September 18 is the Independence Day of Chile; however, unlike the 4th of July, students and adults get the entire week off to celebrate. Before I explain my week, there are some important key words and traditions that I will explain now.
Special Foods/Events for 18th of September
Asado: Grilled meats (like a BBQ but with steak and chicken instead of burgers and hot dogs)
Empanada Pino: A Chilean pastry filled with steak, caramelized onions, half an egg, and an olive
Terremotos: Traditional Chilean drink that is most often drank during las fiestas patrias. Adults drink pipeño (white wine) with pineapple ice cream and grenadine. Children love this drink too but replace pipeño with sprite or Canada Dry.
Completo: Hot dog with tomatoes, mashed avocado, and condiments on top
La Cueca: Traditional dance that takes place at all the parties during las fiestas patrias. It consists of a man and woman dancing while holding a napkin and stomping to the music.
Fonda: The name of the location where people come together to eat and drink all of the aforementioned during las fiestas partías exclusively. There are stands where families sell terremotos or empanadas and more.
On Friday the 13th, I meant to meet my friends at a Fonda near our university to celebrate the beginning of las fiestas patrias. However, the police showed up and tear gassed the Fonda, which to this day we still don’t understand why it happened. Accordingly, we went to my friend’s house for our own Fonda – university style with Pizza instead of empanadas and piscolas instead of terremotos.
On Saturday the 14th, I went to a big Fonda at my other friend’s home in Las Condes. We had terremotos, asado, and empanadas. Throughout the day I had the chance to meet a lot of my friend’s family members, and after a few hours they taught me how to dance the cueca. We broke up into teams and played several traditional Chilean and internationally known relay games including an egg toss, three legged race, and more. In the evening, we gathered together and sang songs while a friend of mine played the guitar. It was an amazing day and I’m grateful for all the people I met.
El Asado = Chilean BBQ
On Monday and Tuesday, we learned how to dance la cueca and we ate lots of empanadas. On Tuesday afternoon I left for La Serena, a city 6 hours north on the beach, with my host family. I am so grateful that my host mom invited me to travel to the north for this week to stay in her mom’s home in La Serena. I am also grateful that I happened to sit next to a guy in one seminar at my university who is originally from La Serena and thus went to La Serena for las fiestas patrias.
On the 18th, Independence Day, my host grandma taught me how to make empanadas from scratch. We all drank a couple terremotos with our meal and coincidentally became chattier. I played with the kids in the back yard and ran around the house with them while the adults took a siesta. In the afternoon I met up with my friend from university and we went to the beach with his family. It was an absolutely beautiful day, and we even walked down to the water to dip our toes.
My host family
On the 19th, we ate delicious asado for lunch with my family and in the evening I spent time with my friend, Nico.
At Nico’s House, his family prepares asado and terremotos as well. When the sun went down, Nico and I took a bus to la Pampilla, the largest Fonda in all of Chile. There were so many people trying to get into la pampilla that 1) there was barely any room on the bus, 2) the traffic was unbearably bad, 3) and we had to get off the bus and walk in order to get there faster. After walking to La Pampilla, we made our way down to the concert of Zion y Lennox.
There were 200,000 people present at la Pampilla and I could feel their presence. Though I could barely move I loved the energy and all the excitement that people brought around me. There were many stands with food and drinks and rides for kids.
The whole family
My last day in La Serena I spent tranquilamente with my host family. We went to the beach in the afternoon with the kids and ran around in the sand. Overall, I had an incredible week with my family and friends. Happy fiestas patrias!
*side note: while I celebrated las fiestas patrias, I find it important to note that many Mapuche (people of the indigenous tribe of Chile) do not celebrate this holiday because Chile’s independence restricted the freedom of Mapuche tribes.