It's a good thing we had given ourselves 4 days in Santiago before departing Chile. What with the global pandemic, protests in Santiago and the International Women's Day march, we needed the time.
Our first indication that life was not going to be simple was at the airport where the taxis refused to take us. We'd unwittingly booked a hostel two blocks from "ground zero" where the ongoing protests have been centered. The taxi drivers didn't want to go anywhere near it, but a more expensive transfer van promised to get us as close to the protest as possible. Oh joy! I tried to imagine two bewildered tourists with heavy bags wandering around between the stone throwing protesters and the tear gas trying to find the hostel. But, he was able to drop us just half a block away and we ducked through the wrought iron gates and were pulled inside a double locked door. The hostel was charming, simple, unpretentious, clean and quiet. What a relief.
We went out later that evening for dinner and got caught in a waft of tear gas. With eyes burning and nose streaming we hurried back to the hostel where we were commanded by our host to take off our glasses so she could spray cold lemon water in our faces to wash the tear gas out of our eyes.
Chile has been relatively isolated from the Corona virus but not so the rest of the world. The day before we left Atacama we had found out that French Polynesia had instituted a requirement for all people, citizens or not, coming to or even transiting through Polynesia to have a certificate of health issued within 5 days of arrival. We flew into Santiago on Thursday and anticipated that Friday would be spent trying to find a clinic and doctor who would give us this certificate. A phone call to the US embassy informed us where to go and we were able to make an appointment for 10:00 am that day. The health check consisted of taking our temperature and ensuring that we had not been anywhere near any affected country. By 11:00am we were done. The metro took us near where we used to live but as we exited we found the gates closed. Only one gate was open on the far side of the station. A crush of people gathered at the bottom of the stairs. We had no idea what was happening. Eventually we exited safely and heard the chant of people up the street. A protest march was coming towards us. The authorities closed the metro so they couldn't destroy it. It turned out that these were high school students still in their uniforms, just out of school. Their march was choreographed and scripted. It was in no way threatening.
Later that Friday evening, back at our hostel near ground zero, the protest was much more threatening. Again, the street in front was barricaded and the protesters had set fires in the middle of the street. They kept rushing the police who responded with tear gas cylinders. We watched through the lead glass windows as the struggle went back and forth. The struggle only ended after midnight. As far as I could find out, neither police nor protesters were seriously wounded.
The next day we had booked an excursion with our guide and friend, Ramón who had led us up Aconcagua, Cajón de Maipo and el Pintor. He arrived early to pick us up, driving through the ashes and broken pavement. I'm not sure he approved of our choice of accomodation. Ramón took us up to Mirador de los Condores where we were able to watch the condors wheel and roost below us. What a relaxing contrast it was to the choas of the previous two days.
And it wasn't over because the next day was March 8, International Women's Day. A huge march was planned which inevitably turned into a massive protest. Over a million women dressed in protest purple with green scarves supporting the abortion fight in Argentina gathered just two blocks from our hostel. I joined the beginning of the march until it got too crowded. The mood was upbeat with lots of painted, excited women and girls singing, chanting and taking selfies. I didn't see any anger, but by late afternoon most of the women had gone home and the protesters and police played cat and mouse until late into the night. Helicopters thumped overhead as we watched the armoured police vans being bombarded by bits of broken pavement and they responding with water cannon and teargas. This time there were arrests and structural damage but I could find no reports of police brutality or woundings. (Ramón, correct me if I'm wrong)
Finally we left Chile the next morning. We will have an 8 hour layover in Rapa Nui arriving in Tahiti at 12:30am glad to be back to our boat leaving the pandemic and the war zone behind.
We will be back to slow internet, few photos and no facebook posts.