So the excitement and build up to Chile’s bicentenario culminated in 4 days of eating, drinking, dancing and celebrating from 17 – 20 September. The entire country has been ablaze with red, white and blue decorations and flags flying proudly in the wind (as you can see from the image at the top of this post). Santiago has had an unbelievable atmosphere and the patriotism is evident everywhere!
Like many many other Santiago residents, we joined the mass exodus from the city last Thursday and headed for the beach about 2 hours north of the capital. It still amazes me how within an hour you can leave the towering snow-capped peaks of the Andes behind and be sitting on a dune overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Along with Coni and 7 other friends of hers I went to a tiny village on the coast called Los Molles. Despite being full of people for the long weekend, the place still had a very peaceful atmosphere. It was so wonderful to get out of the city for a few days and breathe some fresh, smog free air, hear the waves crashing along the bay and seagulls calling instead of traffic noises. As always, such trips make me wonder why we live in cities…
Now, the tradition for the dieciocho (18 Sept) celebrations is LOTS of eating and drinking of
traditional Chilean food and drink. I was a little nervous about how much seemed to be consumed in these few short days considering the newspapers and TV had been warning about health problems from over-indulgence for the preceding week or so and all my english students had warned me against drinking Chicha on the weekend! This is a traditional drink made from grapes or apples, but apparently as a foreigner I would not be used to how strong it is and often the quality is fairly dubious and mixed with food it is not always good. So after reading and hearing all the warnings I had a mixture of intrigue about just how much people actually eat on this weekend and some doubts as to whether my stomach would be able to handle it all.
And eat and eat and eat we did – every lunch and dinner (often only eaten at 1am) was an amazing asado (braai) with choripan (sausage in a small roll), empanadas, steak, steak and more steak, plus the odd bit of chicken. Along with this meat fest we managed to have a pretty balanced diet with salads and veges etc. The highlight of this was butternut stuffed with veges (mushrooms, peppers, spring onions etc) and roasted on the fire. I can proudly say this was a recipe that Coni got from my brother in Zambia and everyone loved it! Now based on all the warnings I took it easy on the drinking side of things for the first few nights which was a wise move I think considering all the food being indulged and not too much physical energy being used up (in between preparing or eating meals, we mostly relaxed, read, chatted and generally did nothing). However on Sunday, after the main celebrations at a Fonda the night before (more on this below) the over-indulgence seemed to have caught up with me and I was ‘man down’ with some stomach bug or something. At first everyone thought it was just too many piscola’s the night before, but it turns out that over the next two days other people got sick too, so there was obviously something going around. So even without drinking Chicha, dieciocho caught up with me and I didn’t eat anything for over 24 hours. Thankfully within a day or so I was 100% again, but I think it is going to be a while before I want to see a piece of red meat. I think in the whole 6 months I have been in South America so far, I have eaten more red meat than in my entire life so far.
So besides the eating and drinking, how was the bicentenario celebrated… across the country the traditional party is called a Fonda which typically takes place in a park, town hall or tent and this is where traditional food and drink is served. There is also much dancing at these events with the focus being on the traditional dance called Cueca! On Saturday night we went to two fondas in Los Molles. The first was not at all traditional and was crowded with loads of underaged kids drinking, so we quickly left, whereas the second was great fun with a very energetic band and much cueca dancing. I must have stuck out as the only foreigner at the Fonda as many people asked me (even while standing in the inevitable queue for the bathroom) where I was from and why I was there. Luckily a few piscola’s down meant I was quite happy to try and chat away in Spanish, although one guy was adamant he was going to try and speak in english to me and when that failed he switched to French even though I told him to try and speak to me in Spanish. Fun times I tell you…
Tuesday morning, back in Santiago and back to work it was evident that Santiago was a little quieter than usual. It felt like the entire city had a gigantic hangover! I don’t it was a very productive day in many companies and it wasn’t for me either considering for some of my lessons my students didn’t even show up. Clearly, it was a GREAT clebration for everyone!!!
Feliz Cumpleanos Chile!!! Y Bueno Suerte para el proximo 200 anos!!!