Monday, September 22, 2008

Fiestas Patrias

September 18th is Chile´s Independence day and, to be honest, I learned more about the county´s and history and traditions in this one week than I had in the entire month prior. On the last day of classes before vacation, we had a school wide presentation and celebration. Everyone wore traditional "huaso" clothing, which for girls included a brightly colored flower dress and for boys, boots, spurs, hat, and jacket. I felt a little out of place, even the German exchange student had a dress, but it was fine. I decided before I leave im going to buy atleast a hat. Earlier that week, I was asked to join a group that would play the traditional folk music as others preformed the "cueca", the national dance. It was an honor since the music director told me he´d never incorporated an exchange student in the presentation before. After every class presented a form of either the cueca or a dance from Easter Island, we went outside and enjoyed a buffet of Empanadas and Alfajores (sp?)- a common dessert and by far the best tasting combination of dulce de leche (manjar) and cookies I have ever had.
The following week, we drove 5 hours north to San Vicente and El Tambo, two smaller towns on the outskirts of Santiago where the family´s Campo was located. I had visited the property before, but it was dark and I never got a good view of the place. It sat at the base of a rather tall mountain, although the backdrop image of Andes made it seem like a hill. All around the house were different types of trees: lemons, oranges, grapefruits, avocado, chestnuts, almonds, walnuts... and of course a cluster of grape vines. My "grandparents" make their own jelly, wine, and enjoy fresh fruit all year around. For three days strait we celebrated the indpendence with extended family and enjoyed endless barbecue. Every morning my grandmother would wake up early and prepare homemade empandads de Pino. Pino is a mixture of meat and onions, but added to every empanada is one olive, one rasin, and a bit of a hard boiled egg- I don't understand why exactly, but it is delicious. We used a traditional clay oven to cook the meat and, with strict direction of my grandmother, I prepared my own empanada. I brought along a bottle of Millstone Maple Syrup as a gift for the grandparents and, like my host parents, they aknowledged the gesture and stored it away. It was clear they weren´t going to try it any time soon... so that night during tea I took it out and made everyone try it. They instantly fell in love and started adding it to bread, tea, bannanas, and even ate pure spoofulls. Eventhough I struggled to describe the process, they were all impressed that I had contributed to making it, especially since the grandparents prepare alot of dishes from fresh produce on their farm.
The next morning my uncle, Andres, woke me up and said, "gringo, lets go". Wasn't exactly sure where and to be honest this guy was a little intimidating. People call me gringo, but he would take it a step too far, asking me, "Como esta aya en Gringolandia?" and "Por que no estas en el ejercitio con Papi Bush?". He turned out by the "funny uncle" and once I joined his game of sarcasm we got along quite well. More than anyone else, Andres would sit and talk with me about Chile and just about anything. We were on a mission to buy Chicha- a traditional sweet wine- that is often served in a cup made from a bull´s horn. After two wrong addresses, we found our Chicha vendor and syphined the wine strait from the barrel into the Coca Cola bottles we brought along. Satisfied, we returned to the Campo, or farm, and began the third and last bbq. In between the lunch BBQ and the dinner BBQ we played a recreational game with Tejos, which was alot like bochi except we used heavy discs (Tejos) and tossed them baiscally into a pile of mud. I partnered with my father in a tournament and lost in the final match against his father...
That night we went out to a "ramada" or "fonda", which is like a carnival with live music and such. It would have been fun if I had been with friends or at least people my age- I graciously declined several invitations to dance with my aunt...nonetheless it was a good time. El Deciocho was filled with tradition, culture, good food, and good people. When I was asked to compare the festivities to the 4th of July I was a little embarrassed that we didnt have a traditional dance or a typical food. With or with out fireworks, I enjoyed Las Fiestas Patrias here in Chile much more than in the States.

Monday, September 1, 2008


With borrowed boots at least a size too large and a snowboard about a foot too short, I headed south to Mt. Corralco with friends of the family. I was estatic to get the oppurtunity to travel further south and to ski down the 13, 000ft giant located just a few kilometers west of the Argentinian border. Although it is winter, it rains ceaslessly in the Bio- Bio region and come summer it will remain consistently dry. To find snow you have to reach the higher elevations in the Andes Mountain range. From what I have been told, the current weather conditions are unusual; it pours continuously and many people are suffering from flooding rivers and city streets.
Proceding slowly through the wind and rain, we drove by the large agricultural plots maintained by the foresty industries and passed audacious bike riders pedaling through the unfortunate weather. Some things are just different; pedestrian traffic on major highways, stray dogs around every corner, eating dinner past 10:00 pm...
The rain showed no signs of stopping when we arrived at the small cabin and I questioned the possiblity of snow. After hours of competitive card games and passing the guitar around, we got to bed at around 3:00 am- it was no surprise that no one woke up until 11:00 the following morning. Since the weather wasn´t looking promising we collectively decided not to go skiing; however, made a deal to wake up before 8:00am on Sunday . Instead, we fled to Malalcahuello, a thermal spring and spa, where we spent the afternoon in the naturally hot water. After wallowing in the hot tubs, we returned home for endless barbeque, more music, and a never ending game of Uno (my friends were confused that the universal card game didnt translate to ¨one¨ in the USA).
We held on to the promise to wake up early; however, when arrived to the mountain in the morning it was closed becuase of poor conditions. We could have guessed that weather would only be worse at 10,000ft, but I didnt think the entire hill would close down during prime skiing season. And so we did not go snowboarding, but nevertheless, I enjoyed getting close and hopefully I´ll find another opportunity to see some snow. As for meeting new people and having a good weekend, the trip was worthwhile.