Sitting at a cafe next to Pablo Neruda’s house, I thought to myself, “This wouldn’t be such a bad place to die.”
I was being dramatic. But there was a real sense of worry. I left Valparaiso with a plan to visit the Casa-Museo Pablo Neruda in the small coastal town of Isla Negra, then catch a bus back to Santiago. Imagine my surprise, then, to arrive in Isla Negra and find the ticket office for the only bus company in town closed.
Then again, I wasn’t exactly stranded in the countryside. Isla Negra is part of a series of beachfront villages. On the way there, I passed by hotels, hostels, and homes. There are plenty of restaurants and bars. Just because they aren’t listed in my guidebook doesn’t automatically make them terrible. If I can’t survive this predicament, I doubt I would have been long for this world anyway.
I did the only thing that I could think of. I sat down and started writing. Given the location, it seemed the appropriate thing to do.
Pablo Neruda is Chile’s most famous writer. I confess that I’ve never read any of his work. I’m still making my way through English literature, although I did finish One Hundred Years of Solitude before this trip.
Neruda has three houses in Chile. I didn’t get to see La Chascona in Santiago, and I only took pictures from outside La Sebastiana in Valparaiso. So I decided I was going into the one in Isla Negra. It was a unique opportunity to explore the mind of a great author.
I learned about Neruda’s fondness for the sea. And travel. His house is built to resemble a ship in some parts; in other rooms, a train. Walls are decorated with paintings of ships and seas. An entire room is full of mastheads. His table settings are nautically themed. There are several telescopes. And maps. And charts.
The house itself overlooks the ocean. It’s called Isla Negra, but it’s not actually on an island. Neruda was clearly a man in love with water. He washed his hands before and after writing.
Writers, like athletes, have routines. Being in a comfort zone is important.
I am writing this on a tablet on a bus with the seat in front of me reclined into my lap. Sometimes you play the ball as it lies.
I decided to skip the tour. I knew there was another bus terminal further down the road and I wanted to get there in daylight. Worst case scenario, I would end up hitchhiking back to Santiago or Valparaiso. I began rehearsing what I might say to a driver.
Then I got to the terminal in Isla Negra. Like many places in Chile, it opens later than I would expect from a similar office in the U.S. I walked in, asked when the last bus would leave for Santiago, purchased my ticket, and still had time to make my tour.