Wrapping up my journeys in South America — following Peru and Chile — my sister and I elected to drive across the border from Puerto Varas, Chile, into the Patagonia region of Argentina. Renting a car provides a freedom when traveling that going by public transportation and by foot does not. We were free to take any road we wanted, to wander and explore. Plus, the roads were well maintained and most people seemed to obey the traffic laws (at least as much as they do in the U.S.), so driving around Patagonia was fairly easy.
We drove past lakes and up into the mountains, where we quickly went through the border checkpoints (since it was the slow, winter season). In between each set of checkpoints is the actual border, welcoming drivers into Argentina on one side and into Chile on the other.
When I saw “we drove,” I should really clarify and say that my sister was the one to do the driving — and she hates driving. I would have been happy to drive, but since the car we rented was a manual transmission and I don’t know how to drive manual, she was stuck with it. She didn’t complain though, because it was some beautiful driving.
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.
It’s been two weeks since my sister and I have been home from our trip in South America, and I’m still awed by all the places and adventures we were able to fit into our two weeks of travel. Our journey took us through Peru, Chile, and Argentina — all three beautiful places to explore. We did a lot of hoping around, which was perfect for this trip, but a part of me wants to go back to one or all and really settling in to a single country for a longer period of time, so that I can get to know it in depth.
Since I have a ton of photos, I’m splitting this post into three parts, starting with Peru, where we visited Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
Our experience of Lima was a colored by how exhausted we were after our red-eye flight. But with only one day to explore the city, we wandered through the main city center. The Plaza Mayor was crowded — with two events happening simultaneously. At the Palacio de Gobierno some sort of changing of the guard was going on, with soldiers in dress uniform marching and parading horses while trumpets blared. On the other side of the square, a procession accompanied by music was pouring out of the Catedral de Lima — large pavilion after large pavilion, each held aloft by four men or women proceeded out of the entrance of the cathedral. They held elaborate pedestals adorned with the images of the Virgin, Christ, and various saints. The procession was accompanied by dancers in brightly colored, traditional Peruvian dress. The trumpets from the government building clashed together with the music from the cathedral in a wonderful cacophony.
Later we stopped in at Choco Museo to try drink hot chocolate flavored with chile. Afterward, our explorations took us to Casa de Literature Puruana (House of Peruvian Literature). Inside was a library with an old printing press on display, as well as museum exhibits introducing two Peruvian poets — Magda Portal and Louis Hernandez. All of the displays were in Spanish, of which I know only a little. Nevertheless, I’m excited to go looking for their work and for the opportunity to learn more about them.
We ended our day at the Basilica de San Francisco, a church and convent which houses underground catacombs.