I’m standing on Bronte Beach but I might as well be on the other side of the world. The hypnotic, primal rhythm of salsa music is a heady underscore to the fast paced Spanish chatter of the fifty or so people surrounding the BBQ.
The sweetness of pisco and Coke (piscola) is in my mouth and the cold wind blowing off the Pacific create a strange contrast. All around me are Chilean guys oozing machismo and Chilean girls moving and swaying to the music in a way that just screams sex.
I was born on the wrong continent.
Fiestas Patrias is the celebration of Chilean Independence. Not being Chilean or having had any Chilean friends before, I was not aware of September 18th’s significance until I strolled down to Bronte Beach and saw the sea of red and white spread out below. Flags blew in the wind and face paint decorated the faces of children and adults alike. Thousands of miles from their South American home – Sydney’s Chilean residents had turned idyllic Bronte Beach into a bastion of Latin American pride.
I arrived while my friend Nicole from Hola Chica Travels was off in Bondi securing her first Australian job. Now while it’s true that I did take a short course in Spanish at The Spanish Cat last year – my Spanish vocabulary is basically limited to:
- Tengo un gato en mes pantalones (I have a cat in my pants)
- Los ochos banditos tienen me hombre (The eight bandits have my man)
- Estoy rabioso! (I am furious!)
- Mi nombre es Chris (My name is Chris)
And a few other random words like llaves (key) and banyo (toilet). You know – the essentials…
So I decided against launching myself into the festivities and instead contented myself with snapping photos of the beach and of an impromptu game of football that broke out between the Chileans on hand. Plenty of photos below:
Soon I was joined by Nicole and her cousin Anne. I later found out that the Latin American definition of ‘cousin’ is a little more liberally used than it is here in Oz. Anne is Nicole’s nanny’s sister’s daughter. Or something. There was another guy there who was Nicole’s mother’s friend’s friend’s son. I kid you not. And they were as thick as thieves!
I envy them that. To be able to travel around the world and stay with ‘family’ as defined in the loosest of terms would be such a treat. And you would never tell they aren’t actually related. Very sweet.
Once the girls arrived, I was able to actually participate in the festivities. A Wollongong based Chilean expat successfully procured us a few beers time and time again by simply scavenging the tables for forgotten beers. Not the classiest of ways to find a drink – but definitely the cheapest.
He was not impressed when he had to make do with a Five Seeds instead of a beer. I wish I had captured the look on his face.
So we drank liberated beers, had a few glasses of Pisco & Coke, and mingled with the surprisingly large and unsurprisingly friendly Chilean community.
“This is small,” Fernando informed me after introducing himself with a gentle head-butt to my chest, “There will be 4000 people in Fairfield tomorrow”.
I don’t get drunk. There’s an entire post coming in the near future to explain the why of that. I pose for photos with people too drunk to walk in a straight line. I listen in amusement as a pair of party-goers bounce from threatening fisticuffs to calling one another brother.
At one point I feisty (and pretty) little Chilean girl attempts to pick me up. Literally. She wrapped her tiny arms around me and tried to heft my 100 and something kilograms off of the ground.
“You’re too fat,” she informs me with a saucy grin. I’m well aware of the fact.
Later in the evening, that same pretty girl grabs me and drags me out onto the well worn grass that acts as a dancefloor. She makes me spin her and dip her. I’m grateful for the lessons in dancing I’ve had from past friends.
“You can dance?” she asks in surprise as I spin her around. I nod dumbly. Smooth.
“You did well” she states when we are done. She nods and then disappears into the crowd.
I don’t see her again.
Soon enough we’re picking up the dozens of empty beer bottles and discarded paper cups. Fernando leads us in the clean-up. He then urges all of us to pile into cars and head into the city to continue the party. Nicole decides to tag along.
My empty wallet tells me I should just go home.
My first taste of Latin American celebration was a lot of fun. I didn’t get to sample some Chilean BBQ, but I continued the love affair with Pisco that got kick started at the Sydney Good Food & Wine Festival earlier this year. Piscola is almost as good as Pisco Sour.