Another major part of Chile’s Fiestas Patrias—Independence Day celebrations—are the “fondas.” Also called “ramadas” because they are often made with branches (ramas) these temporary fairs are set up in parks all over the country for about 10 days of food, games, drinking, dancing, crafts of all sorts, and general good times to be had. Some of the bigger (and/or more rural) ones have rodeos and most will have cueca contests. There are the municipal versions as well as some of the more popular ones such as the now-famous “Yein Fonda” (which in Chilean sounds just like the actress) and the Guachaca version full of cueca chora.
Fondas kick off the weekend before the September 18th holiday and close up the Sunday following, although they sometimes reappear as “18 Chico” the following weekend.
They are very family oriented by day, although by no means cheap. Entrance fees can vary widely from a luca or so ($1000 pesos, about $2 USD) to $10,000 pesos for some of the more upscale versions with more bands. And once inside, prices of everything are considerably higher than anywhere else in town.
Price doesn’t seem to matter much though. Families save up to go (reminds me of going to the State Fair as a kid). Organ grinders crank away and the kids line up to buy their pinwheels, slinkies, glow-lights, and other souvenir treats.
The food is one of the biggest attractions.
This menu for an informal sit-down restaurant offers all the favorites: pork, cazuela, salads, soft drinks, choripan (grilled sausage on a roll), empanadas (savory baked beef or fried cheese pastries), anticuchos (skewered meats), beer, chicha (a partially fermented and very sweet almost-wine), french fries, mote con huesillo (a wheat and peach drink/dessert), terremoto (rustic wine with pineapple sherbet), wine, coffee, or tea.
Snack food that can be eaten out of hand while strolling through the fonda is perhaps the best of all.
As night falls and the level of alcohol consumed rises, the families tend to clear out and leave room for the revelers who come for the shows, dancing, and more booze. Amazing quantities of chicha, beer, and wine are consumed. In fact, this is Chile’s biggest drinking holiday, much akin to New Year’s Eve in the US.
It seems that 2009 is the year of the Cueca Chora (also called Cueca Brava). Young people who were long reticent to twirl their handkerchiefs and stomp their feet have taken new pride in the national dance.
For more on September 18 Fiestas Patrias activities, see “El Dieciocho“.