Photo by peregrine blue on Flickr.
With just a few weeks left until Chile’s national Fiestas Patrias, an alcohol-infused, rocking good time that marks the end of summer, the beginning of sunshine, and for most people, a stomach-distending amount of food, preparations are already underway. Already by the middle or end of August you’ll see red.-white-and-blue decorations and special boxes with packs of national-holiday-related food in the supermarket, and soon enough, you’ll see bright-pinafored dresses and small, typical suits for children with their signature matching wide-brimmed black felt hat called a chupalla sold on many city streets.
September 18th begins Chile’s national holiday, a day given to participation in fondas, which are (usually outdoor or tent-covered) parties at which people dance the cueca (the national dance), play traditional games, like the emboque (ball and stick), rayuela (similar to hopscotch), kite-flying (and fighting) and climbing a greased pole It’s part country fair, part block party, and a lot of parts fun. In addition, children usually dress up as tiny little huasos (countryfolk and cowboys), and everyone eats anticuchos (like a kebab) and empanadas, and much of that is washed back with terremotos (a local drink made of green wine topped with Fernet and pineapple icecream), chicha (fermented wine or grape cider) or wine (often out of a box, as this is no high-brow holiday).
You’ll hear the whining strains of the cueca long before you see anyone dancing it, but it is a couple’s dance, reminiscent of the conquest of rooster over hen, and is danced (quite skillfully) by many couples in the street, at the fondas or wherever, often twirling hankies above their heads they dance. Fondas that tend to attract more foreigners include the one in the Parque Intercomunal La Reina (bus only), the one at Estación Mapocho near downtown, and the most family-friendly, the fonda at Parque Iñes de Suarez in Providencia (bus or a walk from the metro).
On the national holiday, and during the days surrounding, everything is closed, and bus tickets become difficult to find. The day after the actual “dieciocho” (18th), is the celebration of the military, which is celebrated with a giant military parade in and around Parque O’Higgins (on the yellow line of the metro, but also not that far a walk from downtown).
Expect parties way into the wee hours, depending on which day the holiday falls from as long as two days’ out. And if you need anything from the supermarket, pharmacy, or any public service, make sure you take care of it before the holiday falls, because pretty much everyone is out having a good time as soon as it does.