Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year the Chilean Way!

1 January 2016

Happy New Year!  Feliz Año Nuevo!!

Every place in the world has their own way of celebrating festivities.  This is one of the most fascinating parts of travelling, seeing the unique celebrations everywhere we go.

One of the more interesting customs in Chile is that people wear yellow underwear to ring in the New Year.  Yes, I know - as I said, interesting!  I asked the woman selling these undies if this was for love, or what.  (I had read somewhere that people looking for romance in the New Year wear new yellow underwear.)  She replied "Amor, buena fortuna, dinero, salud" - "love, good fortune, money, health" - pretty much everything anyone might want for the New Year.  So yes, they have men's yellow boxers and briefs, women's yellow thongs, bikinis, and regular undies, and of course child-sized.  Because everyone needs good luck in the New Year.  

I've also heard that people who want to travel in the coming year spend a day or two walking around with empty luggage.  No idea if we saw anyone with empty luggage, since most of the people we saw were already travelling!

We decided to head to the Valparaíso area to celebrate the New Year.  We had heard about the Valpo New Year's Eve festivities ever since one of my nieces was working there some six or so years ago.  She raved about the New Year's fireworks and the massive party that follows - and Richard and I both love fireworks.  So this seemed like a fun and exciting thing to do.  And our South American sojourn is ALL about fun and exciting and everything we always wanted to do.

Some million or so people arrive for the Valparaíso fireworks and party each year, so there's a mass exodus from Santiago for the holiday, and hotel business booms.  We couldn't find a hotel in Valpo, but opted instead for Viña del Mar, a neighboring town on the Valparaíso Harbor.   

We caught a bus from Santiago to Viña del Mar - we pre-bought the tickets, because the buses also get booked up.  It was a beautiful ride - first through the city, then the mountains that ring Santiago, and then the fertile highlands or plains which is a major grape-growing and wine-producing region.  Santiago is very dry, so it was wonderful to ride through the verdant green hills and wine country.

We arrived, found our hotel, all that normal stuff.  And went out walking, to scope out the neighborhood as well as find the best spot for fireworks.

People were on the streets selling hats, glitter wigs, sparkly masks, and vacuum-packed cans of confetti, labelled "confetti rockets."  No fireworks, as we've seen in some countries.  Just items to enhance the partying.

The Valparaíso Harbor is huge, with a series of towns ringing the coast.  Each town participates in the fireworks display, which is billed as the largest fireworks extravaganza in all of South America!  We saw huge floating inflatable barges up and down the harbor, all set up for the fireworks.

So on Thursday night, New Year's Eve, we headed to the casino.  I know, it seems odd.  But the Viña del Mar casino is right by the beach, in the middle of the harbor's curve, so one can see all the way to the town of Concón to the right, and Valparaíso on the left.  

The casino was full of people who were dressed up, some with crazy hats, others wearing the masks, or glittery wigs.  Even the staff were running around with some sort of celebratory paraphernalia.  Outside the casino gates, people were packed on the walkway and drive that runs along the shoreline - also in headwear, much of which had flashing colorful lights, either as horns, bows, or just as headbands.  We were some of the few people without any New Year's Eve gizmo on our head.  And very possibly the only people without bright yellow undies as well!!!  (That's only a supposition on my part.)

We noticed that overhead there were floating orange-ish lanterns.  I've heard about these in different parts of Asia: there's a little silk balloon with a wire structure that holds a small can of fuel, which is lit - the flame heats the air, which lifts the little balloon, so it goes up in the air and floats along on the breeze.  The sky was full of these mini hot air balloons, just drifting across, looking like large orange stars!!!  Lovely, whimsical, and magical!

We could see into the crowd as people lit these balloons, some of which had little green LED chase lights inside (or something like that).  It was interesting to watch the procedure of lighting them.  The closer it got to midnight, the more of these went up.  Some of them burned up while flying, and then of course came drifting down into the crowd.  Fortunately, no one seemed to get burned by these when they returned to earth.  People also started popping their confetti rockets, so there were frequent pops and flurries of flying confetti all around.

The countdown began - first the outdoor lights were turned off, and the crowd cheered.  Everyone glowed even brighter with their flashing headwear (and presumably yellow undies).  Then the crowd counted down, and began cheering even louder, at midnight all the champagne corks and confetti rockets popping!  All the boats and ships began blowing their horns, adding to the cacaphony.

Just a few minutes after midnight, the fireworks began.  I don't even know how to explain this.  All along the huge harbor shoreline, the various towns had the floating inflatable firework launchers.  There must have been something like twelve to fifteen of the firework stations.  All had exactly the same fireworks.  Somehow, everything was connected to what we can only suppose was the same computer network.  Because certain fireworks all were shot into the air and exploded at exactly the same time, all along the 12.5 mile (21 km) long coast of the harbor.  But then other fireworks exploded just fractions of a second apart, sequentially, up and down the shore.  It was like rapid-fire automatic pyrotechnics, explosions in a staccato BAM-BAM-BAM!!!!!

So basically, one could look to the left and see some eight or so sets of fireworks blowing up in the distance, and another five or so off to the right - with three sets of the same fireworks exploding straight ahead.  With the loud BOOM-BOOM-BOOM thudding into our ears and vibrating in our stomachs.  

While the fireworks literally lit up the skies!

At certain points, there was so much smoke in the sky that an explosion would create a huge colorful glow reflecting off the cloud of fog, with the pyrotechnic sparks flaring out while lighting up the cloud.  So that the sky looked red with a flower of fire exploding out of it.

It was almost like a hall of mirrors, reflecting what we saw and heard back and forth in both directions, getting smaller and smaller into the infinite distance.

I've never seen anything like this!  I've seen fireworks with two, three, even four barges, doing similar coordinated and sequential explosions.  But twelve or fifteen simultaneous explosions?  Up and down the coast, for miles and miles in each direction?  WOW!

It really was amazing!  Incredible!  Unbelievable, and probably the best fireworks display we've ever seen!!!  

I can see why this one event is such a draw, with people coming from all over to enjoy the show and then party late into the night.

We missed the free champagne the casino provided, we were too busy watching the fireworks.  Ah well, given the choice, I'll go with fireworks every time.  (Despite how much I like champagne.)

Definitely a wonderful evening!

However, we saw the mayor of Valparaíso on the news today, and he said they may have to discontinue the fireworks.  There's the huge expense of the actual show, but then the huge clean up the following day.  Or days, perhaps.  We saw all kind of garbage thrown into the river, cans from the confetti rockets, plastic cups, bottles, etc.  The sidewalks and roads were cleaned up, but the river hasn't been yet.  I can only imagine how many people were hired to work all night for clean up!

So we may have seen the last of this legendary show.  I would hate to think that this fireworks event might not continue, but last night truly was amazing!

And we both are thrilled that we were able to see it!!!


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