La Chascona vs. Isla Negra

Isla Negra Travel Blog

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About a week or so ago, the three of us (Em's Mom, Em, and I) went to La Chascona, one of the three houses of Pablo Neruda in Chile. La Chascona is the house right in Santiago, the Bella Vista district (I believe). From our house, it's only ten blocks or so (only 10 blocks? It sounds far, but it's a nice walk and it's flat, so it's easy). It's around the Pio Nono area, which is known for its artsy-bohemian feel, cute cafes/restaurants, and busy nightlife. I feel like a tour book. Named after Neruda's last wife, Matilde, La Chascona basically means 'the wild, red-haired woman', as an affectionate term for Matidle, who apparently had very wild hair. Not that she was crazy, but rather her hair had a mind of her own. I feel that way myself sometimes! The house was pretty easy to find, as there is a running stream of water (not dirty water, I think it's supposed to be like a mini-river or something like that) and an amphitheatre in the front. According to our guide, Neruda's house was raided and completely/partially destroyed by Pinochet's troops when Pinochet took power. Neruda was a communist, you see, and after Pinochet overthrew the Socialist leader Salvador Allende, they didn't want the people to admire any communists or socialists, and thought by destroying Neruda's possessions, they could destroy his influence on the people. As there are many references to Neruda in art and books, tons of souvenirs with his picture/poetry, and the extensive restoration of his houses, clearly Pinochet did not succeed in this task.

Anyway, with regards to the house: Absolutely stunning!! Even though my Lonely Planet guidebook says there are other museums better than La Chascona, it is the one place I've seen all trip that I really would love to go back to. Neruda built all three of his houses like boats, as he loved the sea (but always got seasick whenever he actually was on a boat, go figure!), and La Chascona is no different. It seems like there are at least three separate parts of the house. Our teacher told us that Neruda was big on ecology, and wanted his homes to disturb nature as little as possible. Since La Chascona is built on a mountain, you can probably guess his house is tiered. It's basically a maze of stairs outdoors, leading you to different parts of the house: the winter bar seems nearly in a basement, which leads upstairs to one bedroom, a living room, and a bathroom complete with an old-fashioned exercise machine. Outside, more stairs lead you up to another living room with a gorgeous view of the Andes and displays the art collection Neruda is known for. Being a foreign diplomat, Neruda always brought back interesting treasures from his travels.

In comparison, we went to Isla Negra on Friday, out on the coast of Chile. It's close to both Pomaire (a small town famous for its pottery) and Puerto San Antonio (no, not famous for its port, but rather its huge sea lion colony. Plus, some very delicious churros), but is not actually an island. Said to be Neruda's favorite house, Neruda is buried there, overlooking the ocean. Also built to resemble a boat, the house in Isla Negra is much smaller and, in my opinion, seems more cluttered than La Chascona. Cluttered is a relative term, of course, for what is messy to one person is tolerable to another, but I felt the Isla Negra house was less cozy than La Chascona. With its winter AND summer bar and comfy furniture, La Chascona is shaded by both the mountain and trees, and feels like a hidden paradise. However, the location in Isla Negra is absolutely breathtaking. After we had a tour of the house, the whole class ran down the beach to gaze in awe, take pictures, and splash around. This may sound like a strange thing to admire, but I have to admit the sand really entraced me. Unlike California or Florida beaches, with their fine sand, Isla Negra sand is actually little brown/black/red/blue stones-- not stones as in 'ow, I stepped on a stone!' but rather very very small pebbles. Definitely something you could fall asleep on, if not for the cold!

So to recap: move La Chascona out to Isla Negra, and you would have one amazing house. The last house of Neruda's I have to see is La Sebastiana, which I THINK (but am not entirely sure) is somewhere around Vina del Mar, which may be around Valparaiso. We're going to Valpo this Sunday, so I'll be on the look out!
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Isla Negra
photo by: cabotono