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Monday, June 17
The Indiana Daily Student

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Chilean independence day: A time for food, family and rodeo

Last Friday, the streets of Santiago were alive with the screams and shouts of happy Chileans celebrating their 199 years of independence from Spain.

Well, not exactly.

Driving down the streets on that morning felt like being in a ghost town – none of the shops were open, very few cars were out and there was no one walking around.

Chileans did celebrate their independence, but the anniversary was very low-key in Santiago, with the focus of the weekend on families.

Although Friday was pretty mellow, Santiago was by no means silent during all of the days of Fiestas Patrias. Around 2 million of Chile’s 16.5 million people travel every year during the independence celebrations.

Throughout the week and weekend, families have their own barbecues to celebrate Independence Day with their relatives; the rodeos are active, lined with tents and places to sit down and eat anticucho, empanadas and choripan; more than $50 million of meat is sold; and in every neighborhood of Santiago there is a “fonda” – a giant party every night with tons of artisan vendors, food and dancing.

Besides Fiestas Patrias’ reputation for high numbers of people drunk on chicha, pisco sours, wine and beer, this holiday is very big on family time.

The rodeos are not just centered around the talented riders pinning the bull against the wall (much less violent than the bullfighting witnessed in Spain), but there are all sorts of things to do there.

Kids can ride ponies and buy spinning shiny disks to throw in the air when it’s dark out.

The whole family can enjoy the lines of vendors selling candies, fruit drinks and alfajores, a typical Chilean dessert with caramel in the middle.

People play Creole games similar to ones at carnivals in the U.S., such as trying to throw small rings onto the necks of bottles arranged in a pyramid.

Finally, at the rodeos there are presentations of typical Chilean dances, such as the Cueca from central Chile, the Chilote from southern Chile, and others.

These dances also had the dust flying on the floors at all of the fondas. Kids learn them in the schools, practicing them every day the few weeks before Fiestas Patrias.

The Cueca is the most popular here in Santiago, because the city is in the central region of the country.

The boys wear cowboy hats, flannel ponchos, riding boots and spurs, and the girls wear big, colorful dresses, many times with an apron. It is a dance mimicking the courtship of a hen and rooster – the handkerchiefs they wave above their heads symbolize the rooster’s comb.

People of all ages participate, and those who dance in the Cueca competitions at the fondas can win a good amount of money. All in all, it is a good time to be with family.

One taxi driver said, “Don’t go to Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins – that’s where all the kids who can’t handle their alcohol go. It’s absolutely crazy. There are plenty of other places where the crowd is much more family-oriented.”  

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