September 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
This time last week, I was on the other side of the Andes. I made a 4 day trip to Chile to see some friends from Cambridge and enjoy the ‘Fiestas Patrias’, independence celebrations centred around the 18th of September. As far as I could make out, Chileans seem to celebrate the event either with a barbecue at home with family and friends, or by heading to one of the enormous events called fondas in public parks. The couple we went to in Santiago had live music, cueca (a traditional Chilean dance), horses, and enormous quantities of food and drink. Some fairly unusual drinks at that, of which the most intriguing, and most deadly, was terremoto, a combination of wine made from discarded grapes, grenadine and pineapple ice cream.
By far the best part of the fondas, though, we found in the Parque O’Higgins on the 18th itself. This park, named after the liberator Bernardo O’Higgins, has an enormous military parade ground which on the 18th has a much better use: kite-flying. On that day, it was sunny, there was just the right amount of wind, and watching the hundreds of paper squares floating against the backdrop of the Andes was magical. We got stuck in ourselves, as well – though we discovered it’s not as easy as it looks. After (comparatively) shelling out for a slightly fancier model, we were off the ground, notwithstanding constant tangles with our neighbours.
We lost one of our patriotic kites as a result – the string was cut and it glided off to another part of the park, to make some kid’s day. A kite runner would have come in handy at that point. In fact, there are apparently clubs in Chile that organise kite duels à la Khaled Hosseini, with glass string and all. It must be thrilling – I can’t think how many years it had been since I’d flown a kite, but I realise now how much fun I’d been missing out on.
The other highlight of the trip was a day spent in Valparaíso – something I’d been meaning to do for a few years (probably ever since I saw The Motorcycle Diaries). This city, the major port of Chile, is simultaneously rather rough and grubby and very beautiful – it is a jumble of coloured houses and 100 year old funiculars spread across hills above the Pacific. There’s a great maritime museum, but most of all, it’s a photographer’s paradise, and allowed me to take some further (tentative) steps in working out how to use my new camera.
Strangely enough, Chile reminded me a great deal more of Peru than of Argentina, despite the fact that it’s much closer to the latter in terms of wealth and development. It may have been something to do with the accent, the slang, or the food. In any case, it had the pleasing effect of making going back to Buenos Aires feel even more like coming home.