Not to make any puns here but Chile is CHILLY! I couldn’t have imagined it, and of course I didn’t since I wasn’t really packed for this weather. Though the Spring is coming, the flowers are blossoming and there have been one or two days where the sun has shone a little stronger causing one to remove their scarf or jacket. The sun does shine quite often here, and that is nice at least. The warmth that it brings however, can only be accessed while being on the side of the street that has direct sunlight and huffing it around town for about 15+ minutes. In other aspects, it’s been a difficult transition. There hasn’t been any internet at the place I am staying, making it hard to keep in touch. Though I feel like this time off the grid has helped me absorb more and get acclimated to what life is like here. Without my nose in my iphone or spending countless hours in ye olde Facebook.
Right around the time that I got here started the “fiestas patrias” or patriotic festivals. The 18th of September is Chile’s Independence Day, except they just don’t mess with watermelon and fireworks, oh no, they celebrate for 5 days in a row. Big parties all over the city, music, drinks, and lots of carne asada. Almost everything is closed, and most people go out of town or to spend time with their families since the customs and family doings are bit more tied together here. I was able to experience some of these customs with my host’s family.
Let’s look at meal times for example. Here they have breakfast, lunch (normally a little later in the day and the largest meal), something called “once” a term that originates from back in the day when little old ladies would have their tea time but really drink an alcohol called aguardiente (brandy), which has eleven letters, hence once which means eleven in Spanish. Once is around the time that we would eat dinner, and typically only consists of tea, some bread and perhaps some other thing like avocado or cheese. Maybe an empanada. Then there is dinner, which they really don’t officially have that often. I’d like to equate it to the fourth meal campaign, like if you really have the munchies you are going to have dinner. Though most are fine without.
Everyone here is quite warm and welcoming, and above all hospitable. For my birthday my host’s family hooked up the once, made me pie and got me cake. Too full. Despite people going out of their way to make me feel special I, at times, still feel a little unsettled because not only is Spanish my second language, but the dialect spoken here is totally different than what I was used to speaking. So I am relearning a lot of things. For example avocado, in “Mexican” Spanish is known as “aquacate” here it is known as “palta” because it is the fruit of a tree called the “palto” which does make sense. Aquacate is actually an indigenous word from the Nahuatl language that we just happened to absorb and turn into avocado. On that note you can buy like 8 avocados for $2. My mind was blown and extremely hungry when I saw that.
There are tons of little markets around town, including one large one called La Vega and there you can find tons of fresh fruits and vegetables for great prices. The fruits and vegetables here aren’t too exotic, and you can find just about anything. Except kale that is. My poor vegetarian heart is so agast that there is no kale to be found nor does anyone know what I am talking about ever. Though I have found something that seems to be a variety of chard, so I have been making due. It’s quite popular here to eat things such as beets and “palta reina” which is an avocado filled with something like a tuna or chicken salad. Oh and bread, people eat a lot of bread. Which for me, coming from Ann Arbor where everyone is on that gluten free kick, am a little appalled. Especially the most traditional of all, the Chilean marraqueta, a type of french bread roll, eaten during once. Warm and super soft on the inside, slightly crispy and flaky on the outside. It’s delicious but worried about potential gluten intolerance and a large belly full of dough I luckily have been able to find quinoa everywhere and people here are nuts about stevia, a plant native to the Bolivian area which is naturally sweet without calories or the blood sugar spikes of regular sugar. You can find something sweetened with stevia or little old ladies selling stevia plants on the streets. So far I haven’t had any bad reactions to the food which is a relief since in Mexico it was a bit difficult for me (cough cough Montezuma’s revenge). Of course here everyone is all about grilling meats and stuff like that but I do a lot of cooking and since it’s the city I have found lots of things to make it work.
I spent a day in Valparaiso, brilliant, beautiful, winding and extremely inclined city. There I found a vegetarian restaurant where I was finally able to try an empanada. Empanada is one of the most common “Chilean” foods. And everyone was going crazy for empanadas during the holidays. So naturally I had some extreme curiosity building for these little guys. It wasn’t too bad, the vegetarian version, yet I can only imagine how juicy and succulent a real meat empanada might be. They cook them with meat, onion, olives and raisins. Food is a pretty big deal when you go to another country it’s the thing that makes you miss your home or makes you fall in love with your new surrounds, depending. For example I can’t find salad dressing in the supermarket. For salads here most people just put lemon on it. Actually they put lemon on almost everything, that and mayonnaise. In the supermarket you will see aisles of varieties of mayonnaise. One day with an American craving, I wanted french fries. Finally I found a place with french fries. When they arrived I asked for some ketchup, and they didn’t have any. Actually, the waiter looked at me strangely! Me, being American and used to the simple and very obvious fact that if there are french fries there must be ketchup, just couldn’t equate that there wouldn’t be any. So I ate them with mayonnaise. Ew. Incase it’s not obvious, I am not a big fan of mayo.
I am getting the hang of things, though. Plus I am learning how to make my own salad dressings! I bought myself a package of ketchup- since things come in these large packet type things and not bottles- at the supermarket and am gonna kick back with it and reminisce I love being in the city, but there are little things that always make me miss Michigan. Especially now knowing everyone is going to the apple orchard, drinking cider and eating donuts. Anyone who goes please partake in extra for me and like two caramel apples. I tried to explain apple cider to someone but I don’t think it’s something that can be explained. Only tasted in it’s delicious succulency either cold or hot.
Though there are good beverages here. Above all I’d say the most popular are varieties of alcoholic drinks with a wine like base, as this region produces a lot of great wine. Heck just the wine itself is quite nice. Pisco Sour being one, made from Pisco a type of light brandy mixed with lots of fresh squeezed lemon and sugar. It’s sour, delicious and really perks you up. The other, a terremoto- the name meaning earthquake. They say this because when you stand up after drinking one you feel like there is a terremoto. Chile lies on some fierce tectonic plates, causing there to be frequent earthquakes. The terremoto is a mix of chicha which is made from fermented grapes or other types of fruits or even grains depending on the region. This is then mixed with pineapple flavored ice cream and drank through a straw. During the patriotic festivals it was necessary to have one, though I found it to be too sweet for my tastes. I think I will just take the ice cream next time! Or maybe just the chicha, though who knows what kind of ground shaking effect that might have. The safest bet would be cerveza Austral, a fruity beer made in Punta Arenas, at the tip of Patagonia. The variety I tried was brewed with calafate, a type of berry found in patagonia. It tasted much like a blueberry ale perhaps a little lighter. Delicious nonetheless!
Which brings me to coffee. Chile is not a coffee producing region of Latin America. Real coffee, has been hard to find. The most common thing you will find, even being sold or served in certain cafes or restaurants is nescafe, a powdered instant coffee. This is also served at once if one chooses and it’s kind of gross, but sometimes will have to do. Sadly I have been spending more time than I would like to admit in Starbucks where I can actually find espresso, oh and wifi. Precious, precious wifi. There are two more common types of cafes you can find here. One of which is a more typical, perhaps business person oriented cafe. These cafes have large glass windows where you can see through to the inside. Often times business people will got here for a meeting and just stand. You can see little areas outside the cafes with very tall tables and no chairs, or on the inside a bar around which people simply stand and drink their coffee. The other type is called “café con pierna” or coffee with leg. These places have all of the windows blacked out and the doors shut tight. You can hear blasting music and girls on the inside. I have walked by quite a few of them but haven’t dared enter. At a place like this you can go and get your coffee, only it is served to you by sexy girls in their underwear. The temptation of curiosity is there, the fear of sticky floors overrides the curiosity. Starbucks it is.