I Almost Got Stuck in Chile With My Ex
The idea of getting stuck in another country terrifies me. Not so much the being overseas bit, but because it brings up memories of me hiding naked in a grand piano at 16 while my then-boyfriend’s mum vacuumed the lounge around it. If you’re reading this Rosemary — let’s talk.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality for a lot of people globally is that they’ve quite literally ended up stuck wherever they were in the world. Options for people making their way home, or planning their next big trip are still limited,
In March, I almost got stuck in Chile with my ex-boyfriend, Owen. Although questionable, this was a deliberate move.
Like a lot of my life choices, there wasn’t a lot of planning involved in the organisation of our trip. Owen and I booked tickets in January, thought about a few hikes we’d like to go on and places we’d like to visit, then flew over in March.
Our trip was kickass. We met some awesome people while hiking the W Trek in Patagonia, swam at gorgeous beaches that were overrun by the only other white people we’d seen in Chile, and got caught up in political protests on a daily basis. One night, we experienced a real fat cat moment: drinking pisco sours on a candle-lit rooftop as protestors below us rioted against the structural inequalities in Chile’s education system. Most were high school students, who were being sprayed with high-pressure hoses and tear gas by members of Chile’s armed police force. Let’s just say dinner didn’t sit well that night.
The pandemic was just beginning when we started our trek in Patagonia on the 14th of March, with only We thought that this was scary back then, but to put it in perspective, there are now over 10.3 million recorded cases of COVID-19 worldwide.
On the walk, we began to meet other hikers who talked about border closures and international travel bans. Neighbouring countries Peru and Argentina closed their borders on March 16, making it difficult for Owen to get home (he intended to fly back to the States from Argentina).
At this point, we were beginning to worry a little bit — but not enough to end our trip early. We spent the night of the 16th in Puerto Natales, and flew to the confirmed shit-town of Chile Puerto Montt the next day to chill out for a minute, visit the nearby island of Chiloé, and maybe add a couple more points to the ‘disappoint your parents’ board with some new tattoos.
“Chill”, however, didn’t seem to be in our vocabulary. We woke up on the 18th to the news that Chile was shutting its borders to all foreign residents for an undetermined period. We freaked out, took an illegal Uber to the airport, and hopped on a flight to Santiago.
We later found out that all flights from Puerto Montt to Santiago after ours had been cancelled.
Upon arriving in Santiago, we shelled out for flights back to the States and New Zealand respectively, navigated America’s bathroom-anxiety inducing ESTA policy, said some rushed Notebook-level goodbyes and got outta there.
We got lucky, both of us making it home okay.
But this is just one of millions of COVID-19 experiences. I’ve even got a friend who was stranded off the coast of Argentina after returning from an expedition to Antarctica. And there are still so many travellers stuck overseas trying to get home.
As dumb as this sounds now, we thought that this experience would be the most stressful we’d face for a while, but honestly, what’s happening in the world right now is far wilder than almost getting stuck. Owen’s back in the US, a country that’s not only failing to manage the COVID-19 crisis, but that has also recently seen the revival of a now global protest against systemic racism and police brutality.
With everything going on right now, it’s easy to worry about the future. Here in New Zealand, we don’t know how lucky we are. There is no current community transmission of COVD-19, and people are beginning to settle into whatever this “new normal” we keep hearing about is. But the rest of the world is pretty far off from this. There’s almost this sense of global cabin-fever, with people being cooped up for literal months on end.
A good friend of mine put it pretty simply the other day: “We don’t know where we want to be, but we know that we want to be there now.”
I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the last couple of days. In terms of travel, the world will still be there after COVID-19 is over. It might look completely different, in ways we can’t yet predict, but it will still be there.