Rolly the Clown helped me hitch a ride to the mine.

If I were going to do this by the numbers, I’d have to start with three hitched rides, one clown kissed, 15 confessions that I’m from the United States, and countless generous people who are kind to a foreign traveler in need of a hand.

I found myself in La Serena, Chile yesterday, less than five hours from the site of the rescue. As I started thinking about my proximity to Big News, I found myself unable to resist a jaunt up here. Circumstances cooperated. The woman in the boarding house where I was staying has a sister here who was able to find me a room in a town glutted by press from all over the world.

This morning I was in a strange town, wandering around asking how to get to the mine. I hitched a ride with the official clown and was given another couple lifts to town and back by some friendly TV station workers. I took more pictures than I can count and I’m not done yet. But people are good. That’s something I forget sometimes. And I’m thankful for and humbled by the chance to be here, to see everyone hoping for the best and giving a hand to anyone else who is, too.

As you can see, it’s a madhouse up here.

Altars for the safe return of family members are all over the place.

Saints and flags in the bright sun with personal messages have faded in the long weeks since the accident.

Angelica Alvarez, wife of miner Edison Pena, talks to a British reporter.

Free mote con huesillos. Buen frio. And free! Delicious.

Back to town for the compu. The driver is Marcus and the passenger is Matias Kristhof from Buenos Aires. (They were so good to me.) Here we see El Uruguayo – he ran from town to the mine with these flags – about 50 km.

Chile’s Health Minister Jaime Manalich answers questions from a group of pushy reporters. He explains that the first trip down in the capsule will be a rescuer, then they will come up with a miner. Then down with a paramedic and up with a miner. And so on.

A miner’s family in their tent surrounded by press more than a meter deep on all sides.