When I woke this morning I could hear sirens outside. I thought nothing of it and couldn't actually see anything because the shutters were over the windows. I soon went into the hostel's living room, and casually went on my laptop as scenes of violence played on the television; again I thought nothing of it. It was only when I attempted to leave the hostel to get some lunch that the receptionist said 'are you crazy?! You can't go out there!'. Turns out that for the whole morning there had been unauthorised student protests across the major areas of the city centre, which had resulted in violent clashes with riot police, buses on fire, water cannons, and tear gas.
Despite all of the above, I still managed to get out and have some lunch at the restaurant right next door to the hostel. After agreeing to let me in, the doorman raised the metal shutter and I had to run under so it could be closed behind me. Eating in a near-deserted restaurant with all the doors and windows boarded up was a slightly surreal experience, and the lingering tear gas in the air didn’t help either. It really gets at your nose and throat, and you end up sneezing and coughing.
By the end of the lunch the whole thing was dying down outside, though there were still a lot of student types hanging around on the empty streets with masks over their faces. As a result I decided to wait at the hostel for a bit before going out to see some sights. When I did eventually get out my main stop for the day was the Cerro San Cristobal, which is a hill in the northern part of the city. The hill is home to the city’s zoo near the bottom, and an amphitheatre and church at the top. Everyone I saw seemed to be riding the funicular to the top, so I followed suit given it was a reasonable £2.50 return.
Once at the top I got to take in some great views, with mountains to the east and the sprawling city beneath. I then walked up to the amphitheatre, where Pope John Paul II gave mass in 1987, and a statue of him had been erected as a tribute to the occasion. Slightly further up from the amphitheatre was a large (22m I later found out) statue of the Virgin Mary. I sat for a while to take it all in before heading back down to the funicular station. However, instead of riding it back to the bottom, I stumbled across the hiking path close by. A sign advised it was only an 18 minute descent, so I decided to give it a go. The hike was reasonably easy, though definitely took longer than the advertised time (or maybe I’m just not a good hiker).
By the time I got to the bottom it was getting dark so I decided to head back to the hostel. As I walked through the streets people all around were coughing, sneezing and covering their faces due to the tear gas – an unusual experience! In the evening I relaxed for a while before heading out with some people from the hostel.
Photos of the day: the view from the top of Cerro San Cristobal, and armoured vans in the deserted streets, with tear gas in the distance. and