It last gained independence on February 12th, 1818. The world’s longest country from north to south, measuring at 2,647 miles long, but just 93 miles wide. Home of the Atacama Desert, the driest desert on Earth with an average rainfall of just 0.6 inches per year, although, in some areas, rain has never been recorded. It has the world’s lowest divorce rate with just 0.1 divorces per 1,000 people. 0.1! How do you have 0.1 of a divorce! That said, divorce only became legal in 2005. Birthplace of former NCIS star María José de Pablo Fernández, born in the capital city, Santiago. Home to the world’s second largest swimming pool, at the San Alfonso del Mar private resort in the town of Algarrobo. 1,108 yards long and covering 20 acres. Some people… have far too much money… The most common names include Alexandra, Bárbara and Carla, for women, and Benjamin, Vicente and Martin, for men. Where the Chinchorro mummies were found, the oldest examples of artificially mummified human remains on the planet. Where the largest ever earthquake was recorded, in the city of Valdivia in 1960, with a magnitude of 9.6. Home of 90 active volcanoes. In 2016, this country broke the world record for the most number of football players in a match, a five day, 120 hour marathon that featured a staggering 2,357 players. They weren’t all on the pitch at the same time, I must stress… And it’s where you’ll find the CEFAA, a government agency tasked with studying ‘aerial phenomena characterised as unidentified flying objects,’ otherwise known as UFOs. Yes, their government actively studies cases of… UFOs. They should have set The X-Files here, shouldn’t they? Today, we’re visiting The Country of Poets, Chile.
The Republic of Chile is a South American country, a long and ribbon-like strip of land sandwiched between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, bordered by Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. It is the 37th largest country on Earth at 291,933 square miles, between Turkey and Zambia, with the 62nd largest population with 18.19 million people, between Mali and Kazakhstan. The motto of Chile is, ‘Por la razón o la fuerza,’ which is Spanish for, ‘By right or might.’ I think I used to know Paula Raisin…
Nobody knows for sure where the name of the country comes from, but there are theories. 17th century Spanish chronicler Diego de Rosales claims that the Incas named the valley of the Aconcagua ‘Chili’ by corruption of the name of a Picunche cacique, a tribal chief, named Tili. Others say that the name may derive from an indigenous word from America meaning ‘ends of the Earth’, or it could come from the Mapuche word chilli, meaning, similarly, ‘where the land ends.’ Whatever the truth, it was the few survivors of Diego de Almagro’s first expedition to Chile who first referred to the area as ‘Chile,’ coming home calling themselves, ‘Men of Chilli!’ Of course, it’s entirely possible they conquered a particularly hot piece of food and were bragging about it. The ‘Chile’ spelling, after all, didn’t enter the English language until 365 years later. I like to think they were referring to the food. Happens more often than you think. Have you never been to Hot Dog Island? It’s delicious…
The current flag was designed by José Ignacio Zenteno. The three colours symbolise the sky, the snowy Andes, and the blood shed during the many conflicts the country has endured. The star featured on the first flag of the country, albeit in a different style, and comes from the Mapuche, a people indigenous to parts of Chile and Argentina. A popular legend in Chile claims that the Chilean flag won the coveted ‘Most Beautiful Flag in the World’ competition in 1907, held in Belgium, of all places. This story differs depending on who you speak to. In one version, it lost to the French flag, but that can’t be true because they’ve never won anything…
Chile is one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations, leading the way in Latin America in competitiveness, economic freedom, globalisation, human development, income and state of peace. This is a land dominated by the amalgamation of Amerindian, Spanish and indigenous, mostly Mapuche, cultures, along with influences from England, France and Germany. Creativity reigns, here, with Chileans referring to their country as país de poetas, the country of poets. Chilean Lucila Alcayaga was the first Latin American to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature, whilst poet Pablo Neruda, who also won the same prize, is world-renowned for his works of romance, nature and politics. And he’s not the only one. Poets Carlos Véliz, Gonzalo Rojas, Nicanor Parra, Pablo de Rokha, Raúl Zurita and Vicente Huidobro have all received international critical acclaim for their works. Chilean novelist Isabel Allende has sold 51 million copies of her novels worldwide, whilst the works of José Donoso are often regarded as some of the finest examples of western literature.
This is also a country alive with music, with the lively cueca the national dance, accompanied by accordions, guitarróns, guitars, harps and the tambourine, enriched with high pitched singing and unique dancing. Folkloric and classical genres are a particular love, with singing traditional Chilean songs also popular, such as the tonada, often slow and melancholic in nature. In February of every year, music and dance festivals are held across the city of Viña del Mar, such is the passion for dance and music.
Chileans are a people immensely proud of their cultural heritage. Firstly, their intangible heritage, composed of many cultural events, such as arts, crafts, cuisine, dances, holidays, music and traditions, and secondly, by the tangible: buildings, objects and sites of archaeological, architectural, artistic, ethnographic, folkloric, historical, religious, traditional and technological importance, all scattered across Chile. They celebrate Cultural Heritage Day every May to honour and show respect for this heritage. This is a country both geographically and culturally diverse, with numerous indigenous and immigrant groups forming the richly eclectic backbone to a fine nation.
Whilst Chile has welcomed in the modern world with open arms, it remains predominantly traditional. Chileans are friendly and helpful. They fight for what they believe in, proud of their choices and proud to defend it. That said, it is a sociable culture, meeting regularly in gatherings of joy and frivolity, often finding any excuse to spend time with one another. They are a talkative people, too, and it’s not uncommon to find groups talking anywhere and everywhere, from the coffee shops to the streets. This really is a country where it’s impossible to be lonely…
This is a land of incredible and unusual contrasts, home of many beaches, fjords, glaciers and icebergs, stretching from the infamous Atacama Desert in the north to Cape Horn in the south. Much of the interior is covered in huge mountains, with the snowcapped Andes covering almost Chile’s entire eastern border, with over 600 volcanoes covering them in Chile alone. Smaller mountains are dotted along or near to the coast, the fertile plains where agriculture thrives. Throughout the country, one will find deep valleys and high plateaus fronting the mountains, whilst in the south, you’ll find a large group of small, clear blue lakes, adorned with many gorgeous waterfalls. The south is also home to an uncountable group of islands, many mountainous, fronting the coastline, together forming a series of winding channels and fjords. You’ll also find dozens of rivers mixed in with this stunning and dramatic landscape. This really is an extraordinarily beautiful country, dripping in untold breathtaking majesty.
There are sights in indulge in such as the splendid and flawless history of Plaza de Armas, the main square of Santiago, and the exquisite and charming Iglesia de Santa María de Loreto de Achao in the town of Achao. This outstanding wooden Roman Catholic Church dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries, a phenomenal, praiseworthy and grand structure, one of delicious form and expert craftsmanship.
And then there’s the magisterial dominance that is the charismatic and glorious Chungará Lake and the Parinacota volcano that rests behind it. Together they form something remarkable, something astonishing, a bonére and striking canvas of the utmost magnificence. A resplendent gem of exceptional splendour.
Then there’s the sumptuous and unbelievable Valle de Luna, a sight so unhuman and not of this world, that it’s rather difficult to believe that it… is. This elysian masterpiece is Martian in origin, its red rocks, steep valleys and looming sentinel volcanoes speak of the red planet, grasping you with their ineffable tendrils and pulling you close with effortless and illecebrous wonder. It is dazzling and ravishing. Just… sensational.
But my favourite sight of Chile is the quite frankly stunning and awe-inspiring Cordillera Paine, a lunar like landscape glistening like a pearlescent jewel, a vista born from an alien mind rich in colourful and eclectic imagination. Such is the power of such breathtaking majesty, one cannot help but be transported to the far off reaches of some graceful and ethereal world on the other side of the cosmos, seemingly isolated yet so enchanting and enthralling it transforms into an old friend. Some extraordinary and mesmeric beauty, a beginningless creation from the most wonderful madness.
Chile. The country of music, heritage and little green men.
Images (Click on Them to Enlarge)
1) The flag of Chile
2) Cordillera Paine
3) Valle de Luna
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