Continuing on my journey to South America, I’ve already shared about Peru, so now we’re on to Chile.
For Love of Pablo Neruda
My main purpose for visiting Chile was the opportunity to visit the home of one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. He had three homes that were turned into museums — La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso, and his home in Isla Negra.
I was able to visit two out of the three homes, both of which feature an impressive collection of old maps, found objects, and artwork gathered together by the poet, who also served as a diplomat.
La Sebastiana is a narrow tall home, with a tight hallway leading up to each of its four or five floors. At the top was his writing room and his desk, with a few papers contained there under glass.
La Chascona is situated on a hillside in the Bella Vista district of Santiago. Neruda named the home La Chascona, which means “tangled-haired woman,” after his wife and lifelong love, Matilde Urrutia. La Chascona also featured some poetry in Neruda’s own handwriting, displayed at his desk, as well as a display of his published books in editions from around the world.
Pablo Neruda died from cancer shortly after Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, overthrowing democratically elected Allende. After Neruda’s death, La Chascona was ransacked, items were stolen and destroyed, and the drainage ditches were blocked off so the house would flooded. Matilde held the funeral in the destroyed house and the funeral procession that followed turned into one of the first public protests against the military regime. Matilde continued to live in La Chascona, restoring it and the art within, eventually starting a foundation to preserve Neruda’s legacy. She was also a human rights activist, which brought her into conflict with Pinochet.
My poet heart soared walking through the spaces Neruda once walked. I adore Neruda’s words and the passion he had for his wife, his country, and the world. It was an honor to two of his homes and to see how his love of life translated in to the spaces Neruda and Matilde made for themselves.
The one home I missed out on, Isla Negra, was actually the home I had in mind when wanting to come to Chile. Somehow I confused it with the Valparaiso house, but that’s alright. I was thrilled to have visited the two homes I did and now I have a reason to return to Chile.
My sister and I enjoyed our time in Santiago, although we didn’t really spend much time there beyond climbing San Cristobal hill and Santa Lucia hill, visiting Neruda’s home, wandering around the Bella Vista district and the historic center. The city is very modern and a bit smoggy, which actually reminded us quite a bit of parts of California.
San Cristobal hill is a great climb to do in an afternoon. The path is steep, but not particularly long. The reward is the opportunity to see the Church of the Immaculate Conception at the top and a fantastic view of the city (provided it’s a clear day). There are also cable cars that carry you over this huge park. You can ride them up to save yourself the climb, but my sister and I opted to ride to the bottom of the hill instead.
The Santa Lucia hill is a great place to hang out, too, with terraced gardens to explore, old castles, fountains, statues, and twisty, crooked paths and staircases leading to the top of Castillo Hildago. It also presents some great views of the city.
Valparaiso is a coastal city with a gritty, industrial feel. The main attractions for me was La Sebastiana (Neruda’s home) and the phenomenal street art that adorned walls just about every corner. The views from the top of the hill near Neruda’s home are beautiful. One couple told us they were able to find a peer that allowed them to walk out and see the ocean, but my sister an I were unable to find it. Most of the coastline is cut off from access due to shipping operations.
Chile is known for it’s wines and so my sister and I decided we needed to checkout wine country — of which there are many regions surrounding Santiago and to the north and south. We stopped off in Casablanca and visited Viña Casa del Bosque, where we took a tour of the vinyard and did some wine tasting. I don’t normally pay much attention to the nuanced flavors of the wine I’m drinking (maybe because I tend to drink cheap wine), but the wines at Casa del Bosque were especially good with depth of flavor that took me by surprise.
Puerto Vara is a beautiful little lake town with a gorgeous view of volcanoes. The town was mostly an entry point to the Argentina’s Pategonia region for us, so we didn’t spend much time there. The walk we took along the water was delightful though, as we watched the light change over the volcanos, shifting from afternoon into sunset. Just beautiful.
Okay, well that pretty much covers Chile. Next up is the last part of our trip — Argentina!