Thousands of travelers were left stranded in Punta Arenas, Chile over the past few days due to protests, general strikes, and road blocks throughout the region. Unrest exploded in the area late last week when the Chilean government announced plans to raise the price of fuel by 17%, which caused riots in the street and closed off traffic both in and out of the city. Strikes and protests were also underway in the nearby town of Puerto Natales. Both cities are located in the far south of the Patagonia region of the country.
Punta Arenas is a port city with a population of about 155,000 and is a major launching point for tourists cruising the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica each year. During the high season, which is currently in full swing, thousands of foreign visitors pass through the city as they come and go from their various cruise ships. Those arriving back to port over the weekend were greeted with violence in the streets, protestors carrying signs, and a virtual stand still to all travel.
Reports from the city indicate that many shops and cafes have been closed for the past few days, and food is in short supply. The airport has been closed as well and road blocks have made it difficult for travelers to leave by ground vehicle to other destinations. Some made plans to go by bus to Argentina to seek passage back to their home countries.
There has been some encouraging news however, as protesters have agreed to allow the passage of some vehicles on the roads and there are indications that the airport would begin to open for limited traffic as well. As a result, travelers were expected to slowly start to filter out yesterday and today, finally getting the opportunity to begin their journey home.
This story is another good reminder that anything can, and will, happen when we travel in foreign countries. Some of the visitors to Punta Arenas have been stuck there for as much as four or five days and while most have places to stay, food has certainly been in short supply. Hopefully normal air travel will resume today and they can finally begin to head home, but it sounds like it has been quite an ordeal for foreigners, who have been caught in the crossfire between the government and the local population in Chile.
[Photo credit: South Atlantic News Agency]