I have just spent the last four days celebrating Fiestas Patrias (literally “Patriotic Parties”); the annual holiday commemorating Chile’s independence from Spain. The most important day of this holiday is dieciocho (the 18th) but, in true Chilean style, the whole country has pretty much dedicated an entire week to having BBQs and parties.
Below are the variety of events I attended in an attempt to be more Chilean (an impossible task for such an obvious gringa):
I went to a fonda:
A fonda is similar to any carnival you would find in England, expect with a multitude of Chilean twists and charms. They have the typical fair games you’ll never win, horse shows, people dancing caeca (more below), Chinchinero performances (musicians play bass drums that are strapped onto their backs), and so. much. food. I went to the fonda in Parque Intercomunal, and there they had the most enormous kebabs I have ever seen, completos, chocolate-covered pineapple, bright-pink caramelized apples, mote con huesillo (a very sweet drink made with maize and apricot) and, of course, empanadas (similar to a Cornish pasty, and you are always at least within 100m of one in Santiago).
I went to an asado:
Asado is the Chilean word for barbeque, and they are extremely popular all year round, but especially during Fiestas Patrias. My hostess kindly invited me to her friend’s asado in Las Condes and, again, we were presented with an obscene amount of food (surprise surprise, more empanadas). The ‘lunch’ lasted all day as we continued to eat, drink wine and chat (well, I listened, and occasionally threw in an insignificant and grammatically-incorrect comment) well into the evening. On the 18th I was amazed to see that the streets were practically empty and nothing was open – Santiago had transformed into some peculiar ghost town. When I questioned where the whole city has vanished to, someone explained quite simply that “everyone is at an asado”. Yes, Santiago had truly shut itself down so that absolutely everyone could enjoy a barbeque.
I experienced cueca:
Sadly, I didn’t partake in cueca (the national dance), but at the fonda I delighted in watching as kids, teenagers, adults and grandparents all mixed and matched to perform this endearing dance. Cueca mimics the bizarre mating ritual of a rooster and hen (less seductive than it may sound); the couple dance closer and closer together until they are almost touching, before leaping apart and waving handkerchiefs in the air (I am certain that, during Fiestas Patrias, every Chilean can produce a handkerchief from their pocket on command).
I watched the military parade in Parque O’Higgins:
Parque O’Higgins hosts the biggest fonda in Santiago and, although it has mixed reviews (too many people, lots of pickpockets), I would recommend going as I think it has one of the most infectious atmospheres of dieciocho you will be able to find in the city. On the 19th, I went to Parque O’Higgins to watch the annual military parade. There were thousands of people so I couldn’t see much unless it was on the big screen, but I did get a glimpse of Michelle Bachelet way, way in the distance, and watched the planes as they flew overhead.
If you’re ever going to visit Chile, I urge you to come for dieciocho.