Let it never, ever be said that the Chilean people lack warmth or hospitality. I learned this lesson well in March of 2016, when I flew to Chile for a two-month backpacking trip to celebrate the completion of my Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. Less than 48 hours after landing in Santiago, I found myself in a situation I had never imagined in my wildest dreams – adopted by a Chilean family and invited to be a member of their wedding party in Valparaíso.
If you like this post, check out my photo journal or youtube playlist for more photos and videos of the wedding day. Don’t forget to read the descriptions for each picture/video, because they provide more interesting backstory!
As unexpected as it was to be invited into Nelson and Pati’s home in Viña del Mar (who says you shouldn’t talk to strangers???), the invitation to become a member of the wedding party was even more surprising. And it came with an unfortunate, and slightly embarrassing, hitch.
I had nothing to wear.
I was in Chile to backpack! To hit the mountains! My plan had been to head straight to the mountains to hike for days, not attend a wedding! And my mountain clothes were not the serviceable-yet-chic mountain fashion you often see in places like Boulder, Colorado. No, no. My mountain clothes were baggy, well-used garments in which I was generally very comfortable. Just not at weddings.
I fretted about it for quite a long time. Buying an outfit just for the wedding was out of the question – not only did I not have extra money, I would then have to haul around the fancy clothes for the next two months. And that was definitely not happening.
I finally broke down and confided my dilemma to Pati in my garbled Chilean Spanish. And Pati, bless her warm and kind heart, simply waved her hand towards my clothes and said with a smile “What are you talking about? You look fine! Besides,” she added with a conspiratorial smile, “it’s their second wedding.”
So, I stopped worrying. And I went to the wedding. Well, I suppose I should say that I worried less. I still felt like I stood out a lot, since I towered over everyone, had blonde hair, could barely speak Spanish, and wasn’t wearing nice clothes, but I finally gave up on the dream of fitting in. I would stand out at the wedding, but the guests would know that I was not being intentionally disrespectful and I would be able to be a part of Manuel and Paola’s special day.
And I am so, so glad that I went. There were countless new experiences in that one day alone. We heard live Bolivian music on the metro to Valparaíso so ethereal and poignant that for a moment I thought I was dreaming. I witnessed the wedding in the Chilean courthouse, and afterwards rode in a taxi up, up, way up into the steep hills (“cerros”) that surround Valparaíso, up into the area where tourists shouldn’t go because the locals may not be welcoming, but it was okay for me because I was accompanied by my Chilean family.
Between lunch and dinner, Pati, Nelson and I descended to the city on foot, and Pati took us on a tour of Valparaíso, the city where she grew up. We saw beautiful street art, took an acensor so steep it felt more like an elevator, and marveled at the peaceful tranquility one felt while looking over the city from a deck that once belonged to Pablo Neruda. We got tipsy drinking terremotos (“earthquakes”) at J. Cruz M, and as dark fell we ascended by taxi once again for dinner and the opening of presents. The evening was brought to a close by the dancing of the cueca, a traditional Chilean partner dance, which was accompanied by the twinkling of the city lights far, far below.
Of course, there are many more photos and videos I took that will really give you a better feel of what that day was like in Chile. So, if you are interested in experiencing more, I recommend reading my photo journal from that day or checking out this youtube playlist with videos I took. In both cases, I definitely recommend reading the descriptions, because they provide more backstory into the photos and videos that really complete the picture.
Well, that’s all she wrote. For now. Thanks for reading, and happy travels, friends!