I love Valparaiso, everything you enfold, and everything you irradiate, sea bride…
I love the violent light with which you turn to the sailor on the sea night. Pablo Neruda
When Sam and I first met he would read me love poems by Pablo Neruda (I know, so sweet). Neruda is by far my favorite poet, and I always associated Chile with Neruda. I wanted to see the land and especially the sea which was his muse, to understand what inspired his poetry. Chile is a country that has produced many Nobel laureates, famous playwrights and musicians, and the cities where these people lived still have a very bohemian feel.
Valparaiso is made up of 42 cerros (hills) that ascend sharply into the port below. These hills are full of a combination of once glorious 19th century mansions, colorful street art and an eclectic combination of restaurants, cafes and coffee shops. To get up to many of the cerros you take rickety, 100 year old wooden ascenors that felt like you had time traveled back to another era.
Valparaiso reminded us of San Francisco so much so that some days as I wandered the streets alone, I forgot that I was in Chile and kept expecting to run into a favorite cafe or ice cream shop from back home. We spent four days in Valpo (what the locals call it) and stayed in a hostel (our first time away from the XP since the Galapagos) in Cerro Alegre right in the center of all the great bars and restaurants.
We spent our days walking for hours and getting lost in the hilly streets, eating really good (and really expensive) food, and listening to live music in bars until the early hours of the morning. We also found a great restaurant that we went to every night with views across the city to the sea where we drank delicious pinot noir and enjoyed the local cheese platters. By the end of the four days, the waitresses recognized us and would say hello and make sure we got a table with a good view. It felt nice to have a routine and people who recognized us. It felt again like being home.
One of the things that kept us entertained was walking through all the cerros and admiring the street art. Here was a few of our favorites:
While we were in Valpo we visited Pablo Neruda’s house La Sebastiana. Neruda had such a sense of style and surrounded himself with objects, art and people that inspired him. Everything had a history and was carefully selected as an object of value and beauty, and his five story house overlooking the bay was as unique and beautiful as his poetry. I felt inspired walking around it. Seeing his eclectic style and ascetic made me understand him better and made me appreciate him even more as an artist.
I would like to sleep like a cat
with all the hairs of time,
with the tongue of flint,
with the dry sex of fire
and after speaking with no one
to stretch myself over the whole world,
over the roof-tiles and the ground,
to go hunting the rats of dream.
Cat’s Dream, Pablo Neruda
We had a wonderful time in Valparaiso, and Neruda’s connection to the ocean, to nature and to this quirky city on a hill stuck with me. All these places we have been impact us and imbed themselves in our memories. Every place changes us a little, some more than others, and I think now when I get back to San Francisco I will be nostalgic for Valparaiso.
Here, I came to the boundaries
where nothing needs to be said,
everything is learned with weather and ocean,
and the moon returned
with its lines silvered
and each time the shadow was broken
by the crash of a wave
and each day on the balcony of the sea
wings open, fire is born
and everything continues blue as the morning.
It Is Born, Pablo Neruda
Note: As I write this, there are terrible wild fires in Chile threatening Valparaiso. My heart is with all those who have been evacuated and I hope the city and its people survive the fire unscathed.