Summer in Santiago (and the south)

Summer in Chile is rather short, however in just two months or so, the country packs in an incredible amount of activities, festivals, concerts and cultural activities and many weekends at the beach. In Santiago, the month of January is renowned for its theatre and musical performances during a month-long festival called Santiago a Mil (translated as “Santiago 1000” due to the price of tickets many years ago only being 1000 pesos). But many of the shows are actually free and occur in unlikely places like subway stations and parks. Then, across the country in other cities, towns and even the smallest of villages there are festivals and ferias (markets) which usually focus on the local artesania (crafts), food and music…

So, since returning from Brazil and Argentina in the beginning of January I have tried to make the most of what Santiago (and other parts of Chile) have on offer during the long, hot summer days. And I must say the long summer evenings have been wonderful and remind me a lot of the UK, except here you are guaranteed of sun since summer is the dry season. Here in Santiago I went to a couple of theatre shows and while they were really good, unfortunately my Spanish skills are still lacking when it comes to understanding really rapid, stage language. I wish I could understand more because many of the shows on offer looked really good.

The main highlight though, was a weekend away to Alto Bio Bio, about 8 hours south of Santiago for a festival costumbrista. This was the same area where I volunteered with Sendero de Chile in October and it was nice to return and experience the mountains and rivers in warmer weather. The main focus of the two day was music including a hip-hop Mapuche band, romantic Latin crooners, local folkloric groups and world-renowned Chilean acts like Los Javais and Los Tres. I know these names mean nothing to any of you, but trust me when I say they are amazing. Trying to describe the music in this blog will be difficult because the idea of “folkloric latino music”, again probably means nothing to you, but even without knowing the words to the songs, I was on my feet dancing away with a couple of thousand other people. One day when I get back to South Africa, I will no doubt subject some of you to this music…and you are sure to love it!

One of the members of Los Jaivas playing a traditional Mapuche drum

A folkloric group performed songs and dances from all over Chile

On the second night they also had a really famous Chilean comedian, but unfortunately just like with the theatre in Santiago, my comprehension skills for comedy are sorely lacking. I did understand one joke out of an entire hour, but pretty much nearly slept through the rest of his act. My friends reckon I am probably the only person to have ever slept through one of this guy´s shows…

The publicity for the festival described the two day event as a musical, artisanal and gastronomic festival focusing on the local Mapuche culture. But in my opinion, this was not really the case with the food being typical Chilean in terms of empanadas and sopaipillas and the artesania a real disappointment with most of the things on offer coming from China. The music was the highlight though and the main reason for going and this did not disappoint. And overall the event was really well put together, especially for a village of 500 people usually. The only other downside of the festival was the shocking lack of toilets – for at least 3000 odd people there were two bathrooms for the women. It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that events never have enough toilets…

But besides the festival, you all know how much I adore the mountains here and so spending a few days out of Santiago in the Cordillera is always wonderful. During the day, whilst most of the other visitors were sleeping off hangovers (some in the municipal park), Rodrigo and I hired mountain bikes and headed off into the mountains.

Enjoying the rivers, mountains and forest of Alto Bio Bio by bike

The last time I was on a bike in Chile was in San Pedro last April with a French guy where we rode nearly 40km in the desert. But since then I have had no practice on a bike and so my fitness skills were rather lacking in this regard, especially compared to Rodrigo who rides to work every day in Santiago… But anyway, I managed fine and we had a wonderful day in the countryside with a picnic next to a beautiful river and waterfall. I even decided in a moment of temporary insanity to have a super quick swim in the river. Let´s just say it was so icy that it took my breath away…but still it was a welcome relief from the heat. Arriving back in the village in the late afternoon, very hot and sweaty, my brief swim felt like it had never happened. All I wanted at that stage was a shower, but an earthquake near Concepcion in the afternoon (which we never felt) had cut the water supply. However, the sprinkler system in the park was still operating as I think it was from a borehole and we were so desperate to cool off that we went and stood under the spray. I can´t imagine what we must have looked like, but oh well. Being the only blonde obviously-foreign person at the festival, I attracted many second glances anyway, so what were a few more… Naturally, when we got back to our cabin after this rather unique “shower” we found the water supply had been restored.

Sadly, due to work commitments we could only spend two nights in Alto Bio Bio and arrived back in Santiago early on the Monday morning after 7 hours on a really cramped bus. Needless to say my productivity at work that day was rather poor. But another night on a bus in South America was well worth it for a weekend of music and mountains…

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

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One Response to Summer in Santiago (and the south)

  1. Pingback: A “quick” summer getaway – Part II | Tales of a girl & her bright red backpack

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