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The Hardest Trip I’ve Ever Planned

Protests in Chile

Photo: Hugo Morales

“Have you seen this yet?” my boss tweeted me. It was October 19th and he’d sent me a link to a news article announcing that Chile had declared a state of emergency as protests and violence escalated in a surge of unrest.

“Yikes,” was my simple reply. My stunned self wasn’t sure what else to say. I had a plane ticket booked for Santiago for November 10th.

Civil unrest is the last thing you want to see anytime before a planned vacation.

What’s Happening in Chile Right Now

How did a 4% subway fare hike spark a national revolution? On October 18th, the Chilean government announced a small fare increase for public transit during peak subway hours. Not long after high school students began sharing videos online of them jumping turnstiles and resisting authorities. Soon more commuters joined in. Chileans had had enough. This small event was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and within a day the protests had turned massive, destructive, and deadly.

On October 25th, over a million people marched peacefully in the capital, rallying for higher minimum wages, better pensions and health care. Chile is a wealthy country but the divide between those who are well off and those who aren’t is the largest in South America. Over half of the population earned less than $550 a month in 2018.

The people want the constitution to be revised and to stop the privatization of things like healthcare and education that have only benefited the rich and worsened the lot of the majority. They want the government to stop giving tax cuts to the rich while simultaneously adding fees and cutting services for the average Chilean.

It’s a story we’re hearing around the world. It’s a cause I’m sympathetic to.

I just wish it had happened 6 weeks later.

Since I first saw the news I’ve been searching and translating articles from Spanish trying to get a handle on the situation in Chile, hoping every day that the news would get better. CNN Chile, biobio, and the Santiago Metro Twitter account are all very familiar to me now.

Should we cancel our trip? Will it calm down before we get there? Will tourism infrastructure be interrupted? Will it be safe?

Do I Still Visit?

So many questions have swirled through my head since I got that first message. One moment I’m on the verge of calling the trip off and just accepting that I’ll have to pay the change fees for the flight. Everything else we’ve booked is refundable. The next moment I throw myself into trip research and start getting excited. Horseback riding! Stargazing in the desert! A brewery that makes beer from fog! But before you know it, I’m a ball of anxiety again.

I dive back into my trip research like everything is normal and get excited about things like flamingoes, vineyards, and finding a cute local bookstore in the desert. And then I hear of a McDonald’s being burned and see photos of blocaded metro stations in Santiago and that excitement condenses into a rock that drops right into the pit of my stomach and makes me queasy.

It’s been a tough year for me travel wise. I’ve gone on a few trips but they were to New York, Toronto, and Halifax. All places I love but have been many times. I’ve only had 8 days off work in this calendar year. I’m craving something new. I’m craving adventure.

But this kind of adventure? Not what I had in mind.

I’m one of the first who says you shouldn’t let the media too heavily influence your travel decisions. It’s too easy to only hear about the bad things happening. I don’t advocate for being an ostrich with your head in the sand either. It’s important to stay up to date but also talk to people on the ground. Find out what’s really happening. Check Facebook groups. Check Reddit threads. Look on Twitter. I’ve been in South Korea before when western media was getting worked up about news coming out of the north but no one in Seoul was bothered by it. It was business as usual. Maybe a person could spend two nights in Santiago or Valparasio or La Serena and manage to avoid the unrest?

If we give known protest areas in Santiago a wide berth and make sure to be back at our accommodations before dark, can we still have a nice trip? Should we even be vacationing at a time like this? Would it be insensitive to the locals to still want to visit vineyards, go sandboarding in the Atacama, and see the street art in Valparaiso? Or would it be a good thing for us to keep our trip and support the tourism industry, which is taking a hard knock right before peak season?

Questions I don’t yet have answers for.



  1. Saurabh says:

    November 11th, 2019 at 8:02 am (#)

    No traveler want to get caught into the Civil unrest of destination country. Completely understand your situation

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