Fiestas Patrias

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.


The City of Many Colours

“Valparaíso, how absurd you are… you haven’t combed your hair, you haven’t had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.”

Pablo Neruda

After a weekend spent in Valparaíso, it’s easy to see why Pablo Neruda drew so much inspiration from this chaotically colourful port city. There is art everywhere – on the walls, the steps, the floors, the windows. But it isn’t that fat graffiti font that declares something repetitive – these are paintings of scenes and people and imagination which astound with their detail and unusual combination of shapes and colours. I kept thinking that the pictures and mosaics would end, but however far we climbed up the cerros (hills – that wind up in incomprehensible labyrinths), the colour continued to explode from every corner.


Valparaíso is only an hour-and-a-half bus journey from Santiago, and my return trip cost less that £8 (I will be going back often). We booked ourselves into a ten-bed girls dorm at the Mitico Hostel (great bonding experience), and I would recommend this hostel to anyone as it’s very cheap with a friendly, bohemian atmosphere. The people working there took us out clubbing, and invited us to join their BBQ on the last evening.


We spent the weekend wondering up hills and regaining those calories in various restaurants located up one of the funiculars – if you can’t be bothered to climb the billions of stairs (who can, to be honest), funiculars will take you up the hills for 100 pesos (10p). We hiked up even more steps to visit Pablo Neruda’s five-story house La Sebastiana, built with enormous windows so as to invite inside the stunning views of multi-coloured houses and a gloriously turquoise sea (below).


I have definitely not experienced all that there is to see in this quirky city which, just as Neruda said, is wonderfully absurd and does look like it got dressed in five minutes – wearing an eccentric clash of colours and patterns, and fabulously over-accessorized. I will be back.




Photo of the Day No. 8


Taken on my way to my first photography lesson in Bellas Artes – which is slowly becoming my favourite place in Santiago. There are paintings and mosaics (as above) everywhere, and here I have discovered a place to buy vegetarian completos* – hurray! I thought, since I am vegetarian, I’d never be able to try a completo, so finding the fast food place Charly Dog has made me very happy.

Apologies for my creepy eyes in the photo.

* A completo is a Chilean speciality which is basically a hot dog with loads of toppings (no surprises – it usually comes with avocado).



Small Victories

My first couple of weeks in Santiago have mainly been about getting used to how this city works – because the small, everyday things that were easy in the UK are suddenly much more difficult and overwhelming (I only cried once though – hurray!). From figuring out the metro to understanding a menu, nothing can be done without a combination of Google Maps, the Spanish dictionary on my phone (which doesn’t include the hundreds of Chilenismos I come across daily) and a rehearsed speech of what I need to say in Spanish before I say it (no one ever follows the dialogue I set out for them in my head, though – which is pretty aggravating).

Nonetheless, the upside to everything being more difficult, is that after any accomplishment, however small, I feel a ridiculous sense of triumph. I have to remember these small victories whenever I am lost/confused/dazed/have-no-idea-what’s-happening. A few of my miniature triumphs are as follows:

  1. The first time I used Chilean slang in a sentence.
  2. The first time I got the Metro by myself and only got lost twice.
  3. The time I used the subjunctive in a Real-Life sentence.
  4. The drunk conversation I had with my Uber driver when I spoke more fluently than I ever have in my life (albeit pisco-induced fluency).
  5. The time I knew that ‘alcachofa’ on the menu meant artichoke (my vocabulary ranges from ‘limited’ to ‘pretty useless words’.)
  6. Any sentence where I don’t say ‘um’ about twenty times.

If I know the word for artichoke in Spanish, who really cares that I am mildly confused the rest of the time?