at their cousins. The adults – some 20 or so of Omar’s family – sit chatting and enjoying the afternoon sunshine. They throw huge slabs of meat onto the barbecue. It’s Omar’s welcome home party.
Omar was the 17th miner to climb out of the Phoenix escape capsule on Wednesday and he says the experience has made him a new man – he has a second chance at life.
“I see life from a different perspective. I’m going to love my family even more,” he says. “My children, grandchildren and my girlfriend.”
There’s no lack of love at his party.
His grandchildren run up to their “Tatita” and kiss him from time to time. He makes time for each of his family, joking and telling stories, a friendly smile never far from his lips.
His family say he hasn’t changed at all. “Except he’s much whiter!” says his daughter Ximena, laughing.
“He hasn’t changed one bit apart from that – he needs some time in the sun.”
Time to think
He won’t speak about the ordeal he went through in the mine – all 33 men have signed a pact. When they talk about their 69 days underground, he says, they’ll do it together.
But Omar is more than happy to talk about everything else.
During the long wait for the miners, at Camp Hope, Omar’s family told me he wouldn’t have any problem adjusting to being back above ground.
“He’ll just talk and talk,” his daughter Marcela told me. And that’s certainly the case. He tells me at length about how the experience changed his spiritual outlook on life.
“I don’t belong to the church,” he says. “My church is at the corner of my bedroom, or on my patio. But now I feel much closer to God.”
He’s had time to think while underground.
In letters Omar wrote to his children he said he had too much time. Despite trying to set an example to the younger men down there, in his weakest moments he often curled up in a corner and cried.
But it was his family who got Omar through the ordeal. He remained in constant communication, sending numerous letters daily and receiving gifts and supplies through the “palomera” – or supply tube.
Through all of his letters, despite being deeply emotional, his sense of humour shone through. He’d often sign off asking his children to save him a glass of wine for when he gets out.
And now, in his backyard, he finds his new celebrity an endless source of amusement.
‘I’m a miner’
He raises his eyebrow when I mention he was on the front page of The Times newspaper, and when journalists knock at the front door, he jokes with his son, Omar Jr, about signing contracts for millions of dollars.
The journalists are turned politely but firmly away.
When the time comes to talk about their time underground, he explains, the 33 miners will launch a foundation, into which all the interview fees will be paid – they will share the proceeds.
Now, despite feeling as if he was born again, he’s decided not to change his career.
“I’m a miner,” he tells me. “I’m happy working underground. I enjoy it. I’m fine working inside the mine. I already have an offer from another mine nearby – I’ve already said yes.”
When I express surprise he shrugs his shoulders. He knew there were risks at the San Jose mine. They all did – they were paid more because of those risks. But now things will be a bit different.
“I’m going to do it with a different mentality – I’ll take proper care of myself and will make sure the mine is in good condition.”
Omar is full of energy – he feels good, he tells me. He’s still wearing his wrap-around shades that he was given before leaving the mine, but says his eyes will be fine in few days. And he’s had problems with his teeth, but had an operation a few hours after leaving the mine and they’re already feeling better.
He’s ready to get back into normal life – he has a meeting on Saturday with his prospective new employers.
He’s going to use his high profile to push for greater regulation in the mining industry, he explains. He hopes the regulatory body will now visit mines more often, so that men can work in total security.
But the law of the miner still holds, he says.
“All miners know that when they go into the mine to work they might not come out alive.”