Valparaiso & Pablo Neruda’s houses
Yasha turns 60
Teaching English has basically been my life since I arrived in Santiago in February this year. I have had minimal time off, and have even taught a 3 hour class every Saturday since April, so weekend excursions were also not a real possibility.
For the past couple of months I had been wondering what I should do for my birthday. Turning 60 is some kind of milestone, and I wanted to mark it in a special way. But I couldn’t see how I would have the time to do that. Suddenly, less than 2 weeks before my birthday I realised that, by a stroke of good fortune and travel plans of a couple of students, I could rearrange my teaching schedule in a minor way to give myself a 4 day weekend.
On Thursday I left Santiago with Juergen and Berta for the second time this year . We drove directly to Valparaiso and found a quiet parking lot to spend the night. I woke on the morning of my birthday, having slept through the entire night undisturbed for the first time in longer than I can remember! And I was ready for a day visiting this unique city for the second time .
Valparaíso clings to 42 steep hillsides clustered around a north-facing bay like an amphitheatre. We parked Berta near the Naval Museum, situated on the western point, and proceeded to walk towards Caleta Portales, which is almost directly East across the bay. Unfortunately, neither of us has mastered the art of walking on water, and the walk around the bay was longer than we had imagined. When we were about halfway, we hopped on a bus.
Caleta Portales is a small fishing harbour, which has a number of seafood restaurants. We were searching for lunch, but first we had a look around the fishing boats. We were too late to buy fresh fish, but there was still a lot of activity. Juergen spotted a group of sea lions off the pier, just hanging out. They looked fat and healthy and I’m guessing they were well-fed from filleting waste. Pelicans and seagulls were also hanging around in large numbers.
The restaurant we chose was OK – not brilliant. The Ceviche was tasty, the fish fresh, the staff friendly and the ocean view lovely and relaxing.
Pablo Neruda’s House “La Sebastiana” in Valparaíso
After lunch we took a taxi to “La Sebastiana”, Pablo Neruda’s house up in the hills. We had discovered earlier that most of the funiculars were not operating because it was some sort of holiday for public servants. The taxi would get us up into the hills and then we could walk around. The house was a bit disappointing. It is totally crowded in by other museum buildings and they wanted 5000 pesos (almost $A10) each for us to go inside, no photography allowed. (There are 3 Neruda houses open to the public, and this is not known as being the best. The others are in Isla Negra and Santiago.) So we walked around the outside, checked out the view, and then moved on.
We were on Avenida Alemania, which turned out to be a fairly level road wandering around the hillsides. We followed it for a few kilometres at a slow pace, Juergen finding lots of photo opportunities. The steep hillsides make for some precariously placed houses, which we both find amazing. You see beautifully renovated old houses, side by side with some which look like they are slowly disintegrating and others that are patched together with any material that comes to hand. The other thing which stopped us often was the interesting, and often beautiful, street art. [We published a separate street art gallery of Valparaíso !]
When we both finally decided we could barely walk another step, we had to walk down, catch a bus, and then walk back up again to where Berta was patiently waiting. Had the funiculars been functioning, this last bit would have been much less exhausting. We arrived back at the same parking spot as the previous night too tired to do anything.
Saturday morning we woke to the sound of rain on the roof. Although it made it colder and grey, somehow I welcomed it. Santiago is very dry this time of year and a little rain was nice to experience. After a lazy morning, we drove on to Algarrobo, a short drive of around 60km through eucalyptus forests and a plateau landscape that was strangely reminiscent of home (Australia). We stopped in the parking lot of San Alfonso del Mar, a resort with the largest swimming pool in the world. Juergen had visited it in October and wanted to give me the opportunity, since it was on our way. It was created with Crystal Lagoons technology and was the first one they built. We spent the night on the parking lot and, on Sunday morning when the rain had stopped and the sun made an appearance, I walked along the edge of this amazing mass of water. Although, truth be told, I was more impressed by the mighty Pacific on my right hand side, than the man-made wonder on my left!
Pablo Neruda’s House in Isla Negra
Our plan for Sunday was to visit Pablo Neruda’s house in Isla Negra. We arrived there just before lunch and waited in line for around half an hour before it was our turn to enter. Although it has a lot of rooms, the house is rather small inside, and the number of visitors passing through at any one time is controlled. The audio guide, available in English, was informative and interesting as we followed the prescribed tour. I became fascinated with this Chilean Nobel Laureate, when one of my English students introduced him as a topic of discussion in class some months ago. He led an interesting life as a writer and poet, as well as a diplomat for his country and a sometime exile from it. The house in Isla Negra has been recommended to me numerous times since I’ve been in Santiago, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was cold and windy by the ocean, and we had to wait to get in, but it was worth every bit of discomfort. I was totally fascinated by the preservation of his life there.
We arrived back in Santiago on Sunday afternoon with time to spare before my evening class. So, now that I’m 60 and entering a new decade of my life, how do I feel? Content! Every year on my birthday, I look back and consider where I was a year ago and where I am now. I love my life, even the tough bits.
My plan for the future: