YFU Switzerland

Dieciocho

If you’ve ever been to Chile you might have observed that people here are very proud of their country. Be it the many flags, the documentaries you can watch on TV around any time of the day or just talking to people, you can’t help but get (at least a little) hyped about it as well.

I really started to notice this on the 1st of September. The weekend before, my class and I decorated our home room with flags and banners of Chile as well as other things.

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On the streets 20150901_163848 copy there were people selling car stickers, dancing Cueca and no matter where you were, in the background you could be sure to hear some type of Cueca music playing.

On Tuesday, which turned out to be the 1st of September, my school had this fare where different classes presented typical Chilean foods, games, tourist attractions and many more. It was very impressive and I started to look very much forward to celebrating Chilean Independence Day.

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Two classmates and I in traditional dresses

Shortly before our vacation (yes, we got a whole week of vacation in honor of Independence Day) we had a day completely dedicated to celebrating Dieciocho. There were different alliances who were competing against each other in different challenges and games such as dancing, the amount of people who dressed up and tug of war. For refreshments we could buy food and drinks from one of the many stands in our gymnasium. It was really nice to see how everyone came together and worked so hard to organise this event.

With September also came the time of digüeñes. For the people who don’t know what those are, digüeñes are orange-white coloured and mushroom-like edible things (for lack of better word) that grow on trees. From what I’ve been told, the only place you’ll be fortunate enough to find them is here, in south-central Chile. The first time I had the pleasure to try them was when my brother’s girlfriend brought some with her from the countryside. Here in Chile you usually eat them fresh in salads or fried with eggs and bread. Their texture is chewy and they slightly remind you of mushrooms and I’m completely in love with them :).

One day in I had the opportunity to go harvest them in the countryside. It was a very fun experience :P. Since they grow in trees you need to go to the woods and look for them high up in their branches. Once you’ve spotted a bunch/cluster you need to find a stick, aim and try to hit them in order for them to fall off. If you’re good at aiming and have a strong arm, you can then proceed to look for them on the ground and gather them up in whatever you brought with you.

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Freshly picked Digüeñes

At first I had a really hard time spotting any and wondered if we’d even be able to fill 1/4 of the basket we brought with us. But luckily I was accompanied by some experts (aka my brother, his girlfriend, her mom and her dog) and before I knew it, the basket was overflowing with deliciousness :P. So that was an experience I’ll never forget. Especially frying and eating the digüeñes afterwards was awesome :).

Once the 18th September rolled in I’ve had countless conversations about Chilean foods and traditions for that very special date. However, I was still overwhelmed by the quantity of food! The Golden Rule for „Dieciocho“ is that, whatever diet you might be on, on this day you can throw it all out the window, forget all the promises you’ve made yourself and just eat your heart out. No one’s going to judge you and you can just ENJOY!

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Alfajores on the left, pajaritos on the right

My family and I made alfajores (biscuits with manjar, a caramel-like spread made from condensed milk) and pajaritos (bread balls with merengue icing) to bring to the family party. We spent the whole day eating and talking. There was some dancing and we played ping-pong. Over all it was a really nice experience and I also got to meet a little more of my extended family :).
Me being a vegetarian, everyone was very concerned about what I’d be eating on Independence Day, but it really wasn’t a big deal. Yes, there was a lot of meat served but there was also salad, vegetarian empanadas and pajaritos among others. So if you’re vegetarian and coming to Chile, don’t worry. At first people may give you weird looks, but that’s just because eating, especially meat, is such a big part of their culture, it may be hard to imagine a different diet. But if you explain your reasons to them (with a smile and patience, mind you :P), you’ll be perfectly fine. And remember, they’re probably just genuinely concerned about you getting enough food :P.

All I can say is that nothing prepares you for Independence Day in Chile and this is definitely something I’ll remember for a long time :P.