Thursday, 17 September 2009

El 18

The 18th September is a crazy time in Chile. The country's fiestas patrias supersede everything else, including work, commitments and personal debt. The date marks the proclamation of the plan to gain independence from Spain. So it's not independence day as many people believe; the 18th celebrates the day when Chile really decided it was going to go ahead with its desire to become an independent state.

Actual independence wasn't gained until 1821 or 1826, depending on how you look at it. 1821 marks the year the dastardly Spaniards were kicked off the mainland. And 1826 was when they finally surrendered the (quite lovely) Chiloe. Chile actually declared independence in 1812, something which was finally recognised by Spain in 1840. Despite Bernard O'Higgins and San Martin getting all the the plaudits for gaining Chilean independence, the true hero was a fun-lovin' Scotsman called Thomas Cochrane. Without his crazy exploits, there is no way in hell that Chile would have even come close to beating Spain. Venerated in Valparaiso and by the Chilean Navy, Cochrane doesn't get his due from the general populace when it comes to Chilean heroes. You can read all about him over on Corrugated City (and it's a really fantastic story so I'd recommend the read).

Anyway, the 18th is the biggest party of the year. And when I say 'party', I mean excuse for everyone to get drunk and crash their cars into other people for an entire week. It also means dancing the Cueca, Chilean Rodeo (the country's most popular sport after footy), asados and fondas/ramadas which are kind of like country fetes in England but where the stalls that aren't selling chicha or asado are flogging cheap Chinese Hello Kitty rip-offs. Very traditional. Still, they're very entertaining, even for someone who doesn't really care all that much about the significance of the date.

Apart from the drink-driving, there's another negative about the 18th. The societal pressure to spend money is so great that banks take advantage to get their customers further into debt and crime rates go up as people steal to pay for their parties (the alchohol consumption doesn't help). In Valpo last year, this flyer was sent to every house:

It says:

1. If you're driving, don't drink alcohol.
2. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
3. Eat food and drink alcohol in licenced places.
4. Don't park your car in public places that are dark and don't have security. Remember not to leave valuable objects on view.
5. If you leave your house or apartment, make sure you securely close all doors and windows and leave somebody trustworthy in charge of your property.

It's kind of sad that this had to be sent out specifically for a date when everyone should be having fun and celebrating.

Still, here in Santa Cruz things are much more relaxed and chilled out. The crime rate here is significantly lower than in other urban areas and the people are really quite friendly. Santa Cruz is famous for being really, really 'Chilean' and I was looking forward very much to having a great time during the fiestas patrias. Unfortunately, symptoms of the Lyme disease and Human Ehrlichiosis (x2) that I picked up from multiple tick bites from a trip to the Hamptons in July have returned and I'm feeling really, really crappy. I thought I was better as I had almost 6 weeks symptom free, but no... Crippling joint pain, muscle aches, confusion, headaches, chronic tiredness and brain fog are not really conducive to having fun. And the drugs I'm on mean I can't touch a drop of alchohol for at least another 6 weeks anyway. Damn. I live in the centre of red wine production in Chile and I can't drink...

Anyway, I hope that everyone else in Chile has a fantastic, fun-filled and safe 18!


  1. That sucks that you can't drink right now. However, no worries as I'm assuming you'll be staying in Chile for quite a while...meaning you'll have lots more time for red wine consumption :)

  2. That's the plan...

    Happy 18th to you and Seba, wherever you are at the moment!

  3. Thanks for the history lesson! It really is pretty confusing that they celebrate on the date that isn't really the date... kind of like a married couple celebrating their anniversary on the day they got engaged rather than the day they got married!
    Hope you're feeling better soon--and at least you should be in great shape by the time the harvest fest wine fair rolls around in March. In Santa Cruz it's kind of like a mid-year 18 with even more emphasis on wine!

  4. Thanks Margaret..! And I'm really looking forward to vendimia, although not so much to the crowds and traffic! God, I hope I'm better by then...this Lyme thing can go on and on if it doesn't get completely cured at the start...

  5. No fun that you're still feeling bad! Although I saw you recovered a bit over the weekend, so at least you did manage a bit of 18 fun. Margaret's point about the vendimia is a good one - last year we went to the one in Pirque, and it was like a nicer version of a fonda. Maybe we'll have to try to make it to Santa Cruz this year!

  6. Yeah, I had my moments of feeling normal which was good...I was expecting to feel crappy all weekend so I was pleasantly surprised when I felt ok!

    If you come to Santa Cruz let me know. Maybe I'll be able to drink by then...maybe...

  7. Actually the independence was signed on february 1812, by Bernardo O'higgins.

  8. Ooops, that's a typo- I had the number 18 in my head because of the 18th september. It's now been corrected. Thanks :)