Chile: Land of Pablo Neruda, from Santiago to Valparaiso
Pablo Neruda's House in Santiago
Neruda's residence in Santiago, La Chascona, is tucked away in the Bohemian neighborhood of Bella Vista. This home was built for Matilde Urrutia, at the time his secret lover, and the name (which means the uncombed) is a homage to her abundantly flowing red locks of hair. The house was largely restored by Matilde after Neruda's death, and is now a wonderful museum with collections of Chilean and foreign paintings, African wood carvings and Neruda's original chinaware and cutlery.
Exploring Santiago NeighborhoodsTime given to meandering the Bella Vista neighborhoods is also well spent, full of trendy restaurants, bars, shops and art galleries. Other neighborhoods are just as interesting, from the quiet back streets of Barrio Yungay to the frenetic energy of Plaza de Armas, the main square. A fantastic way to explore the city is on bicycle, with a tour guide such as Andreas Garrido, an architect who started the Paseos en Bicicleta bicycle tour company.
Bikes are a terrific way to explore the dense capitol city, and are Garrido's only mode of transportation. "We will let the city speak to us today," he poetically advises as he leads a tour group to Old Santiago.From La Moneda presidential headquarters to Plaza de Armas and the colorful Central Market, there exudes a sense of Chile's incredible, and sometimes brutal, history.
"A hundred years ago we wanted to be French," Garrido says of his country. "Chile is changing so rapidly, and we are right in the middle of it. Under the dictatorship, no one came here. We were always overshadowed by Buenos Aires. But now that the New York Times put Santiago as the top place to visit, everyone is coming."
Santiago is a very culturally rich city; in addition to the influence of Pablo Neruda, you can also visit the Centro Gabriela Mistral to immerse in Chile's literary heros. And there are two things you shouldn't miss in Santiago for the experience alone: a completo, a Chilean hot dog topped with mayo, tomato and avocado which is their most popular fast food; and leggy coffee, which is served in shops where the baristas wear impossibly short skirts. Basically, the Latin coffee house version of Hooter's.
This was the first Chilean city discovered by the Spanish, when they came down from Peru in 1536. It was the main port of the country for many years, the richest and most commercial city in Chile, and was attacked by pirates frequently. But in the early 1900s, the opening of the Panama Canal changed all that, altering Valparaiso's importance.
The steep, winding streets are filled with colorful murals and all roads seem to lead to La Sebastiana, Neruda's second home. The home is named after Sebastian Collado, a Spanish builder from whom Neruda bought the house, and sets of narrow staircases end in a breathtaking view of the city and ocean below.
"The Pacific Ocean went off the map," Neruda wrote of his Valparaiso home. "There was nowhere to put it. It was so big and messy and blue that it couldn't fit anywhere. That is why they left it in front of my window."
Although this was the home where Neruda spent the least amount of time, La Sebastiana was home to many festive parties. In fact, the tiny bar is one of the most interesting rooms in the house. He associated this place with happiness and celebration, and his many belongings on display show his playful side.
Neruda in fact compared himself and his art to that of a builder. "I work with different materials than a bricklayer," he wrote. "Words -- that's all."