We set out by bus to Valparaiso, an entrancing coastal town of hills, colorful houses, incredible seafood, and many more dogs roaming the streets. Riding in, it reminded me a lot of San Francisco- just like Argentina had reminded me of New York at first. I suppose we try to become acquainted with places, and people, by relating them to what we already know. La Sebastiana is a multi-level, patchwork-colored house on the top of Cerro Bellavista. The entrance has been turned into a quaint museum with various photographs, newspaper clippings, and books of Neruda’s. The rest of the house is structured with hardwood moldings, frames, and walls. A variety of paintings accent the white walls, and rather dull stained glass is stuck upon the ceiling. Moving up the narrow stairs, there is a mural on the left- a map of Patagonia and Antarctica, composed entirely of pebbles. Ascending even farther, still life paintings hang clustered together on the green walls, and portholes replace regular windows. The top level of the house is by far the most fascinating, since it was where Pablo Neruda wrote. If my memory serves me well, his desk and typewriter are still in place, as well as a couple of model ships here and there. This room is arguably the best place to view the city of Valparaiso. The rolling hills, dotted with colorful houses, lush greenery, and the Pacific Ocean are striking, magnificent.
An hour and a half south of Valparaiso, in the region of El Quisco, is Neruda’s most famous house. After naming it “Isla Negra”, the entire town became known as such, and has over the years developed as a haven for other writers and artists. It is a very small region, and people usually visit for the sole purpose of seeing Neruda’s house. I was no exception. Set upon the beach, Isla Negra is an elaborately decorated, ship-themed home. Pablo Neruda and his wife, Matilde Urrutia, are both buried on the grounds. It was here that I learned that, although the poet was obsessed with the ocean and naval structures, he was deathly afraid of the water and never set foot on a ship. An intriguing paradox, for sure. The expanse of the structure is open for viewing, and contains the majority of Neruda’s belongings, including a plethora of knickknacks. It seems that Isla Negra was a place where Pablo Neruda could indulge in his boyish obsessions, meditate on the waves crashing against the black rock, and create some of his most renowned poetry.