High heels and hairdos: Chile countdown begins

By Vanessa Buschschluter
BBC News, San Jose mine, Chile

Image caption,
Maria Segovia poses in a wedding veil belonging to one of the fiancees

There is very little privacy at Camp Hope, the tent village where many of the relatives of the 33 miners have been living for more than two months.

Cristina Nunez, 26, has got used to carrying out most of her daily chores in the open. She brushes her teeth next to the little shrine she has built to her fiance, Claudio Yanez.

She straightens her hair while some of the hundreds of journalists now assembled at the minehead take her picture.

But when I ask her how she has been preparing for the day when Claudio will be rescued, she laughs, takes me by the hand and pulls me into the privacy of her little tent.

'Cover him with kisses'

There, she pulls out two sets of lingerie from a bag: a bright red cape, bra and matching knickers along with some devil's horns and a tail on the one hand, and a bride's veil, a garter, and a fluffy white bra and tanga on the other.

"I was given these by a woman who owns a lingerie shop in Copiapo," she tells me. "I wasn't sure at first whether to wear them or not, but then I mentioned it to Claudio, and he seemed really keen on the idea, so I will."

I ask her which one of the two outfits she will choose. "Silly you," she chides me and tells me she will keep both.

Image caption,
Christina Nunez has been preparing her outfit for D-Day at the mine

"I'll be a little devil on the first night after the rescue, and a bride on the wedding night."

While Cristina and Claudio have been a couple for 11 years and have two daughters together, they didn't get married.

But in their first letters to each other since he was trapped, they decided to tie the knot. And now Cristina cannot wait to see her fiance to "cover him with kisses".

And she is not the only one in Camp Hope who received a romantic proposal from 700m underground.

Mario Gomez, the oldest of the trapped miners at 63, said he wanted to take his civil partner of more than 30 years, Lilian Ramirez, to the altar for a church wedding.

High heels and a hair cut

So Lilian, 57, wants to make sure she looks pretty the next time he will see her.

She wants to buy a new dress specially for the occasion.

"Something simple, yet elegant, and some high heels to go with it," she explains.

And, if time allows, she will catch one of the daily buses the government has laid on for the families and go to the nearby town of Copiapo to have her hair cut.

Antonia Godoy says she has no time for a haircut. Looking tired, but happy, she says she has an important message to relay.

She spoke to her 26-year-old son Richard Villaroel over the communication line today.

He told her he was getting married.

Image caption,
Antonia Godoy is too busy preparing to become a grandmother to bother about a new haircut

His girlfriend Dana Castro cannot be at the mine because she is about to give birth to their first son, Richard Jnr, at any moment. So Antonia will have to play Cupid.

"I suppose I'll call Dana and ask her: 'Do you want to marry my son?' And then I'll pass on her answer."

Antonia says that with a present like Richard Jnr in store, the family has prepared little else for D-Day, as the rescue day has become known.

But then Antonia Jnr, Richard's 11-year-old younger sister pipes up. "I've prepared something, Richard asked me to work hard at school, so I did, and got really good grades."

Sisterly love

The miners' sisters have been playing a crucial role at Camp Hope. Maria, the sister of Dario Segovia, has become known as La Alcaldesa, the Mayoress, for her organisational skill and her outspokenness.

Image caption,
Zulemy is worried about how her brother will cope with the attention

It was she who liaised with the government to have many of the facilities that are now available to the families put in, such as showers, tents and coals for the braziers that keep them warm during the bitterly cold desert nights.

Maria can be brash, and some of the relatives find her overwhelming. When I ask her how she is preparing for the rescue of her brother, she is her typical larger-than-life self:

"You wouldn't be able to tell by the clothes I'm wearing at the moment, but I'm a real flirt. I love to wear mini-skirts and high heels and get dolled up," she says, looking down disappointedly at her dust-covered tracksuit bottoms.

She says that before D-Day she will go for a bit of a make-over, a pedicure and manicure to get all the desert dust off her, and a bit of colour to cover the greys in her hair.

But then she becomes thoughtful and says she and her 12 siblings have decided to give Dario time and space to adjust to life above ground.

Dario has told them he wants all of them to get together for a family reunion, but Maria insists they will not do so until he says he is ready.

"But then, we'll be there like a shot, all 13 of us to celebrate with him."

Thanksgiving mass

Zulemy Barrios thinks talk of celebrations is a bit frivolous. She believes the men's ordeal is far from over.

Her brother, Yonny Barrios, made the headlines when his wife and his girlfriend both showed up at the mine.

Faced with the dilemma of having two women wanting to speak on his behalf, the Chilean government asked him who he wanted to be his representative at the minehead.

Image caption,
Alicia Campos says her son's rescue will be like a 'rebirth'

He reportedly nominated his girlfriend, but it seems to be his sister who has stepped into the role.

She says Yonny is a quiet man, who does not like the spotlight. On the videos the miners have recorded, he tries to stay out of view, and even when his friends push him into shot, he often shies away from the camera.

Zulemy worries about the media attention which will invariably surround him after the rescue. But, she says, all she and her seven brothers and sisters can do, is to be there for him when he wants to talk.

"I don't know what he will do with his life, or where he'll stay," she says. "But we'll respect whatever decision he takes."

Alicia Campos knows exactly where she will take her son, Daniel Herrera, after he is rescued. She is deeply religious and has already spoken to the priest at her church in the small town of Marchigue about holding a thanksgiving mass.

She says that unlike so many of the other women at the camp, she is not going to change anything about her appearance.

"My hair has gone grey with worry," she says. "But I won't dye it. I'm too old for that, and anyway, this is how my son knows me, and when he is reborn - because this rescue will be like a rebirth - I want him to find me just like when he left me, no different."

But deep inside, she says, she knows that neither her son's nor her life will ever be the same again.