200 years of celebration!
10.09.2010 - 21.09.2010 24 °C
After "aguantando" (surviving) a frigid Chilean winter that proved to be the coldest three months of my life, I have a new appreciation for centralized heating--which we don't have--and large electric space heaters--which pumped meager whiffs of hot air onto my face as I shivered to sleep. During skype dates, I sensed confusion from family and friends as they gazed upon my indoor attire: winter jacket, hat, scarf, and the occasional pair of gloves. I truly believe we have the coldest apartment in Santiago. But, as I said, the winter has finally been put to rest and spring is shining its gloriously sunny face on our days in Chile. And just in time for "fiestas patrias" or Chilean Independence Day!
Well, technically Chile didn't gain independence from Spain until 1818, but that's no reason to stop the celebration--and celebrate we did! Chile brought on the festivities full force this year as they rejoiced in 200 years of freedom from tyranny...though the focus tended to be more on empanadas and cueca than on political freedom, but I wasn't complaining. To get the month started off right, Saint George hosted "Dia de la Chilenidad," or "Chilean Day," yet another reason to envy the hippie-minded students who do more celebrating than studying. The first unit (Kindergarten-4th grade) held a massive dance-a-thon with no less than 800 students between the ages of 5 and 10 performing typical Chilean dances. My particular favorite was the second grade rendition of Easter Island dances (sau-sau, upa-upa) with the boys wielding long wooden sticks that pounded the floor--and their tiny chests--as they grunted along with the music while the girls swayed back and forth in flowing grass skirts and coconut bras. Classy.
Second Graders Performing Traditional Easter Island Dances
The third unit (high school) was even more entertaining, as Saint George threw them a "fonda," the typical Chilean outdoor festival. Students nibbled on empanadas and choripanes (similar to a bratworst), danced the cueca, and, I kid you not, rode a mechanical bull. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Saint George is a very special place.
My Attempt at Dancing the Cueca with a 5th Grade Student
After school the next day, we headed to the beach for a teacher retreat with the Saint George faculty. The retreat center was in El Quisco, a small beach town with incredible rocky-ocean views. There, we relaxed, learned about the soon-to-be sainted Brother Andres, and caught up with colleagues. That night, we sipped pisco sours around a blazing bonfire, shared a few laughs, and even roasted a few marshmallows; that is, I roasted a few marshmallows and everyone marveled at the level of my gringo-ness. I just never could pass up a good roasted marshmallow!
On Friday morning, I rushed home to see my former college roommate Julie McElroy who was visiting for the fiestas patrias. We wasted no time in reacquainting ourselves and then began a whirlwind tour of the city and its surroundings. Highlights included a visit to La Chascona--Pablo Neruda's Santiago home named after his mistress's untamed hair--a wine tour at Concha y Toro, a Notre Dame game watch, and trip up and down the snowy slopes of Valle Nevado.
Concha y Toro
ND game watch
During the week, I was busy with spiritual formation sessions at Saint George but rushed home everyday to spend time with Julie, which always involved eating large quantities of delicious, greasy foods (see photo of chorrillana). We even squeezed in a visit to Los Adobes de Argomeda, a restaurant which specializes in Chilean barbecues and live dance performances. The specialty of the evening was, unsurprisingly, the cueca, which was performed in every version possible--southside, seaside, and even clownside.
On Wednesday, Saint George held a bicentennial mass, complete with traditional dancers in costume and extremely talented musicians (did I mention I was in the choir?). Afterward, we shared a delightful abundance of typical Chilean fare: empanadas de pino, mote con huesillo, bread with pebre, steak, humitas, and more. Top it off with a plateful of fruit under a chocolate fountain and let it suffice to say that I was one happy gringa. Once school was out, the real celebration of fiestas patrias began. That evening, Julie and I joined some of my Chilean friends for a salsa lesson at Maestra Vida. We learned a few moves, stepped on a few toes, and had a great time.
Thursday morning started extra early as we packed our bags and drove south towards Cajon de Maipo. At this point, it seems necessary for a brief discourse about Chilean drivers. My boyfriend bought a "jeep" about a month ago but, as he still has yet to apply for his driver's license, I have been racking up the kilometers in the driver's seat. And, no, the quotation marks accentuating "jeep" are not haphazardly placed for emphasis or flair--I am, after all, a well-versed English major. On the contrary, "jeep" is so marked because it is the official Chilean word for any type of SUV, a helpful fact to know when explaining to friends why Diego's jeep wasn't quite so jeep-like.
But I digress. Back to Chilean drivers. In the states, I have always been hesitant to honk my car's horn, believing it better etiquette to wait out the stupidity of other drivers, no matter how long it takes them to notice the green light. However, in Chile, honking takes on a new meaning. It is a form of greeting, a "Hello, how are you today?" "Fine, thank you, and you?" It is an attempt at mind-reading--"You appear to be going for a run, but wouldn't you just love to hop in this taxi?" But, above all, it is a way to express your slightest irritation with lane changing, green light hesitation, or basically any movement from other vehicles. At first, the gringa in me took offense to the constant honking; now, however, I have embraced it wholeheartedly and even honked once myself! Ah, cultural experiences.
Back to Thursday. Julie and I, dressed ready for serious trekking, drove down to Cajon de Maipo where the snow-topped mountains and quick-flowing rivers had us oo-ing and ah-ing the whole way there. At one point, we were stopped by the carabineros (police) for a mandatory check and my chatterbox reputation finally proved its use--I maintained just enough conversation to keep the officer's attention away from my Visa, and the fact that I have lived in Chile for much longer than the three month limit for using a foreign license. My parents would be so proud.
Once we passed the police, the gently paved road came to an abrupt stop and we began bouncing along the narrow gravel roads up and down the mountainside. One hour later, we arrived at Monumento El Morado, a breathtaking mountain hike which, in ideal weather conditions, take the adventure-seeker to the foot of a glacier. Unfortunately, without boots or waterproof pants we were poorly prepared for deep snow, but we still managed to hike up to the panimavidas, a series of bubbling pools with a scarlet hue from the rich mineral deposits underground. The backdrop was too beautiful for words, so we had a photo shoot instead. A pair of snow angels was our final imprint on the mountainside as we slowly made our way back down the mountain and, after a quick zipline across the river, arrived back in Santiago.
On Friday, Julie, Diego, and I went to our first "fonda," which, as I mentioned previously, is a Chilean festival. Imagine state fair meets rodeo meets dance show and you have a more or less accurate picture of the glorious "fonda." Since we arrived early, we were able to partake in many of the drink samples, ranging from chicha, made from fermented grapes or apples, to navegado, a mix of red wine, oranges, and spices. At 11:00AM, the meat grillers were already hard at work and the rodeo was in full swing. The concept of the Chilean rodeo is similar to those popular in Texas, though the huasos (cowboys) of Chile wear flat-brim hats and their main event is a two-man (and two-horse) effort to corral the cow from one end of the stadium to the other and then push him up against a pad on the wall. The rodeo was somewhat intriguing but the gasps emitted by my animal-loving friend for each cow shoved against the wall made our rodeo visit a quick one.
The next event was the games tent, complete with Taca Taca (foosball) and loteria (bingo). The caller raced through mumbled Spanish numbers and I frantically plopped pieces of dried corn on what appeared to be the correct translation. A few minutes into the game, I looked over at "I don't speak Spanish" Julie's board and was surprised to see she had one space left. "Ochenta y tres" muttered the caller. "That's your number!" I told Julie and then uttered a series of sounds not translatable in either language until it became clear to the caller that my friend had won. With a prize bottle of pisco sour held snugly under her arm, Julie had officially lost her gringa right to deem herself monolingual.
After we had our fill of fonda fun, we hopped a taxi and a metro to Santiago's most cherished trashy bar, La Piojera, which is Chile's closest rendition of Notre Dame's Backer. But, instead of large plastic cups of long island ice tea, La Piojera offers the "terremoto" or earthquake and, just for fun, a smaller version known as the "replica" or aftershock. Julie, Diego, and I joined forces with some of our OLM volunteer friends and Diego's colleague, with a few random Chileans hanging around our periphery throwing black olives and shouting. Part of the wonder of La Piojera is the constant cheering which, from an onlooker, would seem to be a raging game-watch; however, a quick glance around the premises reveals neither a TV nor radio to pump up the crowd. The cheering, it seems, spawns from nothing less than pure nationalist pride...and perhaps a terremoto or two.
From there, we headed to La Moneda, the president's palace, to see Puro Energia, Puro Chile, a light and video show projected onto the front of the building. Amidst the crowd of children propped up on shoulders and towering men, it was difficult to make out the show, but the bits of flashing lights and projections that I caught were pretty impressive.
Saturday, Julie's last full day in Chile, we decided to head to the coast. Diego, Julie, and I piled into the "jeep" and drove to Valparaiso, famous for being one of the most important ports in South America and home to thousands of artists and musicians. We saw a bit of the military parade and then spent the day wandering up and down the cobblestone streets in the "cerros" (hills) of the city. It is often said that Valparaiso's vivid graffiti and colorful homes bring out the photographer in everyone, and we were no exception.
Late afternoon brought us to Vina, Valparaiso's ocean-side cousin. Vina is the more popular place to relax on the beach, evident from the towering apartments where santiaguinos stay on the weekends when they can get out of the city. We snapped a few shots on the beach and ate ice cream as we watched the sunset. Seeing the car's lights on--for the second time this week--gave us all a scare but, luckily, it still started. We stopped through Algorrobo on the way back for a quick "once" with Victor and Marianne and then, at last, crawled into bed.
Julie's last event in Chile was, appropriately, a barbecue. Johnnie and Felipe invited us over for some freshly grilled meat, an offer I never have been able to turn down, and we shared a few stories before driving to the airport and saying our sad farewells. But, the party doesn't stop there! Sunday night was the perfect chance to check out Yein Fonda (pronounced "Jane Fonda"), a clever name for the best live music fonda in Santiago. The entrance proudly bares a large banner with a young, blonde Jane Fonda, for which I'm sure she receives yearly copy-write funds...NOT! The event was packed and, though pricey, it was well-worth it for the chance to dance cueca for hours and rock out to typical Chilean tunes from Pentinellis, Buddy Richard, Los Tres, and Chico Trujillo. The next day, Diego and I hit up two more fondas with more live music, food, and dancing. As the last one closed up shop, I finally decided that I had reached my fonda fill...for 2010, at least.
The best thing about Chileans is that they never really are ready to let the party go and, for up to two weeks after fiestas patrias, I still heard stories of "el 18 chico," parties to use up the food left over from the Independence Day weekend, or basically an excuse to have more barbecues. And, with the city heating up more and more each week, I know that, as far as barbecues are concerned, this is only the beginning.