South America by Subaru 19/10/19 – Santiago, Chile Under Siege

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We wake up well rested and I drive back to nearby Tránsito (DMV), which fortunately has Saturday morning hours, to get my permanent car registration. I stop on the way to fill the empty fuel tank, which will later turn out to have been a fortunate move. The registration is issued without any problem, so the car is completely legal until 3/31/20. My sense of relief is palpable and we-re clear to leave Santiago tomorrow morning.

Now that I have peso cash, I need to pay Álvaro about $300 for his parts and labor. With our imminent departure, that means driving to his downtown residence today to hand it to him. The demonstrations are intensifying and, with public transit shut down, traffic will be a challenge, if not an impossibility. We arrange a rendezvous with Álvaro and sally forth into the fray. Traffic slows to a crawl as we near his neighborhood and the sidewalks are filled with demonstrators, many engaging in a traditional form of protest, rhythmically banging cooking pots with spoons. The Chilean word for this is cacerolazo. We have a hard time remembering how to say it – until someone points out that its stem comes, appropriately enough, from casserole. At one point we see demonstrators holding signs and standing in front of a bus to prevent it from moving.

Along Balboa Ave, Santiago

Eventually, we get to where Álvaro is waiting for us on the sidewalk. We hand him the cash, express our gratitude, say our goodbyes, and plunge back into the inching flow of traffic.

Servas host Álvaro, one of the most generous people in Chile
Servas host Álvaro, one of the most generous people in Chile

Since we’ve come this far, we decide to proceed beyond downtown to the natural history museum.

Santiago protester. I don’t understand the sign

When we reach the far side of the park, it’s late afternoon and we’re really hungry so we scout restaurants in the adjacent Barrio Yungay, enjoying the murals and architecture as we walk.

Since we’re in that awkward part of the day, after lunch and before dinner, most eateries are closed. We finally settle for mediocre Thai food and then walk back to the car. Suddenly, a man runs up to us and asks if he can take our picture. I wonder just how weird we look to attract that kind of attention, but we happily comply and then take one of him, for revenge.

Photographer

We walk back to the car, in a quiet part of the city elsewhere wracked by protest over inequality. Ironically, we pass a number of homeless people sheltering against the park wall.

Homeless encampment against park wall
Homeless encampment against park wall

Driving back to Las Condes, road closures route us to the north side of the Mapocho River. Where we are, there are some relics of last night’s disturbance.

Plaza Italia, the main protest site, is directly across from us and we join others observing clashes between demonstrators and police. From our relatively safe perch, we see water cannons and tear gas being used by the police, but the protestors are resilient and not easily dispersed. I stay with the car at the curb while Susan walks over to the river wall to get a better view and take photos. After a short while she starts feeling the effects of tear gas wafting across the river from the distant plaza and retreats to the car.

Plaza Italia protest

We return to our apartment and stay glued to the television news. The government announces a 10 PM – 7 AM curfew, but many protesters ignore it. More fires are set, some stores are looted, and in one 3 people die – not by police action. Chile’s president announces the cancellation of the fare hike that triggered the protests, but the issues have gone far beyond that, deep into social justice and equality. A state of emergency is declared and soldiers are in the streets for the first time since the 1973 Pinochet military coup. Metro announces that damage to the system is extensive and it will take days to weeks to fully restore service.

Late at night, we shut off the television and drop off into fitful sleep.

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