Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Fiestas Patrias in Santiago and Pichilemu

The 18th of September is to Chile what the 4th of July is to the U.S. In historical terms, it marks the anniversary of the birth of Chile's first governing body, which eventually led to them becoming independent. Culturally, it means a month long celebration and lots of patriotic displays everywhere you go. In Spanish "18" is "dieciocho" so most people simply refer to the holiday as "the dieciocho".

Sadly, I won't be here for it this year because I am leaving for Korea later this week. But I can already see the decorations everywhere I go these days and I even caught a "cueca" performance the other day when I went out for lunch with some friends. "Cueca" is the traditional dance in Chile, and it's mostly only done in September for the Dieciocho. Basically, the inspiration comes from a mating dance between birds. So it's very flirtatious and involves a lot of heavy eye contact, which I've always found super awkward whenever I've tried to dance it. But it's fun and there are many variations on how to dance it depending on the region.

Cueca dancers at a summer festival in Puertos Natales

While many people celebrate the Dieciocho by spending time with their family and having a barbecue, there are also big community parties called "fondas". A "fonda" is actually a kind of tent or shelter, sometimes made with palm fronds, where you can eat typical Chilean food like empanadas, anticuchos (like a meat kebab), and drink things like Pisco Sours or Terremotos (you might remember this from a previous post, it's a wine, liquor and pineapple ice cream combo that guarantees you a nasty hangover the next day).

Flavors include "Sickly Sweet" and "OMG They Somehow Made It Sweeter". Photo from here.

Around Santiago there are a lot of big Fondas that you can go to. I've been to all of the really big ones now, and each has it's own style. One of the biggest is near my apartment in centro, in Parque O'Higgins. It's very family-friendly during the day, but can get pretty wild at night from what I've heard. It has lots of live music venues, food, rides, crafts, and a huge space for kids to fly kites, one of the Dieciocho traditions.

Another one of the biggest and most interesting is the Fonda Intercomunal in La Reina. From where I live it's pretty far away, right up near the Andes mountains. I liked it though because it had a more traditional feel than the fonda in O'Higgins. You can see a lot of horsemanship shows and rodeos, plus the usual traditional games, cueca, music and food.

Horse riding show at the Fonda Intercomunal La Reina. Photo from here.

But one of the best places I went to celebrate the Dieciocho was a small coastal city south of Santiago called Pichilemu. The town is famous for its September celebrations, as well as for being a great place to surf. We went with some friends during our first year in Chile and camped next to the beach. It was pretty cold, but we still had a great time hanging out on the beach, eating food at local fondas and listening to live music. (But a word of advice: the parties can be crazy, so if you plan to sleep AT ALL during the holidays, bring your earplugs.)

Horseback riding on the beach in Pichilemu

While we were there we also visited a gorgeous beach nearby with beautiful views and watched a surfing competition. If you're looking for a quiet weekend away, Pichilemu is not for you, but if you want live music, horseback riding, good local food, etc. it's definitely an amazing place to spend the holiday.

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