How to party like a Chilean

End of semester celebration with the teachers.
End of semester celebration with the teachers.

I’m afraid to say that kayaking socials in university have got absolutely nothing on how Chileans like to party. I used to think we were pretty hardcore on weekend kayaking trips, where we’d stay up “late” until 1 or 2am the night before long days of white water kayaking. But it’s a whole other ball game out here, and the weekend that really broke me was my first visit to Puerto Natales. Third night on the trot and I decided to go home early… at 3.30am. Yes, that’s early!

After being here for 4 months there’s a lot of Chilean cultural things I’m now accustomed to, but parties that go on late in to the night are the hardest to get used to, because it plays havoc with your body clock. Every weekday the lessons I teach start at 8am, so Sunday is generally a lazy day to recover from getting home at 5 or 6 in the morning. If everything was pushed back then I could just become a night owl, but it’s the switching back and forth between normal working hours and crazy party hours that’s difficult.

Night no.2 in Natales. The night was only just getting started...
Night no.2 in Natales. The night was only just getting started…

Most parties here are in a quincho, and I honestly don’t know how I lived the past 22 years of my life without this word. Instead of partying in houses and making a mess there, lots of people have a quincho. This is normally either an extension to a house (usually with a separate entrance) or even a building by itself that you can hire out for bigger events. They vary a lot in size and decoration (some stranger than others) but they all have a barbecue to cook lots of food and somewhere to eat, and most have some space to dance too. Its only purpose is social gatherings, and if I ever own a house (or a treehouse…) then it’s definitely having a quincho!

Birthday with my new
Birthday cake with my new “brother” Griffin and our host Cristian.

For my first month or so in Chile I went out every weekend, getting home at around 5am and then having the next day to sleep in. My birthday was 3 weeks after I arrived to my new home in Punta Arenas, and like any Chilean carrete (their name for a party) you don’t even leave the house to go to the club until late. 2am at the earliest, which is when clubs start closing in the UK! If you try to go to a club too early then it won’t be open. One weekend on my way to a carrete, I walked past a club at 10:30pm and it looked shut, which I thought was odd for a Friday night. Fast forward a few hours and on my way back home I had to push through crowds because it was party central. I was just too early the first time!

New member of the family for Cristian's birthday
New member of the family for Cristian’s birthday. So many of us now we don’t know where to look!

The latest that I’ve stayed out so far is 8:30am, which was at a birthday party for my host, Cristian. For me the late hour wasn’t a surprise, but for the gringas who had only just arrived it was like chucking them in at the deep end. We’ve had another influx of volunteers, the ones who are only teaching the second semester, and one of them is living in the same house as me. Lily, my new “sister”, was well up for the partying, but for Meghan it was too much too soon, so eventually she fell asleep. Time to teach everyone the buckaroo game…

Sorry Meghan...
Sorry Meghan…

Cristian’s birthday also sprung up another common occurrence here – lots of dancing, voluntarily or otherwise. The music here is much better than at home, so it’s at least easier to dance to, but that doesn’t prepare you for being chucked in front of a crowd. This time around it was to dance cueca, Chile’s national dance, and it went a lot better than my first time! I had a bit of guidance, but I was mostly making it up as I went along. I’ve now started actual cueca lessons, in preparation for National Day in September. There are videos of my various dancing attempts somewhere, so if I’m feeling nice I might post them later.

The meal with the school staff to celebrate Father's Day. I ended up having to dance in front of EVERYONE and I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do!
The meal with the school staff to celebrate Father’s Day. I ended up having to dance in front of EVERYONE and I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do!

I can tell you for a fact that somewhere on many Chilean teenagers’ phones are videos of me and my fellow volunteers dancing during the English Winter Camp, where we became the source of entertainment while waiting for the closing ceremony to start. It all started out with Griffin who had a crowd gathered around him, and then once the kids caught sight of other volunteers they’d start chanting your name until you joined in. It was pretty awkward and went on for far too long, but like I said, you don’t get much choice in the matter!

One tip for if you ever get invited to a carrete: don’t arrive on time! Parties almost always start late, but “Chilean time” is a whole other story I just don’t have time to explain right now (No pun intended!). We were once told to come to a party at 10:30pm, so arrived at 11:30pm and we were the first ones there!

I’m still unsure how everyone seems to cope so well with crazy body clock changes, and why partying late became a thing but either way, “staying up late” now has a whole new meaning to me. Maybe the whole “late party” thing started when somebody important was late to their own party, but they had to continue anyway… and then it snowballed from there.

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