Thursday, June 23, 2011

An Interesting Day

Well, today was interesting.

I say that because of the general chaos that was Santiago, Chile today.

There was a march today by students demanding reform in Chilean education, principally in the form of reducing the cost of tuition and fees.  It started in Plaza Italia, where two of our campuses are, and eventually spread across the city.  Since both of our unis in Plaza Italia are en toma (see my post from yesterday if you're confused about this), we decided instead to go to USACH again.  We knew that USACH could be involved in the protests, but we decided it was probably our safest bet.  Plus, we had no work to do at the hostel, and we couldn't just sit around and do nothing!

When we got to USACH, the campus was very quiet.  There were very few people there; I think we saw fewer than 30 people the entire time we were there (about three hours).  Everyone must have been off on the march.  We thought it might pick up in the afternoon. Boy were we right.

We decided to take a break around 1 pm to get some lunch; after stopping in the casino (cafeteria), we decided instead to go across the street to Estacion Central, or the Central Station, which has a lot of shops and food stores.  We tried to use the metro stop to cross to the other side (the street there is like 6 lanes and is super busy), but it was closed.  We didn't think anything of it and went down the block to the intersection and crosswalk.

When we got to the other side, we saw carabineros (police officers) redirecting traffic.  At first, we thought there was just an accident, but when we saw carabineros all over the place, we knew it was something more than just a traffic accident.  Soon, we saw people coming down the street (yes, the actual street! not the sidewalk), some running and some walking.  Then some of them started jumping over the fence and flooding from buses.  We knew then that there was a riot brewing.

We couldn't leave because they had closed the metro station on this side of the street too!  So we went inside a KFC, got lunch, and sat upstairs watching the riot develop.  Soon the police deployed tear gas six or seven times (not all at once, though!) and we saw people on the sidewalks below wiping their eyes and covering their faces.  We were okay, though, because they had closed the doors.  It was crazy!  We couldn't leave because, as I mentioned before, they had closed the metro station and there was nowhere to walk without encountering either tear gas or rioters.  So we sat and watched until it finally dissipated an hour or so later.

When we left the restaurant, we noticed that the main gates of USACH were closed and that there was a whole group of students clustered at the gates.  So I guess it's a good thing that we left campus when we did!  And luckily, we got back to the hostel without further incident!

So that was our adventure for the day.  Hopefully, tomorrow won't be as crazy!

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