Tag Archives: Dieciocho

Dieciocho 2017 – Day 1 – San Pedro de Atacama

Chile burst into celebration this week with Fiestas Patrias – commonly known as Dieciocho, a catch-all name for two important dates: Chile’s independence day on September 18, and Armed Forces Day on September 19. Chile’s actual independence from Spain occurred on Feb. 12, 1818, but Dieciocho recognizes the town meeting that led to Chile’s first governing body in 1810.

For the week-long Dieciocho holiday, we headed north to explore the Atacama Desert, a 600-mile-long stretch of land sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains. The desert bleeds across Chile’s borders into Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. Tony and I flew to San Pedro de Atacama, along with our friends and fellow Nido teachers, Craig and Nancy, and Nancy’s fiancé Jim, who traveled to Chile from England.

San Pedro de Atacama, a small town comprising dirt roads lined with squat adobe buildings, served as our jumping off point. We joined a surprising number of tourists strolling through the warren of restaurants, souvenir shops, and travel agencies, pausing in the town square to snap a few photos of the church, and popping in to the crafts market.

The 5,916-meter Licancábur volcano watches over San Pedro.

Poking around the shops.

When we stepped off the plane in San Pedro, we had gone from an elevation of 520 meters in Santiago to 2,408 meters. The impact was subtle. We all reported feeling out of breath if we tried to walk too fast, and some of us experienced short bouts of nausea.

We stayed at Parina Atacama, a small hotel off the beaten path, in part because we thought it would be quieter than staying in the middle of town. It was not. San Pedro’s Dieciocho fonda was in a field right around the corner. A typical fonda features dancing the cueca, playing traditional games, eating asado (barbecue), drinking terremotos (pipeño wine with pineapple ice cream) and lots of loud music all night long. (One morning, we were waiting on the corner for our tour bus at 7 a.m., and several people came stumbling down the street from the fonda.)

Anyway, the hotel had comfy beds, hot showers, and a big terrace where we could all hang out, so no complaints.

In San Pedro de Atacama itself, I really only wanted to check out two sites: the renowned archaeological museum and the little church in the central plaza.

The Museo Gustavo le Paige was named for a Belgian priest who arrived in San Pedro in the 1950s and amassed a significant collection of ancient artifacts. Unfortunately, a walled-off construction site is all that remains of the museum. According to a notice posted by the Universidad Católica del Norte, the museum structure had deteriorated to the point that the collection was in danger. The items were moved to safer temporary storage, starting in 2014, and the museum was razed with plans to build a new, more modern facility. However, the project has been stalled for some reason.

At least we got to visit the church. According to Lonely Planet, the Iglesia San Pedro “was built with indigenous or artisanal materials – chunky adobe walls and roof, a ceiling made from cardón (cactus wood) resembling shriveled tire tracks and, in lieu of nails, hefty leather straps. The church dates from the 17th century, though its present walls were built in 1745, and the bell tower was added in 1890.”

We booked a four-day tour with Sol Atacama Expediciones to see the region’s highlights. Were we even still in Chile? It felt like another planet! Stay tuned …

Dieciocho – celebrating Chile (and saving my sanity)

Returning staff at our school have patiently endured new teachers’ whining and crying for the last couple months. They nodded their heads and made empathetic sounds when we griped about banking woes, moaned about school systems, expressed profound confusion about daily-life decisions, and otherwise shook our fists at the heavens with utter frustration. “It will all be OK by Dieciocho,” they said.

I had no idea what dieciocho was, but I heard that message so often, it began to bring me comfort.

Then suddenly Dieciocho arrived. Turns out, dieciocho is Spanish for 18, and on Sept. 18, Chile celebrates Independence Day. According to About.Education:

On September 18, 1810, Chile broke from Spanish rule, declaring their independence (although they still were theoretically loyal to King Ferdinand VII of Spain, then a captive of the French). This declaration eventually led to over a decade of violence and warring which did not end until the last royalist stronghold fell in 1826.

Dieciocho is just one day in a festive season called Fiestras Patrias, when Chileans celebrate Chile with rodeos, barbecues, and parties. All over town, people dance the cueca, Chile’s national dance: Ladies in flouncy dresses wave handkerchiefs coyly while bobbing to the music, tempting the huasas (Chile’s version of cowboys) to stomp their boots and spin their spurs. In a public square, you might see an organ grinder performing with a chinchinero, who uses long drumsticks to beat the huge drum on his back while straps attached to his feet clang the cymbals.

I experienced Dieciocho in a few different ways.

First, our school’s Fiesta Huasa offered up a taste of all things Chilean: food, drinks, games, dances, music, and demonstrations of horsemanship. I even accepted a sip of some potent drink from a cow horn, handed down to me from a high school janitor, who was proudly decked out in his finest huasa gear and parading around on his beautiful horse.

My friend, Craig, and I volunteered at the guinea pig game without really knowing what it was. We soon learned it was very popular! Kids lined the perimeter of the large booth to buy numbered tickets. Inside, boxes formed a big ring with their openings facing inward. A worker dressed as a mime with a small whistle in his mouth placed a guinea pig under a cover in the middle of the circle. After lots of whistling and dramatic gestures, he lifted the cover, and the crowd went wild. At first, the guinea pig just sat there, soaking up all the attention. Then he scurried for cover in one of the numbered boxes. The child with that number on her ticket won a prize. It lasted less than a minute. And then we started over, selling tickets again (color-coded, so no cheating). I had heard that more traditional parties actually give the guinea pig away as the prize, so I was pretty relieved to see kids instead choosing from boxed toys like baby dolls and cars.



For more Dieciocho fun, I checked out Chile Lindo, a big party in a park near our neighborhood. I ate my first choripán, a chorizo sandwich. Yum!
I didn’t take any food porn photos, but it looked a bit like this, courtesy of Joan Nova’s flickr page.

Photos from Chile Lindo.



Nido students also sang and danced in a Dieciocho assembly, which was pretty adorable.

Here’s a chinchinero at the assembly.

On the Friday before the weeklong Dieciocho break, Nido’s foreign teachers threw a huge party for the Chilean staff, complete with piles of barbecue, gallons of pisco sours (a delicious and toxic Chilean cocktail), and a show featuring skits and songs performed by teachers. In a tradition bordering on hazing, new teachers were told we would be dancing the cueca. We practiced a couple times, but when I saw the video it looked like I had never seen the dance before. Still, it was surprisingly fun.

My dress collar kept blowing up in my face, and it was really cold, so I kept my jeans on. Go ahead and judge.

Fun newbie friends.

So, finally, Dieciocho had arrived. We thought it would never get here. And you know what? Those wise returning teachers were right. By the time we left school after that party, I could honestly say I had turned a corner. Without realizing it, I was coping without crying. I was solving problems without complaining to seven people first. The hot tears of frustration and that tight knot of anxiety in my throat? Not completely gone, but not constantly present either. So that’s something.

I’m sitting in the Buffalo airport on my way back to Chile, and I’m actually looking forward to getting home. Yeah, home. It’s about time.

Viva Chile!