Gone to See Patagonia 2010/2011. Photography Workshop with Thom Hogan. Day 19: Detained as Political Prisoners in Puerto Natales.
Another day and nothing has changed much. The locals are still patrolling the town in cars with black flags (black garbage bags) or the local flag. The vehicles range from old pickup trucks to high-end sports cars. We checked out of the hotel at noon, but will probably check in again in a bit. The locals tell us that we are not hostages since we can walk through the picket line and then walk 20-30 km with our luggage to the Argentine border (but don’t go off the road because of the minefields). They have not been letting ambulances through. There is a doctor here to do two kidney transplants in Punta Arenas that cannot get to the hospital. News has made it to the BBC, but we don’t see much if any coverage in the US press. There are several hundred tourists stranded here in Puerto Natales, many more in Punta Arenas, and 4000-5000 stranded in Torres del Paine National Park. The protest is over the repeal of a fuel credit of ~$6/month for this region. All of the cars and trucks driving around for the last several days checking to see if each house has a black flag flying and making sure that we don’t try to sneak out have already burned through much more money. This is going to devastate the economy in the region once the word gets out and tourist stop coming. The US Embassy in Santiago did finally issue a press release today to a Chile travel site (and not on the US State Dept site) — but no guidance or help getting out of the country.
22-January-2011 edit: Check out Thom Hogan’s blog about being held hostage in southern Chile.