President Barack Obama’s announcement during his State of the Union Address that he would be visiting Chile this year certainly ruffled some feathers. Why, after 20 years sans Presidential attention, had Mr. Obama chosen Santiago for a stop on his Latin American tour?
The official reasons came flying. Secretary of State Clinton pointed to Chile’s remarkable recovery from dictatorship to vibrant democracy. Chile has one of the most stable economies in Latin America. With its safety, climate and level of development, Chile makes a comfortable destination for North American visitors – presidents included – a point that contributed to the New York Times’ declaration that Santiago was the world’s top travel destination for 2011.
We at This is Chile have compiled our own short list of other, less touted similarities between the United States and Chile. We’re not going to say these were directly responsible for Mr. Obama’s visit, but like the widely lauded rescue of the 33 Chilean miners in October, they certainly couldn’t have hurt.
Texas Flag v. Chilean Flag
It’s possible than Mr. Obama, like many Americans, just got confused by Chile’s flag. With it’s single star on a blue field, and two thick stripes in red and white, the Chilean flag is nearly identical to those that fly over Texas – the Lone Star State. Though we don’t doubt that Mr. Obama is well-versed in vexillology (the study of flags for those who weren’t aware), we can’t vouch for his aids. If our suspicions are right, Monday could be a rough day for whoever screwed this one up.
Cowboys v. Huasos
Like the American west, Chile is a land obsessed with horses. Throughout the country, Chilean cowboys, known as huasos, don wide brimmed straw hats, ponchos and spurred boots to ride their horses into the mountains, across rivers and in the rodeo ring. Typical of the valleys of Central Chile, from the region of Coquimbo in the north to Los Lagos in the south, huasos are a common sight to this day in the Chilean countryside. Historically huasos were farmers, but like their counterparts in the northern hemisphere, they’ve also been known to engage in feats of derring-do.
Not unlike Denver, Colorado, Santiago sits snugly at the base of one of the world’s most impressive mountain ranges, which offers access to a handful of the southern hemisphere’s top ski resorts. Unlike the Rockies where March is a great time to enjoy some end-of-season Spring skiing, the Andes won’t have enough snow until June. Those Obama ladies have been known to nip off and hit the slopes for an afternoon. We just hope they weren’t planning to cut trails in the Andes on this trip.
The wine-producing valleys that extend to the north and south of Santiago are more California than Colorado. The mountains are bigger and some of the grape varieties unfamiliar (try your luck finding Carmenere grown anywhere but Chile), but the principal is the same. Like the great wine regions of northern California, Chile’s valleys are sandwiched between scrubby mountains and the sea, with the same hot, dry summers, mild, wet winters, and enough variation from one valley to another to produce an incredible diversity of flavor profiles. Both California and Chile are home to large, global wine exporters (Gallo and Concha y Toro respectively), but are distinguished by the small, boutique vineyards that make their individual regions special.
Hotdogs v. Completos
Chile and California might be home to some of the finest wines in the New World, but Chile, like the United States, is equally defined by its humblest comestible: the completo. With its origins in the American hotdog, the completo ups the street snack ante, smothering an old-fashioned American sausage in tomato, mashed avocado, and enough mayo to jumpstart a coronary, among other potential ingredients. They may have invented the hotdog up north, but we defy you to find anything this over the top on a typical American street corner.
Hawai’i v. Easter Island
If he had more time to spend in Chile, Mr. Obama might manage to get a little taste of his childhood home in Hawai’i with quick jaunt out to Chile’s very own remote Pacific territory: Easter Island. Two of the most geographically isolated places on earth, both Hawai’i and Easter Island are specks of volcanic rock in the midst of a great, blue expanse and home to native Polynesian culture. Two days is hardly enough time to board a flight halfway across the Pacific, but if Chile and the United States continue their courtship, maybe President Obama will have a chance to stop by on his next visit to the fringes of South America.