We have arrived.
This will be a rather long post. Just so you’re aware. Settle in, find some Chilean music (I suggest cumbia or cueca) to play in the background. If I owned any I would attempt to upload it myself.
Let’s go back to the beginning of this vacation, shall we?
While the rest of my group flew off on an amazing adventure to the Atacama desert, I stayed back in Santiago to help out with the fonda dieciochera (September 18th party) that my service site hosted for the kids and their families as a fundraiser. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Why wouldn’t you want to see a ton of little kids dressed up in traditional costumes dancing the national dance??
I’d like to discuss that for a second. Every kid- no, really. Every kid- was dressed up in the clothes. Beautiful ruffled and floral dresses for the girls, dark pants with boots, a hat, and a mantel (like a poncho, but square and smaller) for the boys. And they all knew how to dance la cueca, which is Chile’s national dance.
America: what’s up? I know we come from lots of different cultural traditions and so agreeing on one singular dance would be quite difficult. But can’t we pick like…3? And everyone learn the very basics in gym or music class? (Okay, sure, those programs are being cut in many schools. Just ignore that for a second.) Chileans ask me to demonstrate American dancing, and I just shake my head and tell them no. No, I can’t. What would you like to see? Grinding? The Dougie? Hardly “typical” or based in our national identity. A square dance? A fancydance? I don’t know how to dance those! But why didn’t I ever really learn them?
We served a whole bunch of traditional food and drink as well: empanadas, choripan, and terremotos (which is a crazy strong alcoholic drink made with pineapple ice cream and multiple liquors), among other things. I would have had a lot more pictures for you had I not been in charge of keeping the children from fighting and hurting themselves on the trampoline. But here are a couple photos I did manage to take!
Important castellano words to know when you’re in charge of a trampoline: sube (get on), baje (get off), ¡baja al tiro! (get off right now!, no empujen (don’t push), cuidado (be careful!), ¡voy a llamar a la tía! (I’m going to get the tía!) (I’m a tía, but I’m not the tía in charge. They know who I mean when I say “la tía.”)
Lessons learned during that week: feeling like part of the family eventually just happens if you want it to. Just chill out.
BUT, right when you think you’ve gotten there, homesickness rears its big fat ugly head, grabs you back up in its claws and decides not to let you go for a few days.
So you Skype your friends and family. You bust out the Carole King, Elton John, and your Elite pañuelos de cónfor (Chilean Kleenex) and hold on for the ride.
There’s just nothing I can do about it but let it pass and avoid making a scene about it. Keeping myself busy helps a whole heck of a lot. Boredom and restlessness just beg for a round of frustrated tears.
And then I went on a trip.
Before I get into it, I would like to apologize in advance for the grand lack of photos. In many instances, it was awkward to just whip out the camera and start clicking, nor did I want to ruin the moment by announcing that I was about to take a photo. Another thing: Chile is not tourist-y. This is not like New York or London where everyone is taking photos of every single thing all the time. So bear with me; this will be a lot of words and not a ton to look at.
Can we just talk for two seconds about how I have bad luck with buses? As in, I can’t ever just get where I’m going without going somewhere else in between or just doing it absolutely wrong. I’ve had a couple nights here in Santiago where I’ve come about this close to calling my host dad for help getting back home. One night where I really should have called him and someone sent me two angels in the form of a lady and a bus driver who saved me. And now I have an old iPhone just for the fact that it has Internet and maps in case I screw up again (the look I got from host dad when I got this present told me that he somehow found out about my late night bus adventures. Oops.).
(Everybody who’s praying for me back home: thank you. Clearly I need it…)
Anyways. This leads me to the day I was leaving for Linares to celebrate fiestas patrias with my pre-program host family. I was dropped off at the metro with plenty of time to get to the bus terminal. I got to the bus terminal about an hour ahead of time. I found a friend there and we walked around for a little while, and then I decided I should figure out where my platform actually is. Then the lady at the booth tells me it’s at another terminal nearby. So my friend and I walk to another terminal. This is also the wrong terminal. This is five minutes before my bus is about to leave.
By the time I get to the correct terminal, I’ve missed my bus by about five minutes. (Really, Santiago bus terminals? Would it kill you to put up a sign saying that THIS is Terminal Sur?!) Which means that after some frantic texting and calling, I end up waiting two and a half hours for another bus. You can imagine how this did wonders for the homesickness that’d been bothering me.
But eventually, I made it! I was welcomed with empanadas and wine. Being that I didn’t get in until 9:30, more than three hours later than I’d planned, I thought we’d just have something to eat and head to bed. Oh noooo. At about 12:30 (AM. 00:30 for all you international time fans.), we headed out to Colbún, about 40 minutes away, to las ramadas. Las ramadas is another word for fonda, which is another word for party/fair, or the typical public fiestas patrias celebration. (fiestas and celebration are redundant. This is what I get for using Spanglish.). We paid a small entrance fee to a big barn, where there were tons of people dancing to a live cumbia band. Cumbia is a kind of music, very upbeat and kind of like Chilean country music, if you can imagine that. Just Google it. It was very fun and the dance is so easy that I barely consider it an actual dance.
So we were there dancing in a barn until 4:30 AM. It didn’t matter at all that I missed my first bus! We had a whole night’s worth of celebrating anyways. There was some really beautiful cueca going on at the end of the night, too. Just young people in street clothes, dancing this dance like it was their life’s calling, all pride and joy. No photos. It was dark.
MIÉRCOLES, 18/9: DÍA DE INDEPENDENCIA
September 18th, 1810 marks the historically recognized beginning of Chile’s independence, although there’s something about it being in February and actually several years later. Anyways. We party on the 18th!
Here’s what our street looked like that afternoon. Chileans are obligated to fly the flag on certain days of the year.
My 18th was actually quite relaxed. We went over to the grandma’s house for lunch (cazuela and empanadas. All we were missing was pastel de choclo and it was about as Chilean as it gets.) and dinner (asado. Grilled meat. So much grilled meat.). This day was a little bit less fun. I felt a little bored/uncomfortable while at the grandma’s house all afternoon, mainly because there wasn’t much conversation, and it was just a slow day. Then I started to miss my host family in Santiago (have I ever told you that I like routine and get attached to people? Yup.). I was quite thankful when we headed out to visit more ramadas to try chicha, which is a very sweet alcoholic grape drink made with the remnants of the winemaking process. These ramadas were less fun. One just had a bad vibe- I could feel myself being stared at (I had to be the only blonde for kilometers), and there had been a stabbing there earlier in the week. The next one was very quiet, and the chicha there had a weird chemical taste. Oh well!
I did take photos, but they turned out dark. Grr.
The 19th of September is also a federal holiday, called Las Glorias del Ejército, which means the Glories of the Army. Apparently the special thing about the 19th is the big parade of the armed forces. I learned that Chile has some really nice uniforms. And that their armed forces goose step.
More fondas! ¡Más chicha! After lunch we went to two more fondas to find chicha to buy for my Linares host dad, who was up working at the copper mines instead of vacationing with us (the Chilean copper industry runs on its own schedule). We enjoyed cabritas, which is kettle corn minus the salt, and churros rellenos (churros filled with manjar, Chile’s caramel or dulce de leche). We finally found a chicha that had the right taste and bought a few liters’ worth. We also watched this contest in which they strung a live duck up by its feet and a bunch of guys on horses galloped at it and tried to snatch it down. Oh, if only PETA had been there…
We went home and had another huge dinner of asado. Here’s what our parrilla looked like.
I tripped on the last step of the staircase while I was bringing my luggage downstairs and nearly sprained my ankle. Apparently I can’t just get on a bus without incident like a normal human being. I enjoyed one last big Chilean breakfast with a hearty helping of bread (hallulla and marraqueta, I’m looking at you) and headed back to this big smoggy city I’m living in for a while.
There were almost a few more tears this morning. Not because of homesickness- that appears to have passed for now- but because I realized it may be a very long time before I see my Linares family again, if I ever see them again. Think about it: I only have so many more months left here. I can only travel on the weekends. I have a lot of other places to see before December 11th. So it was a pretty big goodbye.
Here’s hoping that I get back to this country again some day. Because I kind of love it a lot.
Well, we took the long way, but we got here! Hope that satisfies your blog cravings, folks. Talk to you all again soon!
P.S. I’ve gotten some new “likes” recently. Please comment! I love hearing from all of you!