A party kicked off last Sunday in the depths of the Andes, as a crowd of reporters gathered at Chile’s highest ‘fonda’ in Huilo Huilo reserve in the Northern reaches of Patagonia. The celebration was in honour of Chile’s 200th anniversary of independence, which falls on Sept. 18.
Guests at the reserve passed round hollowed-out goat’s horns (cachos) containing a sweet liquor (chicha) beneath a skyline punctuated by smouldering volcanoes.
Over the course of this September the country will descend into mass celebration, culminating with a four-day national holiday, as Chile’s version of Brazil’s Carnival season erupts across the nation.
Thousands of ‘fondas’ will shortly be under construction in every small town and village in every region of the country. Also known as ‘ramadas’ because they are often made from branches, (ramas) these temporary fairs are set up to cater for about 10 days of food, games, drinking, dancing and crafts of all kinds.
A distinguishing feature of the one held this past weekend, however, is that it was buried under five metres of snow, nestled just beneath the snow-foothills of Volcano Mocho-Choshuenco, just above a strip of thousand-year-old forest listed by UNESCO as one of the 25 most valuable and threatened eco-regions on the planet.
Huilo Huilo, quaint as the name may sound, consists of 107,000 hectares – roughly two times the size of Santiago – of UNESCO classified virgin forest, that extends from the southern stretch of the Colorado River in Argentina to the city of Valdivia, Chile, to borders of Tierra del Fuego. The reserve is situated 800 kilometres south of Santiago, in a band of temperate rainforest that spans Chile.
Acquired in the 1990s shortly before the land sellings of the late Pinochet regime, Víctor Petermann put the integration of the local community as a principle aim in the development and running of the reserve. For that matter, locals such as José Miguel Carrera tell us that “all you need is initiative, and then you put forward a proposal and begin making it happen.”
Tourists who visit the reserve can chose between a luxury spa-hotel with beds facing out over the forest canopy; self-catering cabins set away from the main hotel; or for an authentic experience can to bunk up with residents of the local town Neltume.
The Huilo Huilo foundation safeguards local traditions and customs and a large part of the school curricula is dedicated to preserving folklore. Three families from Neltume in traditional Huaso dress – flat-brimmed hats, knee-high boots, spurs and ponchos – joined the celebration, singing and dancing traditional Folklore songs about land, love, flora and fauna.
“These are the songs that people of the villages around this region would sing. They are about the experiences and the ways of the people of this country. The songs have been the same for many generations before, so we think it’s important to continue the tradition”, said the accordionist of the group.