We left our happy cabana in Pichilemu on an early morning bus back to the capital. After sharing melancholy goodbye hugs and good wishes with our AirBnB hosts and new friends, Carlos and Romy, we found ourselves going through the now very familiar exercise of stuffing our cargo into the bottom of a bus and cruising out of town on to our next adventure. After a very nice ride through the lovely wine country and rolling hills of the central region, we arrived to a massive bus station in the western suburbs of Santiago. We had never experienced such a large terminal. By comparison, it made the Toronto station at Dundas and Bay look like a Fisher Price play set. The Chilean terminal was three levels, each housing at least 70 coaches, many of them double decker monsters. There had to have been several thousand passengers moving between the buses and small food stands. We maneuvered through the crowds looking for an express bus to the airport, where we would be picking up a rental car that would give us more freedom to explore more of the coast. We found a convenient airport express that was leaving in less than an hour so we loaded up on portable snacks for the ride and hopped on board.
Driving in Chile is relatively easy when you avoid Santiago. We picked up our car and headed straight out to the coast, then north to our new AirBnB in the small beach town of Las Cruces. We were warmly welcomed by our hosts Harry and Marcia at their house at the top of a hill overlooking the town centre. They led us around a corner to the top of a long stone staircase leading down a few hundred feet to the beach. The steep path was bordered by cozy little houses, each with their own amazing view of the beach below and art deco mansions of ‘Vatican area’ above. We opened the door to our home for the week to find a quaint, little cabana decorated with a beatnik vibe and fresh flowers on the table. The song “Our House” started immediately to play through my head and the kids scrambled to put dibs on the little beds in their shared room.The backdoor opened onto a covered patio that overlooked the town centre which circled an amazing white sand cove with a crashing surf.
A small part of me was secretly happy to find that the house didn’t come with wifi, and we didn’t have Sim cards for our phone, so we were effectively left to our own devices for entertainment. We’d made the promise of allowing our 14 year old to have somewhat regular access to the internet so that she wouldn’t become the social media pariah she feared she would become while on an 11 month trip away from her peer group. But many of our accommodations on the road didn’t come with the luxury of web connectivity. With wifi, she has a tendency to shut herself away from the rest of us once we land at our accommodations, craving alone time and connection with her friends. But when the option of wifi or TV isn’t available, our exuberant, outgoing and funny girl is back, enthusiastically leading us in family game nights. Since we didn’t have our usual board games, we resorted to ‘pass the donkey’ (our family’s elaborate version of charades), and the card games of my youth – Spoons, Cheat, Rummy, Speed and we even convinced Gabe to learn to play Euchre. We spent our days at the beach and exploring the surrounding coast line, and our nights playing family games, sketching objects found on the beach, and homeschooling and journaling. That little house will stand out in my memory as a cherished week off the beaten track with my wee family.
Harry and Marcia were so lovely – helping us set up a small amount of daily wifi to make our next bookings and update instagram periodically. Harry wrote up a personalized list with insider knowledge of the best cafes and restaurants, off-the-radar historical sites and the best streets to wander for street art in Valporaiso.
A highlight of that week was a day trip to Pablo Neruda’s home in the small town of Isla Negra, less than an hour north of Las Cruces. The kids were less than thrilled when we told them we were going to spend the day at a museum honoring a local poet. Yay, another museum. And for a poet no less. Images of dusty books, dried and pressed flowers and forlorn busts filled their heads. As soon as we entered the courtyard and saw the steam engine Neruda built his garden around, they both changed their tune. As a lover of the sea and all things maritime, Neruda built the house to resemble a ship, with low ceilings, creaking wood floors and narrow passageways. It overlooks the beach with massive stone outcroppings and a crashing surf.
The house is a veritable shrine to Neruda’s eclectic and artistic mind – every room is packed full of artifacts from Neruda’s life, exactly as he had left it. Yet rather than being overwhelming, it strikes a beautifully curated balance. One window with a view out to sea was lined with glass shelves holding miniature ships in bottles, lined up so that from the right perspective, it appeared that an armada was approaching from across the horizon. A lifesize carving of a horse stands guard in one room – in any other context, it might have been odd and outsized, but here it was quirky and playfull. Neruda’s collections of random everyday things and travel souvenirs (i.e. pipes, bugs, African masks, Easter Island sculptures) appealed to Gabe’s love of found objects, and I could see that he had already started to curate his own boyhood flotsam and jetsam. Nora loved the whimsical yet sophisticated design and said she could happily live there, which is saying lots given her rather discerning taste.
My favorite room was the warm study, filled with beautifully carved ship masts/figureheads, looking longingly back out to sea. Richard’s favorite was the bar, where Neruda’s closest friends would gather to drink and talk into the wee hours of the morning. We read that “when people close to him died, he carved their names into beams above Isla Negra’s bar so he could continue drinking with them. More than 40 years after Neruda’s death, the names are still there – 17 in all – and it’s easy to imagine the boozy conversations about poetry, love, travel and politics that took place over so many late nights” (BBC travel). We spent the rest of the day scampering over the massive rocks on the beach outside of the house and dodging the massive surf.
Once we got home, we took the opportunity to create a roadschooling assignment around Neruda’s poetry – both kids were tasked with writing an “Ode to …” something they love about their daily life in Chile, borrowing from Neruda’s “Ode to a Tuna in the Market”, and “Ode to My Socks”. Sadly, they’ve both forbade me from publishing them here.