Posts Tagged With: Chilean people

No Quitting The Cueca In Oasis Called Quitor

Folkloric Ballet of Chile. Photos, slide show below

What a week last week!

Chile celebrated its Independence Day in grand style, with cookouts, a wide variety of events that involved food, music and dance, and a healthy amount of patriotic flag-waving.

I had been so busy balancing work and enjoying what Chile served up during the celebrations that stretched over a month that little time was left to share with you – in a timely manner – all that I’ve been up to. In a nutshell, unabashed fun – even at work. That’s just how Chileans roll.

Team Blue at Gaby Mining Company ready for competition

For me, the long Independence Day weekend started  in earnest at the copper mine where I teach English to corporate executives and their support staff. Company employees took to the parking lot for friendly relay races that drew laughter and then to the dining hall to watch and take part in a cueca competition. The cueca is Chile’s typical dance. It consists of some foot-stomping and fancy footwork all while the dance partners wave white handkerchiefs. I started dancing the cueca about two weeks ago and I swear I haven’t stopped. If you come to Chile during Independence Day festivities, you can bet your bottom peso that someone will drag you out on the dance floor to watch you make a fool of yourself. No matter. After a few pisco soursyou won’t give a damn.

Careful laying that egg!

After much diversion at work, that very evening I went home, took a long nap, and headed over to the office for an office party that consisted of a barbecue, Chilean food and the unavoidable shop talk. It was at the office party that I learned that the following evening there would be a free performance of the Folkloric Ballet of Chile. I jumped at the chance to attend this rare cultural treat in Calama. If this dance company ever comes to your town, don’t miss it! The troupe has toured the world with an entertaining repertoire  of traditional and modern dance, highlighting Chilean folk music and dance. I thoroughly enjoyed.

Early the next morning I headed for the bus terminal with two of my housemates – Zack and Chris – where we  met others with whom we would spend the weekend in  Quitor and San Pedro de Atacama, high in the Chilean desert. That was some weekend, spent touring, eating, dancing, swimming and having an amazing time on an estate – an oasis of pleasure and relaxation in the middle of the desert – owned by the aunt of one of my colleagues. About 20 of us ate, sang and danced there all weekend long.

Monday afternoon we headed back to Calama content and a few pounds heavier from all that good eating. I believe the word “diet” was tossed about several times. What a week it was.

The Deja Vu Wrecking Crew: (left to right) Me; Christina, (New York, USA); Angello, (Calama, Chile); Zack, (Florida, USA); Chris, (Saint Jacobs, Canada); and Maureen (Chicago, USA), all English teachers at the International Center in Chile

Stone mermaid in Quitor, Chile, on estate where weekend was spent

Pre-Inca site in Quitor, Chile. What a find!

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Every Protest Should Rise To This Level Of Fun

"What Would Chile Be Without Calama?"

I have to hand it to Chileans. Well, at least the Chileans in the northern town of Calama. They know how to make anti-government protest and random acts of civil disobedience entertaining. I’ve never had so much fun at a demonstration.

Not that I’ve participated in many protests to know the dynamics, the mechanics and what is to be expected. I have to think back to my college years to recall a demonstration I took part in. It was against a proposal to replace the free-wheeling, free-choice Liberal Artsprogram with a mandatory core set of academic subjects. So instead of entering college and choosing which subjects you wanted to take toward your major, a freshman would be required to take a series of  courses in math, science, English and a sprinkling of other subjects before he or she could fully concentrate on subjects in whatever major he or she had settled on.

Masked Man

Minority students saw that as a backdoor strategic move to scrap ethnic studies, such as Black Studies and Puerto Rican studies. Demonstrations decades before had led to the establishment of those departments and students weren’t about to let them go without a fight. I still remember the chant of hundreds of students in front of the administration building: “Core curriculum we say no! Ethnic studies won’t go!!” We lost that battle. All the college administration had to do is wait. Soon, the vocal opponents would have graduated and moved on to real life issues, such as jobs, marriage, kids, a mortgage.

After college I was not allowed to participate in protests or even so much as sign a petition no matter how worthy the cause. I was a journalist and journalists give up certain rights and freedoms other citizens have. Journalists have opinions, certainly, but they must keep them in check if they want to keep their jobs. Of course, journalists who are paid to give their opinion, well that’s a different story.

So this protest thing was sort of foreign to me. As a reporter I had covered my share of demonstrations, but they ranged from peaceful gatherings to the odd guy in a monkey suit chained to a bike rack in front of a federal courthouse.

Music and protest

In Calama, it was all about music. This protest to force the central government in Santiago to give Calama 5 percent of the revenues generated by the copper mines in the region was more like a folk and rock concert than anything else. In between pronouncements and denouncements of the administration of President Sebastián Piñera, bands took the stage and rocked the crowd. The headliners, the Chilean band Sol y Lluvia, had the flag-waving, mostly young audience jumping up and down in unison and singing along. Sol y Lluvia formed in the 1980s and became popular for their brand of music that mixes modern and traditional instruments, but also because of their strong opposition to the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. I really enjoyed this band. And so did the rest of the audience on hand.

Besides the bands, there were cheerleaders doing acrobatic stunts, men and women in strange costumes, jugglers on stilts, flag dancers, loud vuvuzelas left over from World Cup Soccer, and an assortment of other acts that pleased the audience. This was the most excitement I had seen in Calama in the nearly two months I’ve been here.

Freed mayor speaks

Now, I refer to the amassed crowd as an audience rather than protesters because the event evolved into a street festival. Sure, there were some tense moments, but few and far between. At Chuquicamata, the largest open-pit mine in the world, Calama Mayor Esteban Velásquez and several others were arrested and put in jail for several hours after they blocked the entrance to the mine to stop vehicles from entering and exiting in a failed effort to shutdown mining operations. According to eyewitnesses, several of the demonstrators who showed up at the mine around 4 a.m., were forcibly removed by riot police brought in from the town of Iquique, about five hours drive north. The mayor and the others were freed after boisterous demonstrators turned up at the police station to demand their release. Other demonstrators claimed they and others were beaten by riot police at the mine.

Also at the Calama Shopping Mall, which chose to ignore the citywide work stoppage, demonstrators blocked access and refuse to allow potential shoppers to enter. Mall security and police worked out an agreement with the demonstrators to allow the mall to stay open until noon. The protesters agreed and promptly at noon were back at the mall chanting and turning away people who were trying to do some shopping.

Several demonstrators at the mall tried to get me to join them and I pointed out that I was not Chilean and the penalty for foreigners participating in demonstrations in Chileis automatic deportation. The women said they would protest my deportation. Funny.

 

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Sol y Lluvia

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Weekend in Iquique

Tonight I go on a road trip with Chileans. We are driving to Iquique, a port city on the Pacific coast founded in the 16th Century. It is a city beloved by Chileans. They say it has the nicest beaches and the best nightlife of any city in the country. The people there, I’m also told, have a very happy disposition. The good weather has something to do with that.

Iquique, located west of the Atacama Desert, draws scores of visitors also because of its duty free zone, one of the largest in South America, almost one square mile of warehouse shopping. It also boasts great restaurants, bars and the aforementioned nightlife.

But Iquique is also a beach town. Surfer dudes abound. Quite a bit of activity in this city of more than 200,000 people, which was once part of Peru until Chile took it away in the late 1800s during the Pacific War that saw Bolivia and Peru allied against Chile. Chile proved militarily superior and took land and cities that belonged to both. For Peruvians especially, the war was an indignity because Iquique was home to many of their national heroes. Now, the city is firmly and unquestionably Chilean, even if Peruvians to this day still lament the loss.

Other than what I have been told, I’m not sure what I will find in Iquique. In my travels, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by places I didn’t think I would like and disappointed by others for which I had high expectations. I have a good feeling about Iquique. We’ll see.

No matter what, I will be spending my time there with Chilean friends I’ve made during my month in the country, and so that alone should make it enjoyable. Two of them actually live in Iquique. So seeing the city with them will be fantastic.

Pictures of hopefully a fantastic four-day weekend in Iquique – Monday is a national holiday – to come.

 

 

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