“The Avocado Republic of Chile, because it’s too Cold to Grow Bananas” is Chile’s ultimate tour guide. Laugh-out-loud funny and insightful. American writer, Walker Rowe, sick of the pollution and noise in Santiago moves to the country for peace and quiet. What he did not know is when you move to the country, you exchange one set of problems for another. Click through the arrows to read.
17 September 2014.
This week is Fiestas Patrias (Patriotic Holidays) in Chile. It’s the longest holiday of the year in this country which, like the rest of Latin America, has many holidays.
Having lived here for 4 years continuously, and traveled back and forth for 9, I am still a little confused as to what this holiday means. The first day, September 17, has something to do with independence from Spain, but that is not the day that Chile formally declared independence from Spain, which was February 12. The 2nd day of the holiday, September 18, is a day to commemorate the Glory of the Army. But that would seem to be a repetition of the day just before it, as war is how one usually wins their independence.
Not much thought is given here on this holiday to how Chileans tossed out the Spanish in 1812, although everyone is required to fly the flag. Instead the biggest concern is “how am I going to get out of town with all the traffic?” In Chile, the saying that “all roads lead to the capital” is literally true. The country is so narrow that you can see one border from the other (At times, you can see the tallest mountains in the Andes and the border with Argentina from the coast.) So here: all roads do lead to the capital, because there is no way to drive around it.
To make it possible to get out of the capital with the horrible traffic jams of previous years, the government has put in place a plan to turn 4 lane freeways into 3 lanes going out and 1 going in for the exodus and flipping that around for the return. Those who want to drive the high snow-covered crossings into Argentina are told to be prepared for a long wait, as the Argentina border guards are on strike.
This year there is another logistical problem, and that is the dearth of automatic teller machines in rural areas and the beach. People are queuing up in lengthy lines to withdrawn cash, if those machines have any cash at all. Last weekend was typical here in Curacaví. Both cash machines at the only grocery store in town were out of cash, and the grocery store cash register said my debit card was invalid.
The problem this year is made worse because thieves have stolen so many ATM machines that it is starting to affect their availability. First they used the tactic of wrapping a chain around them and yanking them free of their moorings with stolen SUV vehicles. So the banks erected steel pylons out front to stop that. Then the thieves imported a technique from Spain, which is to pump the machine full of gas and then ignite that to blow open the safe. The problem is this technique is new to Chile, so the thieves are still trying to figure out how much gas to use. So instead of blasting open the ATM, this week, on more than one occasion, the thieves blew up the entire bank building, along with the cash.
To Chileans, the Fiestas Patrias means 4 or 5 days spent with family, gouging themselves on meat. Last Saturday, I asked the guy who sells me fish every weekend how many people would buy fish from him this week. He said, “no one.”
Instead this week is a bacchanalian feast for carnivores, with sausage (choripan), kabobs (anticuchos), beef (That has many names.), goat (cabra), lamb (oveja), and pork (cerdo) on the barbecue grill (parilla). This stuffing one’s self goes on for days. At the end of this orgy of meat, all you want to do is eat some kind of plant, like lettuce, to give the liver a chance to expel all that fat.
The gringo would have no patience for how Chileans light a barbecue grill. Chileans use charcoal for fuel, which is wood that has smoldered, but not burned. That is called carbon vegetal. To light the fire, Chileans put a match to a newspaper and fan the flames furiously for something like 20 minutes, until finally one tiny glowing ember finally erupts into a flame. I find the American approach much easier: douse the whole affair with kerosene, toss in a match, and, woooosh, the fire is lit.
So starting tomorrow we will be enjoying empanadas de pino ,which are glorious meat pies with an olive inside (Be careful as the olive has a pit, which can break a tooth.), chicha (sweet wine), and people dancing the cueca, which is a three-step dance where the woman traditionally wears a brightly colored dress and the man (guaso or cowboy) looms over her with a white scarf held aloft and spurs fixed to his boots. It is an elegant dance, when done correctly. It looks ridiculous when those who cannot, like foreigners or politicians, preening for the camera, give it a try.
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Great article! I´m excited to see everything when I arrive there tomor
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Anita! I know someone who wants to work in Chile but as electrician. D