Charming Chile, Pt. 2: More to Wonder at
There is so much to tell about Chile that we could not cram it into our first article. Today, we go on with our exploration of the amazing country and its wonders!
Chilean History and Geography
- When Ferdinand Magellan first saw an archipelago near the southern end of South America, he focused on the campfires set up by locals and the smoke that was rising from them. The sight inspired him to call it the “Land of Smoke”; however, the then King of Spain decided that the poetic “Land of Fire”, or Tierra del Fuego, would be a better-suited name. Nowadays, the largest island of the archipelago is 30% Argentine and 70% Chilean. The main port of Tierra del Fuego, Porvenir, has a post with signs showing distances to every major point of Chile. It also states the distance to Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia, because the population of Porvenir is mainly of Yugoslav descent.
- The world’s most ancient mummies are exhibited in San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum. The radiocarbon dating method proved the oldest of the 282 mummies found in Northern Chile, which are better known as Chinchorro mummies, dates back to 5050 B.C. It is a mummified body of a child found in the Camarones Valley. Moreover, Chileans did not use the sacred rite of mummification for rulers and nobles only; they believed everyone is entitled to the ritual, no matter how young/old or poor they were. The oldest naturally mummified body was recovered from the Atacama Desert; it dates back to 7200 B.C.
- Santiago is the capital of Chile. It is also the largest and the most densely populated city – 5.15 million people, which makes a little less than one-third of Chile’s 17.91-million population.
- Chile is home to the world’s southernmost permanently inhabited settlement. Puerto Williams is located on Isla Navarino located about 1.5 miles south of Chile.
- Punta Arenas, a city in the southernmost region of Chile, has a cemetery with graves of people from all over the world and several memorials dedicated to shipwreck victims who did not succeed in reaching the shores of Chile safely.
- The city of Valparaiso is not only one of the best-off cities in Chile; it is also an important manufacturing center and the home of the biggest fireworks show in South America. The 2007 New Year’s fireworks festival holds the record of the most fireworks exploded during one night – 16,000.
- Locates 2,336 miles to the west of Chile, on Easter Island, Mataveri Airport is the most remote airport in the world. It has a single runway, which is so long that NASA once considered it as an alternative shuttle landing site!
- Chile is also home to the world’s largest swimming pool! Located in Algarrobo, the recreational facility occupies the overall area of 20 acres. The pool itself is 1,000 yards long, which makes it larger than 20 standard swimming pools used, say, during the Olympic Games, and reaches the depth of 115 feet in places!
- In Chile, divorce was only legalized a little more than a decade ago – in 2005! Interestingly, the husband and the wife do not share the same family name in marriage; each keeps the last name they were known by before the wedding. A man and a woman who share their last name are often thought of as siblings.
- Thanks to its enormous copper reserves, Chile is the lead exporter of the metal in the world.
- The Norte Grande region of Chile is known for its peculiarly clear atmosphere. With 300 nights of clear skies in a year, Norte Grande is the best place to observe celestial bodies.
- The world’s most powerful earthquake recorded since 1900 took place in Chile in 1960. Its magnitude reached 9.5! The earthquake killed 1,500 people and destroyed the homes of 2,000 more.
- Growing in southern Chile, the alerce tree has an exceptionally long lifespan; there are specimens that are 4,000 years old!
Chilean Food and Wine
- Chilean teatime is called once. If you remember this article we wrote about Spanish cardinal numbers, you would immediately wonder why the teatime is called eleven (no Stranger Things involved, I promise). There are three versions of the name’s origin:
- It was named after 11 a.m. – traditional British teatime,
- It involved elevensies, which are British biscuits served at teatime, hence the association,
- It corresponds to the number of letters in the word aguardiente – a strong drink that men sneaked away to sip during teatime.
- Pisco is the national drink of Chile. It is a brandy-like spirit, clear and strong. It is usually served with coke, vermouth, or ginger ale, but another popular cocktail made with Pisco features lemon, beaten egg whites, sugar, and ice. It is called Pisco sour.
- Curanto is a very special Chilean dish that originated on Chiloé Island. It is a meal of shellfish and meat cooked in a stone-covered hole in the soil. Tourists, however, are most likely to be offered a less authentic version of the dish – curanto en olla, which, as its name suggests, is cooked in a pot.
- Chileans love bread! In fact, it’s only Germany that beats them in terms of bread consumption. Their love of bread may be explained by the versatility of the bread baked in the country, as well as by their infallible deliciousness, especially that of the famed marraquetas.
- Chile ranks next to Norway in terms of salmon export and is the world’s leader in fishmeal export.
- With over a hundred local wineries, Chile ranks 9th among the world’s biggest wine producers and 5th among wine exporters.
Chile’s nickname país de poetas (the country of poets) was not chosen by accident:
- Gabriela Mistral is the pseudonym of Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, one of the most famous and beloved poets of Chile. She was a simple, poor school teacher in the village of Monte Grande and yet, she was the first Latin American to get the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945. In her poems, Gabriela Mistral tells about the life of her village and the children she taught at school.
- Chile’s most famous poet Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. The poet studied at the school where Gabriela Mistral worked (she then was the head teacher and the poet then went by his real name Neftalí Reyes). Neruda’s poems of love and Latin American culture have gained unprecedented appreciation.
- Alexander Selkirk, a sailor from Scotland who had been marooned on the Islas Juan Fernandez, spent 4 years in the unknown land. After his rescue, the sailor wrote the story of his adventures and survival, which became extremely popular; the story is believed to be the inspiration that led to the creation of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
- Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is also believed to have been inspired by the events that took place just off Chile’s coast and involved a whaling ship called Essex.
- Sketches made by explorers of Chile’s Tierra del Fuego and its native tribes are believed to have served as an inspiration for William Shakespeare’s Tempest, the character of Caliban, to be more precise.
- There is a tradition of poetic duels held by payadores (ordinary people with a poetic talent). Witty fellows engage in passionate poetic battles whenever and wherever they come across each other, be it a camping site in the Andes or a café in the center of Santiago.
Chilean Holidays and Traditions
- Chiloé Island of Chile is known for its tradition of moving houses. The building is mounted onto tree trunks and hauled by oxen to the new living site. The event is called minga and it usually involves the whole community.
- No matter how big or small a new constructions site, the Chileans always observe the tradition associated with the tijerales, or the roof support. Once the structure is completed, Chileans place a flag on top of the tijerales and hold a party with the indispensable asado (barbecue).
- Chilean men and women perform the dance called cueca, which reminds of a rooster courting a hen. The dance usually ends in a traditional position: with the man on one knee and the woman victoriously placing one foot on his knee.
- Chilean cowboys are called huasos. The name originated from the native language of Mapuche and it refers to the shoulders or haunches. Turns out, the Mapuche had never seen horses before the conquistadors arrived, so they believed that the horsemen were not riding on horseback, but that they were attached to the horse somewhere between its shoulders and haunches.
- Cuasimodo is a religious tradition that dates back to the colonial times. On the first Sunday immediately after Easter, priests and huasos form a procession to carry the Holy Communion to Chileans who were too ill or old to attend the mass. Nowadays, Cuasimodo involves various swift means of transport: motorbikes, bicycles, carts, etc.
- The Independence Day of Chile is celebrated on the 18th and 19th of September every year. There is a law that obliges all public buildings to hang out the Chilean flag for the celebrations. The flag must be flawless and be attached to a white pole or hung from the front of the building. If the flag does not look perfect or is not hung in compliance with the law, the responsible person may get fined.
Let's see how many of these Chilean trivia facts you have memorized while reading the article!