Finding Neruda in Valparaiso

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.

The colorful houses of Valpo. So much like San Francisco.

The colorful houses of Valpo. So much like San Francisco.

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.

The wheel that would pull your wooden car up the hill on the ascensor.

The wheel that would pull your wooden car up the hill on the ascensor.

One of the many old as ascensors you could take in town. The view from them as you went up was spectacular.

One of the many old as ascensors you could take in town. The view from them as you went up was spectacular.

Going straight up!

Going straight up!

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.

We drank mostly pinot noir in California, this was our first good bottle outside the US. Chile produces some really great pinots.

We drank mostly pinot noir in California, this was our first good bottle outside the US. Chile produces some really great pinots.

The food even felt like something we would get in San Fran.

The food even felt like something we would get in San Fran.

View from the restaurant.

View from the restaurant.

Local cheese and nut plate was our meal for Thanksgiving.

Local cheese and nut plate was our meal for Thanksgiving.

Sam tried his first completo in Valpo, the Chilean hot dog you find all over the country with massive amounts of mayo, avocado, chopped tomatoes and bun with a tiny little hot dog. Every time we tried it the ratios were all off, too much mayo and bread, to tiny a hot dog. At least they are cheap.

Sam tried his first completo in Valpo, the Chilean hot dog you find all over the country with massive amounts of mayo, avocado, chopped tomatoes and bun with a tiny little hot dog. Every time we tried it the ratios were all off, too much mayo and bread, to tiny a hot dog. At least they are cheap.

Sam at a brewery where the beer was amazing and we listened to live Cuban music until 2am!

Sam at a brewery where the beer was amazing and we listened to live Cuban music until 2am!

One of the many cute places to eat near where we stayed.

One of the many cute places to eat near where we stayed.

The stores even reminded me of SF with local organic produce, good wine and craft beer.

The stores even reminded me of SF with local organic produce, good wine and craft beer.

We even found a bakery near us with homemade macaroons.

We even found a bakery near us with homemade macaroons.

This was the street our hostel was on, it was so similar to San Francisco.

This was the street our hostel was on, it was so similar to San Francisco.

The Chilean flag looks so much like the Texas flag.

The Chilean flag looks so much like the Texas flag.

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:

This mural was right around the corner from our hostel, I liked seeing her quirky face every morning as I wandered out for coffee.

This mural was right around the corner from our hostel, I liked seeing her quirky face every morning as I wandered out for coffee.

I kept wondering who painted all the art. It was great.

I kept wondering who painted all the art. It was great.

Sam named this picture moth goth.

Sam named this picture moth goth.

Everyone likes the hat =).

Everyone likes the hat =).

Even the elementary schools were painted up.

Even the elementary schools were painted up.

Ok, last one, it was hard picking them, we took so many pictures.

Ok, last one, it was hard picking them, we took so many pictures.

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.

Neruda's house.

Neruda’s house.

This cat looks exactly like my cat Maya. She lived at the house and gave me lots of the cat love that I miss from my kitties.

This cat looks exactly like my cat Maya. She lived at the house and gave me lots of the cat love that I miss from my kitties.

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,
intensely determined
to go hunting the rats of dream.

Cat’s Dream, Pablo Neruda

Inside the dining room. We took this before we were told not pictures inside. Oops.

Inside the dining room. We took this before we were told not pictures inside. Oops.

View from his study out over the bay.

View from his study out over the bay.

The ceiling on the first floor. It reminded me of the Craftsman houses in Berkeley.

The ceiling on the first floor. It reminded me of the Craftsman houses in Berkeley.

I wish I could describe the beauty of the cactus flowers outside Neruda's house like he would. He would have three perfect words that would describe its essence.

I wish I could describe the beauty of the cactus flowers outside Neruda’s house like he would. He would have three perfect words that would describe its essence.

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.

One thought on “Finding Neruda in Valparaiso

  1. Dora

    Thank you for this wonderful web page. I found it while walking down the online memory lane. Your pictures are great. I bookmarked your blog – I have a feeling that I will spend more time reading it. Safe travels! Love – D.

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