It wasn’t easy but we figured out how to get to and from Isla Negra, the location of Pablo Neruda’s quirky seaside home. Slightly off-season, none of the tour companies were running their day-trips to the famous landmark except one, and they wanted $200 each for a half-day run there and back, not including lunch! Oddly, Pullman Bus offered a daily ride to Isla Negra leaving Valparaiso at 1:30 pm, with service back to Valpo every 30 minutes, and for under $7 each, each way. We also decided not to rush things and to overnight at a hostel near the casa museo.
The house is really a series of rooms linked together by narrow passages and archways – and each room has at least one theme, sometimes two or three, somewhat linked to the shape or design of the room as part of a boat or train or wagon. The living room, for example, has the largest ground floor window to the ocean, and features a nautical theme – with a huge collection of ship figureheads (all female) and large sculpted figures including Admiral Nelson and a 3-metre tall wood carving of an indigenous warrior. The dining room also features a nautical theme, complete with a large wooden carving of Captain Morgan staring down guests from up behind the host’s chair.
Every shelf in a railcar-like library room was filled with model ships, many in bottles; the next two rooms were stuffed with collections of collections – butterflies, beetles, African masks, Asian carvings, paintings and more. According to our handy audio-guide, the railcar theme was an ode to his father, a railway conductor. A small den at the end of the original house was his favourite writing space, complete with a desk made from an old door salvaged from the ocean, a portrait of his wife at the time (Matilda Urrutia), and toys and other items from his childhood. One last room was added by the foundation that operates Neruda’s three house-museums in order to display part of his massive seashell collection.
As a poet, political exile, and diplomat, Neruda was a world traveler and it seems that during every trip he not only acquired items to add to existing collections, but started new ones. We wondered, with such an incredible clutter of collections, if there was actually any room in the house for Neruda and his wife, let alone the friends he was always entertaining. Perhaps one of the rooms contemporary visitors aren’t allowed into holds the answer – his private bar that also looks out over the ocean. Complete with numerous small tables and chairs, we could easily imagine retiring here after dinner or spending a lazy afternoon here watching the waves crash against rocks – heck, let’s be honest, we could spend a lot of time in this room!
We’re looking forward to seeking out his third house next week in Santiago.
As planned, we headed for the nearby hostel, a two-story wood-construction house that promises rest and tranquility. At about 3:30 am we awoke because the whole hostel was shaking, and realized we were experiencing our first earthquake. Later we looked it up and indeed it was a magnitude 5.1 earthquake, centered about 90 kms northeast of Isla Negra. No damage was reported.
Saturday we went down to the rocky beach in front of Neruda’s house and watched the waves. Below is a short video that doesn’t do the power of these waves justice – no wonder Neruda was fascinated by the ocean, and human interaction with it, although he himself was not a sailor.
We headed back to Vaparaiso late Sunday afternoon, and got home just in time to feel another earthquake, gentler but lasting longer than the first – we could see the leaves shaking on trees in the courtyard. This one was magnitude 7.1 and centered about 200 kms south of Valparaiso. A tsunami warning was issued (but soon withdrawn) for some coastal communities near here. Light and moderate damage reported near the epicentre. No wonder everything at Isla Negra is nailed down!
By the way, about a month ago Chile marked the second anniversary of a devastating magnitude 8.8 earthquake and tsunami with 30 meter waves that resulted in more than 500 deaths and as much as $30 billion US in damage. Eight former cabinet ministers and other officials are actually facing charges for their failure to inform people or order evacuations at the time.