This past weekend Tom and I celebrated our first Chilean Holiday, and my was it a BIG holiday! Dieciocho (eighteen in Spanish) is the day traditionally heralded as Chilean independence from Spain. It is celebrated on the 18th of September every year, which is actually the start of their war for independence. Technically the war didn’t end until 1826, when the last Spanish troops surrendered and the Chiloé Archipelago was incorporated to the Chilean republic. One of the founding fathers and a crucial military leader was Bernardo O’Higgins who has left his name and his legacy all over Santiago including with the famous Bernardo O’Higgins Escuela Militar. If you’re wondering how he got the name O’Higgins (I know I was), he was of Irish and Basque descent.
Tom and I had been told that this holiday was a pretty big deal in Chile, but I’m not sure we were prepared for how serious it really was. We were thinking like 4th of July in the states, lots of BBQs, a few fireworks here and there, spend a few hours with family or friends, drink too much, and go home. A big day, but only one day and nothing too crazy.
In Chile, their independence day is not just one day but more like a 4-5 day celebration. Apparently they really didn’t enjoy being ruled by Spain because they celebrate in a big way. We had some hits and misses throughout the weekend. Some things were great and others not so much. I think the key to spending Dieciocho in the city is to have a Chilean family. If you don’t have a Chilean family then you probably aren’t going to get the most out of the weekend. Unfortunately we have yet to be adopted by a Chilean family, so we were on our own this weekend. I suggested that we just go to one of the many family gatherings in our building and try to blend in or just say that we are here with (fill in the blank) but Tom vetoed this idea. Personally I think an “Hola, commo estas” could have gone a long way to help our adoption cause! But despite our lack of a food sharing Chilean family to guide us I think we did a pretty good job on our own. After all it’s not called an adventure for nothin’!
We kicked the weekend off on Friday with a very fun office party at the Start Up Chile office where the staff tried (somewhat unsuccessfully) to teach us foreigners about the Chilean traditions surrounding the weekend. I say unsuccessfully not because I thought they did a bad job, but more because everyone was mostly just interested in the free beer and homemade empanadas. This is the office that we get to work in everyday. Jealous right?!?! ;o)
It’s part really old mansion type house, part super new state of the art technology. A very cool and aesthetically pleasing mix if you ask me!
Anyway, at the office party there was a lot of this
Which I think is how every office party should be. I mean can you really call it an office party if there’s no beer involved…I don’t think so. Anyway, this
is what said beer led to. Which was pretty great. Some traditional Chilean folk dancing. This particular dance is called Cueca and it is the national dance of Chile. This dance has rich historical roots in both African and Native American cultures. Even though Chileans have been dancing the Cueca for years, it wasn’t declared the official dance of Chile until September, 1979. The Cueca is a parody of the courtship of a chicken and rooster. The dancers wave handkerchiefs above their heads during the dance. These handkerchiefs can symbolize the feathers of the bird or the rooster’s comb. As one of our Chilean friends pointed out, it is a very sexist dance, but it’s pretty neat to watch either way.
Then it was our turn to learn the dance. Which was interesting considering the aforementioned beer.
The afternoon was really fun and everyone had a great time learning a little about Chilean culture. We even learned how to play some fun traditional Chilean games. At some point during the course of the afternoon they mentioned that many Chileans leave the city for the holiday and that it tends to be sort of empty during the day. We shrugged this off thinking that in such a large city there was no way that would be possible. In hindsight I’m not sure why we chose to believe that we knew better than the native Chileans. Surprise, surprise, they were right! The city was totally empty during the day with many Chileans going on vacation and the rest spending the day among family and friends at asados (BBQs). Which leads me to our rather disapointing Saturday adventure. Like I said, they weren’t all winners this weekend.
We had been hearing about a really awesome Fonda called La Yein Fonda for weeks. It’s literally pronounced “the Jane Fonda” (“y” is pronounced “j” in Spanish) and they definitely play up the pun
Traditionally in Chile a “fonda” is a temporary food and drink establishment set up to sell local food and drink to revelers and passersby. This type of temporary establishment dates back hundreds of years and traditionally is a small stall that stands in an empty lot with sticks, branches of eucalyptus and a roof of reeds. It looks something like this
(I didn’t take this picture, thanks Wikipedia!) This is a picture of a traditional Fonda. This Fonda was taken in a commune of Carahue.
Since they began celebrating Chilean independence and Dieciocho was born, these small individual Fondas have turned into huge gatherings of many different small independent eateries that set up their temporary stalls (sometimes just a hollowed out metal drum for BBQing) and sell their wares to hungry and thirsty revelers. So we had been told by many people including many Chileans that La Yein Fonda was the place to be. The name of this fonda comes from a band called Los Tres who released an album by the same name in 1996. The album consisted of songs the band had played in a park during the Deiciocho celebrations. The gathering of the band and soon many other bands became known as La Yein Fonda and has been a favorite destination for Chileans ever since.
Now, let me preface this my saying that we obviously went at the wrong time of day, we had something entirely different in mind, and I’m sure if you were Chilean and you had been doing the traditional Chilean celebration since birth it would be much more fun to go to a giant concert with a bunch on Chilean bands. Unfortunately for us, we did not grow up celebrating in the traditional Chilean way, we are not bored with the traditions and looking for something new and exciting, and we wouldn’t be able to understand a Chilean band even if we were. Tom and I really wanted to go to something with a bunch of different local vendors, cheap food and drink, lots of people celebrating, a festive vibe, with some traditional dance or like activities included. We had never been to a fonda before, so this is what we were hoping for and expecting from La Yein Fonda. Instead this is what we got
A big tent with a bunch of empty tables (remember how I said that the city was empty during the day because everyone was enjoying their asados?), a giant empty stage that wouldn’t be occupied for several more hours, an admission fee, grossly overpriced tiny portions of food and beer, and a very disappointed me
So we struck out on this one. We could have come back in the evening but the admission price was exorbitant, there was only one overpriced food and drink vendor, there was none of the tradition and local spirit that we’d been looking for, and we were both feeling a little down after our first failed attempt at joining in the weekend’s festivities.
So Instead we took a leisurely stroll through the city to Bella Vista for some dinner and micheladas.Along the way we saw a few interesting sights. There was a giant and rather ominous looking church at the end of the park that drew our attention.
This thing was truly massive.This church is formally called The Sanctuary and Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes and it was built in the early 1880s. It appeared to be closed perhaps due to the obvious earthquake damage it had sustained in recent years. But no earthquake damage could stop these persistent Catholics. Adjacent to the closed church were these two outdoor structures the first of which appears to be built into the side of a rock wall
The nearby vendors were also selling these
for those so inclined.
After leaving the park we walked several miles (even though Tom assured me that it wasn’t that far) through a mostly deserted city, with the exception of Plaza de Armas, which was pretty busy. Nearly every Latin American city has a “Plaza De Armas” which is the name for the main square. It is comprised of a large open square peppered with statues of famous presidents/political leaders and surrounded on all sides by historically important military, political, and/or religious buildings.
Correo Central or “Central Post Office”, standing at the former site of the city governors’ residence.
Originally the Central Post Office, now it is the Museo Histórico Nacional or National History Museum.
Catedral Metropolitana, one of four churches that has stood here. This one was built in 1747. The three before were each destroyed by a different calamity.
After our brief stop in Plaza De Armas and our epic journey (did I mention several miles?!?) through some beautiful old neighborhoods
we arrived here
and on this quiet balcony, in the early evening, with the heat of the day finally starting to lift we enjoyed some refreshing micheladas and this delicious champiñón pil-pil.
We also had some awesome sandwiches which I didn’t get a picture of because I was way too busy devouring mine. This restaurant is located in Bella Vista and it is called Ciudad Vieja which means “city view”. And boy does it have a great view of both the Bella Vista neighborhood as well as nearby Cerro San Cristobal. This place has been recommended to us by several of our friends and when we told them that we sat out on the balcony they were so jealous. Aparently when it is not a holiday weekend and the city isn’t deserted during the day this place is packed, so be prepared to wait. I think I can say without any doubt that it would be worth the wait. I had a smoked salmon sandwich with avocado on a warm croissant. And Tom had a Lomo Saltado sandwich which is a Peruvian dish consisting of slices of steak marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, and spices, then stir fried with red onions, parsley and tomatoes. It is traditionally served over white rice with homemade french fries that look more like potato wedges. Sound like a delicious idea for a sandwich? Tom confirms that it was indeed!
So that was the first half of our first Chilean Independence weekend. Like I said there were some definite hits (Start Up Chile office party and introduction to the Cueca) and some serious misses (La Yein Fonda), but there was also a healthy dose of exploration which resulted in some delicious rewards. “What about the second half of the weekend” you ask?
On Sunday, we went to the Fonda at Parque O’Higgins and found what we had been seeking all weekend, but I’ll save that for my next post…