Pablo Neruda is unquestionably on of Chile’s most famous poets, and in fact is probably one of its most famous citizens period. It’s often said, and is surely quite true, that if you say el Poeta to someone in Chile, they’ll immediately take you to be talking about Pablo. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 and tragically passed away just two years later from cancer, weeks after Pinochet began with the military overthrow of the presiding government at the time. Pablo kept three houses, and all three of these are now museums and shrines of a sort to him. They are La Chascona in Santiago, Casa de Isla Negra in Isla Negra, and La Sebastiana is Valparaiso, and it was to Isla Negra that I next headed.
This is the location where Pablo and his late wife Matilde are buried, and the one in which he spent the majority of his time, mainly using his other two homes to conduct social events. I planned to make a day of it in Isla Negra, visiting his house, as well as the surrounding area, perhaps seeing if I could channel some of the inspiration he must have drawn from the area himself, as I’m sure he did much of his writing there. Leaving the bus, it was easy to see the route to the home. There were signs pointing in its direction everywhere, and people travelling along the route like bees to honey. Many people also milled about outside his home, where tours were conducted frequently.We joined one of these tours, which are available in both Spanish and English, opting of course for the English tour.
The house sits atop a hill, very much conspicuous, and affording a great view of the Isla, which isn’t actually an island at all. The day was slightly overcast and foggy, and the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks below was clearly audible. I could imagine him hunched over a writing table with this backdrop, minus all the tourists and fans chattering of course, churning out some of his famous works. The seemed very much like it had been added on to several times, with a haphazard design, rooms and hallways springing out at random in inconventional places. It was the design of a madman, but maybe this too was all part of the master plan.
Photography is not allowed within the home, as I found out shortly after taking out my camera to begin snapping the entirety of the house. This was disappointing to say the least, but I guess somewhat understandable. He had an obvious love for the sea, besides the obvious of his house sitting very near to water. He was also a voracious collector of odd trinkets, which remained all over the house and showed off his eccentric and artistic flair. Each room has its own ship’s figurehead standing sentinel at the entranceway, and each of these bears a name, as well as an intriguing history, which the tour guide eagerly related to us. Some of the strangest rooms were ones filled entirely by trinkets, like one filled with nothing but colored bottles, meticulously arranged by size and color. Some of his clothes even remain in the closets, which was actually somewhat unnerving.
After the tour, we stopped by the gift shop, which sells all manner of Pablo branded merchandise, shameless commercialism perhaps, but certainly things of some interest to his fans. There were clothes, posters, and various trinkets sporting his name, or well known verses from his poems. We walked around the grounds for a bit on our own, which wasn’t possible inside for obvious reasons. We then struck out for the beach below his house, carefully picking our way down the cliffside. Even this area has not been forgotten, as there’s a giant head of Pablo in the sand here, which we did take pictures of. We returned to the bus after this, a day of exploring the life of the fascinating Pablo Neruda at an end.