English is widely not spoken in Chile even in the tourist industry. Recently, however, the Government is encouraging Chileans to learn English. It's essential to learn some basic Spanish to enable you to be prepared whilst travelling around the country and there is an opportunity to learn by enrolling at one of the many language schools in Santiago.
Chileans are generally reserved compared to other South American counterparts but they are renowned for the generousity, hospitality and honesty. The official religion is Roman Catholic but there is a freedom of worship for different faiths in the country.
Whilst Chile is one of the safest countries in South America and having the lowest corruption level in the region, petty crime such as pickpocketing is rife in the major cities. It's a good idea to keep a copy of ID on you at all times. The Police are very friendly and helpful but under no circumstances offer a bribe if you're in trouble as you would make the situation worse.
No other person had a bigger impact on the history of Chile than Bernardo O'Higgins (1778–1842). O'Higgins is affectionately known as ‘The Liberator’. His unusual name is due to the fact that he was the illegitimate son of an Irishman. His father, Ambrose Higgins, was born in Sligo Ireland and was a military commander for Spain. What is known as Chile was a frontier colony at the time and O’Higgins Sr. was a powerful man in territory disputed by the Spanish crown and the local Mapuche Indians.
Ambrose defeated the Mapuche and was made Viceroy of Peru. Unfortunately having an illegitimate son was an embarrassment and young Bernardo was sent to Europe. Its is here that he first heard theories of Enlightenment and began to think about the future liberation of his native Chile.
He returned to Chile a few years later as the beginnings of Independence had begun. He was pressed into military service and was named as the revolutionary leader in 1813. Setbacks on the battlefield sent him to Argentina until 1817. He returned to Chile with a new army and at the Battle of Chacabuco he defeated the Spanish. Independence was now real. O’Higgins was named Supreme Director of Chile after independence on Feb. 12, 1818.
He had lots of egalitarian ideas about political and land reform and helping the poor. This did not go down well with powerful land owners and he was forced into exile in Peru in 1823. He was granted permission to return in 1842, but died before boarding the ship to take him home. He is buried in the Cementerio General de Santiago in the capital – Santiago.
In case you're going to Chile and think that all Chileans must hate the man who symbolizes Chile's 17 year-long dictatorship - think again. 40% of the population continues to be in favor of his time in power... Supporters refer to the coup on September 11, 1973 as a military pronouncement (pronunciamiento militar) and not as a coup d'etat (golpe de estado).
What is it? It's something that rares in our "civilised" world. It's the idea of helping each other and feeling it is a celebration and not an obligation. It exists in Chiloe and many other places . When somebody wants to move away from their place for several reasons...they take their houses along! So here comes the "Minga". The procedure is very elaborate and very accurate, since the house has to be safe, first of all. So they support it with long pieces of wood and logs, using nails or ropes. Then they put it on very long logs. The whole village come up with their oxen and carry the house. Some times more than ten oxen are needed, which comes to be extremely difficult in controlling their steps ! A strenuous job with no mistakes allowed . The whole operation takes only one or two days and there is no money in the deal as you might have assumed. The only payment is in abundant food and chiloe wine, a kind of cyder wine. In case they should move the house to a different island then ..unbelievable!!..They drag the light wooden house to the beach. When the tide comes up they put two big "skis" under it , tie it to a big boat and drag it on the water . The wooden house floating on the surf like a boat, is finally put down on the correct point. The final day is the great message. Well listen ! First a church man comes and blesses the house and wishes the family "a happy new home". Then they all gather to celebrate their neighbours' happiness and take to eating and drinking. This is a great opportunity for their traditional music and songs to get in at the happy moment and root deep inside as a heritage of joy, compassion and authentic human contact !...
It brings another picture in my memories..When I booked a room with wonderful view on the river ! Two days later I woke up facing ,to my disappointment, absolutely no view at all. The whole village had come up the previous day and helped them build a ..two storey brand new house in two -three days !!! It was a "Minga" in Laos.
Chileans usually eat a very light breakfast of tea or coffee(sanka) and toast with jam or a pastry. When the hotel states that breakfast is included do not expect much. In the nicer hotels some times there will be yogurt and fruit as well as toast and pastry.
If you are used to eating a large breakfast then wait until lunch is served and grab a sandwich.
If you are invited to someones home for dinner do not expect to eat before 9pm at the earliest.
Dinner is more of a social event in South America and they like to eat later.
The restaurants as a general rule do not open for dinner before 8pm. If they have an early crowd you can bet they are all tourists.
While you are in Chile be sure to look for the fruit vendors selling fruit from their cart.
They can be found on the corner of most busy streets.
In the spring they have the most delicious cherries that you have ever eaten.
I would go back to Chile if for no other reason than to be able to eat some of their fresh fruit.
On a sunny day I started out for the National Reserve of Rio Clarillo. I used the Metro and a bus. Then I had to walk for 2 kms. When I reached the entrance and paid the fee,I was told I had to walk more to reach the walking path. The..garbage truck gave me a lift. By this time it was already too hot but I had no option. So I started a sweating walk up the mountain too proud to give up so early..After an hour or so, I heard some children's crystal laughs and a lot of happy human chattering. I lingered for a while and then turned back decisively to see what was going on. I heard the river flowing too so I thought a short swim couldn't be of harm.I went through the shading trees and found a bunch of local people scattered around. They were swimming, playing, eating and drinking at long portable tables .. Someone invited me to have a glass, and it was more than I expected. The first glass of the delicious home made Sangria brought a second one, and some plastic plates with tasty local food and suddenly I was the center of all attention. This was more than I wanted because I wouldn't be able to walk if I stayed more..Well, I did stay more and more.. those people being so warm, sweet and spontaneous, I thought being with them was a great luck. They honoured me with a lot of jokes and official handshakes..Everybody was introduced to me by their personal family story. Then they danced La Cueca for me and were enthusiastic when I was able to repeat it in a very decent way...The party went on for hours and I was really moved with their effort to make me happy. I also danced some Greek dances. They especially liked the belly dance..We separated with hundreds of hugs and kisses and a promise to send them the photos. I did of course. I will never forget them...! So sweet !
La Cueca is the national dance of Chile with Spanish and African origins. It is danced by a couple facing each other and performing small right and left steps while moving in a small circle. It is accompanied by musical instruments or singing.
Chileans are lovely people who you get attached to very easily. They are very extrovert and emotional so they would enjoy it very much if they heard some local expressions coming out of your mouth...
Try some of them ! I learned them in the south but I think they are used all over the country.
Bacan = cool!
cachai? = get it?
altiro = right away !
carrete = party
copete = booze
condoro = mistake
Luca = 1000 pesos
Quina = 500 pesos
Gamba = 100 pesos
ene = a lot
mino = nice guy/ girl
tuto = feel asleep
pucha = (exclamation expressing extreme sorrow or discomfort)
curado = drunk, boracho
jote = flirting with a woman
guata = a big stomach
guagua = baby
ni ahi = I don't care
pololo/polola = boyfriend/girlfriend
pastel = stupid person
no se ni papa=I know absolutely nothing
( hey! Chileans ! if I have made a mistake please correct me. )
A little bit of old-fashioned English lives on in translation in Chile. Elevenses (onces in Spanish) were a mid-morning snack - you won't hear it much in England any more - the term has gone the way of jolly hockey sticks and school girl stories - but Chileans wouldn't miss their "onces" - except they take them in the afternoon - usually between 5 and 7!
Something akin to an English tea - bread and cheese, fruit preserves, maybe ham or avocado and something sweet like cookies or cake is always served at home along with tea or coffee.. For a special treat, there'll be a visit to a salon de the or a smart hotel for elaborate tortes and pastries. With dinner not eaten untl 9 or even later, onces are the way to fill the gap between lunch at 1 and the late dinner hour.
If you want to eat the Chilean way, you can't miss this daily ritual - and it does mean you'll be able to delay dinner until late rather than eating in empty restaurants. You can always pick the tourists in countries with a Spanish past - they're the only ones in restaurants before 9 o'clock.
This is an important part of the day in family life - an invitation to onces in someone's home is a great honour.
While visiting in Santiago, I learned that a Nanny is someone who helps to watch your children. But this could also be the name of someone who comes once a week to clean your house, as well as the woman who helps to do your ironing weekly. I was surprised that all these different people were considered a "Nanny". I learned this when I visited my son's family in Chile. I don't know if it is just this household that uses the title generally, but I found it was interesting...and confusing at times.
Pisco is the national drink of Chile (and Peru) and is a rather strong drink (35% alc.) distilled of muscat grapes, with a high sugar content. These grapes are growing in the north of Chile. It is possible to drink it pure or as a so called ‘pisco sour’, when the drink is mixed with lemon, egg whites and sugar.
Visiting the country we ‘had’ to try this national drink. Our first pisco was a ‘pisco pure’ during a very cold boat trip on the Fiordo Ultima Esparanza in Chilean Patagonia. And believe me, in spite of the piece of glacier ice in our glass, after a pisco we felt a lot warmer !!
The second was a ‘pisco sour’, just the way it should be as an aperitif. The last one was a bottle of pisco for home, which reminded us to our Chilean holiday.
While heading in both directions going from Santiago to Panguipulli and back, we were puzzled by the sight of men swinging bags on the freeway that runs the length of the country. We though it might have been to signal to the buses they wanted to be picked up. Nope. They are selling crayfish, crawdads, mud bugs, whatever you call the little crustaceans. A friend in Panguipulli finally told us what they were doing.
When I was in San Pedro...I saw a long funeral procession. They carried the casket from the church, all the way to the graveyard. We stepped back, stopped and honoured the processing as they passed.
There seems to be much honour placed on the dead - with many decorations in the graveyard.
When you see people passing by - take time to respect their passing. They will nod and appreciate the time you have taken to honour their ways.
As it was close to Christmas, the locals (being devote Catholics) put on a massive street procession to honour the virgin Mary.
It was quite an unusual sight watching both old and young singing together, enjoying their celebration.
More Regions in Chile