Preparations in a central Santiago park gear up for the Fiestas Patrias

Parque O’Higgins, a park named after one of the main heroes of Chile’s independence, will be the epicentre of Santiago’s Fiestas Patrias. The park is known to be the most popular place to go over the four day holiday and will host more than 80,000 partygoers at five different fondas.

iorana550

Viviane Aravena, an English language teacher from El Tabo, has been bringing the party to Santiago each spring for more than 15 years. Tucked away at one side of Parque O’Higgins, propped up by some huge Eucalyptus trees, her fonda, ‘Iorana’, this year won the title of Parque O’Higgins’ official fonda for the second time.

Along with husband Alberto and a team of around 300 family and friends, she arrived to begin the setup more than a month ago. They have a friend’s house to sleep in, but others who also travelled in from the country for the party have been living on the site in tents. The fruits of their labour will see the next four days erupt into a solid party beginning Friday and ending Monday, without stopping once.

On a visit earlier this week, we entered the fonda, a hive of activity, to find Viviane lent over a table with a Stanley knife, cutting hundreds of pricing tags from sheets of card. She is putting the finishing touches to her month’s work: a giant, rickety building – 2,900 cubic metres of palettes, plastic and plywood with a sand floor and a kitsch looking Chilean homestead as the backdrop for the main stage.

Men are painting the undersides of 17 oil drums which have been welded to steel legs and will be fired up for asados (barbecues) when the party starts. Others appear covered in black from head to toe after lugging charcoal for the barbecues all morning, and using screwdrivers to eat spaghetti from plastic cups.

“Somos los mineros!” they joke. (We are the miners!) The fonda has been dedicated to the 33 trapped miners which have drawn huge media attention to Copiapó in the north of Chile.

“We light up the barbecues around 1 o’clock for the lunchtime rush between two and four”, says Oswaldo Collante, “and then we’re going flat out all night. We put them out at about 5 in the morning and then it all starts again.”

“You’ve just got to get through it!” says Viviane. “The thing is you also have to enjoy it. You have to have the knowledge and prepare well, and then you just have to enjoy it.”

“We were overwhelmed the first year,” says Oswaldo Collante as he heaves around a barbecue. There were so many people outside last year that when they shut the doors the crowd stormed through one of the makeshift side walls. This year they have made extra reinforcements.

“It has to be well organised to be good,” says Viviane, who is presiding over five separate bars, a kitchen, loos, cloakroom, wine store, chicha bar, and the main stage that will pump out Chilean classics and be graced by the President of the country. Her husband started out 20 years ago working at Fonda La Quintralla, the oldest in Parque Bustamante, and knows all the tips of the trade.

Arita Littlejohn and Milly Cent, all family and friends of Viviane, make up some of those who have been living in tents behind the huge structure.  They are peeling beans for salads that will be served with the meat from the barbecues.

“You’ve got the rest of the year to rest,” says Arita, who runs a campsite in the VIII region. “It’s just good to get out of the routine a bit – we all live for that.”

The municipality of Santiago has authorised the construction of 10 kitchens, 12 stalls dedicated to typical games played in the period, 28 drinks stands, and 163 artisan shops.