The ferry in Chile was not quite what I was expecting; it felt more like a cargo ship than a ferry and smelled like one as well. The ferry was cheap and was going to get me around much of the nasty parts of Route 40 and closer to my goal of Ushuaia Argentina. Or so I thought.
After 36 hours and several stops the ferry was finaly in the harbour of Puerto Chacabuco, Chile. It was here that I was told about the protests in the region, and not by anybody official but by another passenger, who was also just informed. When bad news is delivered by a pretty woman it is somehow easier to take, Marie was very attractive and her news was very bad, for me anyway. It seems that this entire region is protesting over various issues and has set up road blockades throughout the region, no vehicles in or out. People wanting to leave on foot were free to walk and hope for the kindness of strangers to give them passage from one road blockade to the next.
Most of this news was given to me after I disembarked the ferry, and as I watched it sail away empty I considered my options. I decided to try my luck and see if the protestors would let me pass, I just wanted to cross into Argentina and be on my way. At the first barricade, where there were tires burning and many people were gathered. With nothing more than a smile and a brief explanation as to where I was going and why, I was allowed to pass and told to have a nice trip. Easy, what nice people. At the second barricade about 10 kilometers later, I simply slowed down, drove past the burning tires and waved, waves were returned and I was on my way. This was getting easy and I was excited about getting to Argentina.
I approach the third barricade, in Puerto Aysen, this one looked like a battle zone, tires were burning, rocks were all over the road and it was much bigger and dirtier than the others. I was approached my two serious looking men, before saying anything we shook hands, handshakes have gone along way for me on this trip and I was hoping that this time would be no different. But it would be. The more serious looking of the two men told me I could not pass. I explained to him where I was going and why, he didn’t care. I waited for a few minutes, trying to think of more Spanish words to help me out of the situation. I decided to ask about the protest and hopefully gain some insight on what was happening. Form what I could understand the entire region is protesting over, fuel prices, needing a university and life being difficult, I am sure there was more but I didn’t understand everything he said. He also informed me that talks had been going on with government officials since 10am that morning, it was now 1pm. I showed sympathy and great concern but was still not allowed to pass.
I returned to Puerto Chacabuco to find a hotel and think about my options, there won’t be another ferry for 3 days. The protestors at the first blockade helped me find a cheap place to stay. In town I met a European family travelling the same route as I am in their van, they have been stuck here for 4 days already and filled me in on the events that have been going on. Apparently the protests started small and there were only a few blockades set up, but the other day they did turn violent. In Puerto Aysen rocks were thrown at police, police used water cannons and fired rubber bullets. Since then the blockades have doubled and the police are nowhere to be seen. This was quite surprising given how nice people have been and how calm everyone appears. Right now, just outside my window teenagers are playing soccer in a field and a big dog I napping on the sidewalk.
There is only one road out of this town. There is one gas station and they are not open. There are very few stores and their supplies are getting low (I bought beer and chocolate bars, I am good). If the protest does not stop in three days I will have no choice but to return the way I came and take an alternate route. I have time to study the map.