Holy fuck, Santiago.
I can see smoke rising from La Alameda in the distance and the neighbourhood streets are eerily quiet.
It’s 7:45 p.m. and I’ve just arrived at the Airbnb. I’m going to have to cross La Alameda—Santiago’s main avenue—at one point because I need food and water.
What a day…
What a mess…
It should have been a quick, easy trip from Buenos Aires to Santiago—a two-hour flight between two major airports and two cities I know very well.
“Are you sad to leave Buenos Aires?” Feng asked jokingly last night because I’m always sad to leave places.
“Actually… not so much. I enjoyed it for a week but I don’t entertain the idea of living in Buenos Aires. Plus, I feel like I’ve been saying goodbye to Buenos Aires for the past 18 years, so it’s routine. It’s a nice stop, a hub, but it’s too European for me.”
And so I packed and got ready for Santiago, Chile. It’s almost the end of the trip, this is my last stop.
I’m flying back from Santiago so I had to go back. I’ve been reading the news, I knew what to expect. Protests started again last week with the end of the Southern Hemisphere summer holiday. Chileans flooded the streets on International Women’s Day and police had a full-on clash with protestors.
So yeah, I kind of knew what I was getting into. I planned strategically. I booked an Airbnb in last year’s neighbourhood, far enough from the action centred around Plaza Italia—“Plaza de la Dignidad”—and La Alameda.
Still, it was a bit of a shock tonight.
The whole day was weird.
It was pouring rain in Buenos Aires this morning and it was “colder” so everybody was freaking out and traffic was crazy. I left at 11:30 a.m. for a 3:22 (!) p.m. flight so I was pretty relaxed and fortunately so was the taxi driver when he avoided an accident on la autopista. I even used my last pesos to pay for the ride—considering the inflation, it’s not a currency you’d want to keep for a possible future trip.
Ezeiza International Airport was quieter than usual with many flights to and from Italy cancelled. I also discovered the airport isn’t leakproof—strategically placed buckets were collecting rain water.
Security was very tight and we all had to go through the body scanner, shoes off, etc. Please, someone tell Argentine it’s 2020—we’re supposed to be scared of a virus, terrorism is so last year…
We boarded on time but we were stuck on the tarmac for mysterious airport reasons. I also had the seatmate from hell, a four- or five-year-old kid who threw spoiled-brat tantrums for the entire flight. I get it, flying with a child isn’t always easy, but his mom didn’t even attempt to tell him to be quiet and it annoyed the shit out of me.
We finally landed around 6:30 p.m., an hour behind schedule. Then the fun began. We were greeted by a “ministry of health team” and had to fill out a form regarding possible Coronavirus symptoms, then our temperature was taken. If you passed, you got an “autorizado” paper and were allowed to proceed to immigration. With a temperature of 37.2⁰, I was “autorizada.”
Somewhere above the Andes, an hour earlier, it had suddenly occurred to me that the world had gone crazy. I’m not saying that because of virus screening. I’m glad Chile does it and it was handled very well. But the whole epidemic… sorry, pandemic is crazy and it seems to bring the worst out of us—hoarding, closing borders, etc. What the hell, people?
The taxi dropped me off in front of the Airbnb building. I rummaged through my backpack to find Chilean pesos—I feel like a drug dealer, I have several envelop with a bit of cash in US dollars, pesos, reais, etc.—and washed my hands for the twentieth time in the day.
Since it was later than planned, I had to hurry up to go buy essentials—food, water.
And that’s when I realized it wasn’t going to happen because a protest was in progress.
I’m four blocks from La Alameda. From downstairs the building, I could see protestors fighting the police. Most shops in the neighbourhood had rolled down the gate. I walked to the nearest supermarket—it was letting a few people in at the time but the shelves were mostly empty. I went straight to San Isidro, the busy street where I stayed last year, packed with Venezuelan and Colombian small businesses and vendors. Phew, looked like it was business as usual.
The sun set and I realized the streets were darker than usual. Traffic and street lights don’t work anymore.
I walked towards La Alameda. It was quieter, and by “quieter” I mean I was able to cross it, stepping behind burning barricades.
The avenue and the streets around were sticky and crunchy—a mix of gasoline, tear gas and broken glass washed off by water cannons. There were pavement pieces, cobblestones and other projectiles everywhere, burned street furniture and random items in the middle of the avenue. No traffic yet, just a few taxis speeding down the street, no lights to slow them down.
I hurried to the few businesses that are almost always open around Santa Lucía and picked up a couple of empanadas to the sound of people banging pots and pans from their balcony and window.
The protest lasted all night. I could smell the gasoline, tear gas and hear the loud “BANGS every now and then, molotov cocktails vs rubber-coated projectiles.
Should be a fun week.
(Sorry for picture quality, taken with my cellphone late at night. There are moments when you just don’t linger around with a big camera…)