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Neruda & Blockbuster

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Besides walking and eating, as seen above, my three and a half days in Valparaíso have been filled with two good friends: Neruda and Blockbuster.  I’ve read a dozen or so Pablo Neruda poems in my Smith career, and he was one of my first associations of Chile before I came here.  Here in Valpo, the thing to do is visit his houses, so as a diligent tourist, that’s what I’ve done:

1. La Sebastianita, Cerro Bellavista, Valparaíso.



Swamped with Brazilian tourists (women with long straight hair in boots, men in brand-new Nike sneakers with snazy cameras), five stories cluttered with carefully arranged chakas from around the world, and evermore panoramic views.

2. Isla Negra, 1.5 hr bus ride south from Valparaíso


This photo was taken by Mauricio, a journalist from Concepción (big city five hours south), who I met on the guided tour, thought I was Brazilian (next best thing to passing as Chilean), and invited me to coffee.  It was a perfect amount of social interaction, but when he invited me to lunch, I had no hesitation saying no, confident that I was ready to head back to my solo time (i.e. waiting for the bus back for half an hour with two French Swiss women).

But, Neruda: I really want to read more of his work.  And beyond the poetry, which is great, seeing his houses and all his stuff got me dreaming about a rich life like his for myself — about living abroad for years, about mastering several languages, about blending diligence and indulgence, about surrounding yourself with things you love just because you can.  Also it all reminds me how young I am.  I have so much time.  We’ll see what comes.  And books, books are really good.  I’m working my way through Borges short stories right now, and a Mario Vargas LLosa (Peruvian, 2010 Nobel) novel next, both of which I bought my parents bought for me used in Buenos Aires.

Now, let’s talk about traveling alone.  It sounds great, and it is, except when it’s not.  On Sunday, I arrived to cold, rainy, everything-closed Valparaíso, and boy, was I low.  I managed to check myself in to the closest hostel in Lonely Planet, and plunged out in the city to find some lunch.  Though I had a good meal, the ambiance on the streets felt like Rome meets Springfield, MA — that’s not a compliment.  Feeling guilty about not enjoying this supposedly spectacular place, I made a beeline for comfort: I bought mint tea, apples, almonds, and chocolate so I wouldn’t have to go out for dinner, and when I saw Blockbuster, I knew I had the answer.

Yes, I took a picture of this little festival of loneliness in my mildewy, claustrophobic room (I upgraded to cute B&B the next day), but if someone had told me, “It’s all part of the ups and downs of traveling alone,” I would have wanted to punch them in the face.  What I did instead was try to pass the time until the day was over, hoping Monday would be better.  When Mom and Dad didn’t answer my frantic calls, I settled in to watch There’s Something About Mary, and let me tell you, there’s something comforting about seeing Cameron Diaz bounce around in her 90s midriff and put jizz in her hair.  Yes, I got through to my parents later and had a good cry, but the truth is I was already implementing my recovery plan.  And serendipitously, when I emerged from my cell to get more tea water, I ended up chatting with two girls from Galicia, Spain, a week into their study-abroad year.  It was just what I needed: a touch of humanity, a reminder that I actually do care about language and learning and Chile, and the most reliable ego-boost of all, compliments on my Spanish.

Since Monday I have been almost entirely happy, at times almost gleefully jumping up stairs, at the thrill — the defiance, really — of being a young, single woman making every decision based solely on her own whims — to order myself a glass of wine, to eat ice cream and desert, to walk fast or to walk slow, to sit on a bench and watch the passerby behind my big, $3 sunglasses.  How can I celebrate this feminist independence without shunning the idea of wanting a (feminist) relationship?  That’s another post, people.  But for now, this is just right.  And it’s all in the learning.

And Blockbuster, which started out as an SOS mission, became a cornerstone of my Valparaíso experience.  Like Dunkin’ Donuts, these American things abroad are pretty interesting.

Yes, I hit some amazing deals, Sunday 2-for-1 (about $2 together), and then by surprise, Tuesday half off day!  And see that bottom picture?  After wandering around the new release section (novedades/ estrenos), I finally found “Cine Chileno“.  That’s right: a special section for Chilean movies, in Chile.  I watched “La Vida de los Peces” and “Sexo con Amor“, both of which I would recommend, especially the first (though the second has the actress who plays Alicia in my TV show!)

Now it’s time to pack up my computer (better hostel had worse internet, ironically) and get on my overnight bus to Valdívia, where I will spend one day and night before heading to Puerto Montt Friday to buy as much produce and peanut butter as I can carry with me on the overnight ferry to Chaitén, then bus to Palena Saturday morning.  That’s one long sentence, because this is going to be one long trip.

“South of Puerto Montt?!” Chileans always gasp when I reveal where I live.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, August 3, 2011 11:31 am

    You sound very different from the girl I met. I could identify with your love of loneliness and beauty. Am glad you were here for a glimpse of your self.
    what did surprise me were all those photos of food ; you seem to care so much about food that I should have given you my mother cook-book, La Marmita, Next time, I hope.
    Loved the pictures on your blog! great photographer

    • Wednesday, August 3, 2011 11:41 am

      Mignonette — that’s funny that I sound different here! Maybe I’m different in English, though you and I spoke a fair amount of Engilsh. I LOVED the meals I enjoyed with you, I considered taking photographs but was worried that it would seem strange, but now you know my secret project of food photography! I hope there is a next time as well, and maybe I will get a peak at your mother’s cookbook. = ) Sending you all my best, Margaret

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