A Travellerspoint blog

Hitchiking Part 1 (San Antonio to Pichilemu)

We set up our minimal sleeping stuff and ate in the moonlight that percolated through the forest, though traffic rumbled only 50 yards away, a steady stream of brakelights like mutant fireflies. We heard dogs in the distance, but the rustling of the pine trees eventually smothered their barking.. Still we slept with one eye open in the Pacific chilled air.
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The next morning we had no problem catching a bus to downtown San Antonio where we ate a breakfast of bread in the central square among snoring drunks and shop owners opening the gates to their stores. A bus took through the port town across the estuary of the Maipu river, here used as industrial feedstock, but whose source lies a 20,000 feet above the ocean, crashing through the deepest canyons in world. As we walked into the countryside, Miles’s bag strap snapped. He tried to sew it back on but his thread wouldn’t hold. A taxi took us back into town to a tailor. Her needle couldn´t make it through the plastic without snapping.. We walked more and after several inquiries found a man in a shack filled with shoes. His chubby, stained face seemed to never leave the hovel, Inhaling the chemicals for breakfast lunch and dinner. In a matter of minutes with some glue and a sewing machine cranked by his feet he reattached the strap. We returned to the countryside and after unsuccessfully waiting for an hour, a passerby suggested we wait further up a crossroads. We did an a short while later, a late teenager in a Suzuki picked us up. He came from a well off family and either offered or wanted “weed” (his word, not mine) from us, but we couldn’t satisfy his request.
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He dropped us at another fork, and from there we got a ride from a guy selling drugstore products. Ibruprofen, cough medicine, and bandages were strewn about even more than even a hypochondriac slob would permit. We crouched in the back of the van and I accidentally sat on some sunscreen, which splattered about. I cleaned It up by applying It to my arms. In a village Rapel, we bathed in the epononymous river and chatted with Chilean youth who shared their concoction of boxed wine and sugar drunk out of honeydew husk. From there, a water delivery truck driver drove us. Everyday he delivers water to a small hamlet on the coast. By the time we go to Litueche, late afternoon had arrived as did thoughts of taking a passing bus. Instead, I made Miles hike out of town across from some government housing. There a minivan picked us up. It was taking road construction workers home. They played the cheesiest of 80’s pop music and left us off about 25 miles from Pichilemu, supposedly a festive town with the best surfing in Chile. During the day, a particular garbage truck had passed us a couple of times. I saw it plodding down the road a third time and I didn’t expect it to stop, but it did. We hopped in. He had seen us throughout the day and finally decided, what the hell. It smelled like garbage, but probably not much more offensive then we did, so the odor was not overwhelming, and anyway it was completely appropriate. The truck couldn’t do more than 25 mph on a straightaway though down the hill we got up to 40, and it felt like a bucking bronco out of control. The guy, around our age, claimed It was easy to drive I thought about asking him to teach me, but decided against It.
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The countryside around Pichelemu is reminiscent of the lost coast of Mendocino Country, verdant curvaceous hillsides, descending inevitably and gracefully into the deep blue. Doing this in a garbage truck made for one of the most spectacular entrances into a place I’ve ever experienced. Nothing like metallic beast and crushing parts, trash, natural beauty, and novelty to flood the senses and spirit. I was only able to snap a picture of the truck turning off after we disembarked. It’s a very ordinary but very personal photo.
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Posted by LiTripping 11:40 Archived in Chile Tagged hitchhiking Comments (0)

Hitching out of Valparíso and Isla Negra

Hitchiking out of cities is an endeavor. There are innumerable places to wait, convincing typically skeptical city folks to stop, making sure that those that do stop are trustworthy. Valparaíso’s labyrinthine human and physical geography complicated things further. It is a port city and despite the spectacular setting, the circumspect creatures that the transportation of good often breeds are found throughout the city. We had to go south to Isla Negra, so I figured we go to the south, wait on the fringe of the city along the coastal road. A bus started taking us, but suddenly veered around back toward the center so we got off. I asked a traffic cop. She said go back to the terminal (on the north end of town in a sketchy district). We walked along the coastal road. No one looked slightly interested in picking us up. I asked another cop and got the same answer. I asked an aged busboy at a restaurant along the ocean. He said go to Camino Polvero, literally means Cloud of Dust Road. Two buses took us there, to the southeast limit of the city, a desert and bus depot, next to a highway. I asked women merchants. They said go back to the bus terminal. You can’t get to Isla Negra (where Neruda has another house) from here. I found out we were about 8 kilometers from the road there. A man told me it’s very dangerous to hitch. We were near a prison. I had no map, no way of clarifying or verifying any of the information being given to me. Although local information is often accurate, I’ve found that most people’s knowledge consist of the few square blocks of where they live and work, if that.

We took a bus all the way to the terminal, back down the hill, north, completely the wrong direction. Instead of getting off at the terminal, I let the bus drop us off at the last gas station before the road went into the canyon that took it out of town. I talked to the attendant and bought a map while my traveler partner Miles stuck his thumb out. Before I got change back, we had a ride. A young couple from Santiago. They took us half an hour east until the crossroads at Casablanca. Without waiting a minute, a firefighter picked us up. He smoked and showed Miles how to block the disgusting photo of rotted teeth blanketing the cigarette pack. I looked at the map. The only way to get to Isla Negra was what we did, go back to the interior. There was no way south along the coast as the road ended. Half an hour later we were back on the coast. After sitting on beach traffic he dropped us off at Isla Negra.
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Neruda’s most beloved residence overlooks the craggy Pacific coastline, reminiscent of the Monterey Peninsula, California. This is where he was living before he went into hiding and is the principal place where he wrote. It is several buildings full of objects he collected all over the world. Hundreds of blown glass figures; bottles, heads, boots, fish. There’s a narwhal tusk, anchors, an entire room devoted to mastheads, another one to seashells, wagon and ship’s wheels. A stuffed sheep poked its head out from his bed’s headboard. More items blizzarded the house’s interior. A telescope gifted to him by the French government, driftwood turned into a desk, collections of butterflies and beetles, a closet full of his wife’s shoes, a closet full of suits, masks, including his Nobel Prize tux. A wooden horse that he took from a museum of his childhood that burned town. Outside, there’s a boat never sailed. He was too afraid the waves and current. Instead he hosted guests in it and sipped cocktails. Whereas the Valparaíso house’s structure is nautical, Isla Negra embodies the maritime environment that ensconces it. He’s buried here. His tomb is covered in white pebbles with a few patches of grass the resemble sea anemones.
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At 9 that evening we found ourselves on a bus heading for San Antonio, an industrial unsafe city. I saw a forest, though it was private property. I walked to the front of the bus, asked the driver to stop. We got out with our bags, crossed the barbwire fence with intention of spending the night under the trees and stars…

Posted by LiTripping 11:39 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Valparaíso

“I went to the window: Valparaíso opened a
thousand
trembling eyelids, the nocturnal
sea air entered my mouth,
the lights from the hills, the tremor
of the maritime moon on the water,
darkness like a monarchy
adorned with green diamonds,
all the new repose that life
offered me.¨

“Window of the hills! Valparaíso,
cold tin,
shattered in cry after cry of popular stones!
Behold with me from my hideaway
the gray seaport trimmed with boats
slightly shifting lunar water,
immobile depositories of iron.

“I love, Valparaíso, everything you enfold,
and everything you irriadiate, seabride,
even beyond your mute nimbus.”

From the poem, “The Fugitive” one of the poems of Canto General, by Pablo Neruda.
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I’m going to let these verses to most of the talking, but here’s a little info. Neruda spent time here with a sailor family during his hiding. He was confined to a small room in one of the city’s poorer neighborhoods. The sailors worked on banana boats and the plan was to sneak him onto a boat heading for Guayaquil, Ecuador. There was even a suit tailored for Neruda in the style of “Gone With The Wind” so that when he stepped off into the steaming port city, he would appear to be a distinguished gentleman while smoking a guitar. The plan was scrapped and Neruda, but the poet fell in love with city and vowed by have a house their someday. He followed through and today that house is a museum.
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Valparaíso is the geographical equivalent of San Francisco, but more dramatic. The city is a series of hills (cerros) that rise up out of The Pacific like a great earthen tidal wave. The highwire buildings and houses ride every nook and cranny of the wave. The only flat part is right along the bay. Neruda’s house seem be located precisely in the middle of the ring of hills, halfway up one of them. The panoramas is offers can only be approximated the accompanied photo. He shared the residence with a friend, and he and his 3rd wife, Matilde Urrutia occupied the upper 3 stories. A few things that struck me. Numerous colonial maps of the Western Hemisphere, the ones made by cartographers charting the coasts by ship, so distortions are inevitable (though many are remarkable for their accuracy) and places like the Amazon are illustrated with great mythic creatures. In the library there is a portrait of his favorite American poet, Walt Whitman. His carpenter once asked him if that was his father and Neruda replied affirmatively. Overall the house feels like a ship, made from wood, with narrow corridors and passengers, curvaceous, and serpentine, a microcosm of Valparaíso.
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I wondered the garden beneath the house and then was finally kicked out at 8PM by employees eager to go home. To watch the crepuscule, I wandered down Avenida Alemania, just a couple of blocks above the house. Engineers have carved the road into the side of the mountains so it curves nonstop but is incredibly flat. I can’t think of another street like it any other city. At one point I was on side of a gorge. On the other, a series of 100-year-old earthquake tattered blue, red, and yellow structures careened on the edge like boats about to tumble down a cascade. Beyond, the last bits of sunlight streaked across the urban coastal range.2_12047644..t-night.jpg2_12047644..partner.jpg

Posted by LiTripping 12:19 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Hernan Loyola vs Bernardo Reyes

Hernán Loyola and Bernardo Reyes do not like each other. Their commonality and conflict stem from Pablo Neruda. I spent a few hours with each of them during consecutive days in Santiago. Both of them have been obsessed with Neruda, for very different ways.

In the early 1950’s, Loyola was working on a thesis at the University of Chile. After a night of revelry he stumbled across an equally inebriated professor. In his candid state, the professor told the young Loyla that his thesis was on a writer that had been studied by hundreds of other people. Instead, he should study Pablo Neruda, who had just returned from 3 years in exile (after the clandestine and Andean crossing that I am investigating) and had published his magnum opus Canto General. The impressionable Loyola heeded the advice and has probably devoted more his work toward Neruda than any other scholar. His magnum opus is collecting and editing the six volume Complete Works of Neruda.

Whereas Loyla’s Nerudian life was choosen in a quick definitive moment, Reyes has carried it around since before his was born. I say carried because for him it is in many ways a burden. He is the grandson of Neruda’s older half-brother Rodolfo, and as far as a know the closest living relative. Augosto Pinochet’s regime changed both of these men’s lives. Loyola is an intellectual communist and had to flee and ended up in Italy, where is still spends half the year. Reyes was in his early twenties and had no such affiliations except for his relationship with Neruda. The right-wing Chilean government made life hard for young Bernardo (his great uncle was stalwart communist), hindering his ability to find work, etc. He wondered way he was receiving such treatment and began investigating Neruda’s life (Neruda’s given last name is Reyes). He has produced two main published works, Portrait of a family, detailing the pre and early life of his great uncle, and more recently a book about Neruda’s only child, a daughter who died at 8. He his some priceless Neruda relics, photographs, possessions etc. but the Neruda foundation has all the rights to the written works.

Given their backgrounds the charges levied against one another are not surprising. Loyola claims that Reyes is not rigorous enough in his research and documentation and is self-centered. Reyes believes that Loyola tries to take all the Neruda glory for himself, proclaiming himself as the only true authority. I’m in no position to judge their accusations, but it’s not too difficult to understand their positions. From Loyola’s perspective, after devoting half a century to studying Neruda, someone 30 years his junior disputes basic facts upon which you’ve rested your work upon (what exactly they are I don’t know). Since Bernardo is exploring his own family history and hence himself, it’s easy to see him as self-absorbed, seeking out information with a bias. On the other hand, Loyola has made much of living off the life and work of Reyes’s famous relative, a leech perhaps, and one will defend their livelihood with great fervency if someone else comes and threatens that. It’s a game of king of the hill.

As a final note, both human beings were very warm and welcoming to me. Hernán took me out to lunch, while Bernardo hosted me at his apartment. Both see the episode of Neruda’s like I am investigating as one of the most interesting and important and both are glad I will be the English language ambassador for it.

Posted by LiTripping 11:31 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

Floridor Pérez

The well known ignored Chilean poet

-17 °C

Alright, writing from Santiago de Chile. Note I will provide links to things that are interesting and useful to know, but I don´t have time to discuss in great detail.

Today I met with well known Chilean poet, Floridor Pérez. It took us over an hour to find each other in the crowded La Moneda metro station. To understand rapid muffled Chilean Spanish through a cell phone with lots of ambient noise is difficult for me. His white beard, beret, and gentle manner exude his sensitivity and I felt guilty for making him wander around. He had seen me in our original meeting place at the planned time, but didn´t think it was me because I was sitting down and not looking like a tourist.

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He had written an article about re-hiking Neruda´s route, the same one I am going to do. He and a group of other poets and writers did it 10 years ago to commemorate the 50th anniversary. Much of their experience was by car and they did not seem to take the full true wilderness route.

We wandered around downtown Santiago aimlessly looking for a photocopy place. Finally we found one just a block from where we were supposed to have met. From there, we sat down in the shade (he was tired) chatted for a bit and then said goodbye. He seemed about out of it in general, but he hugged me.

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I think he was a affectionate because at the end of our conversation I expressed interest in his own work and then then started righting down all of of stuff for me to check out, including diagrams of how to find his work in the National Library. His vibrancy in talking about his own work was far greater than talking about Neruda, even though he has written numerous article about the famous poet and even edited an anthology. I read the article we photocopied, and frankly it was sloppy. It talked more about his suitcase than the trip and their was a strange gap in the chronology. Floridor is sick and tired of Neruda.

I went to the library and found a book of poems of his called ¨Letter from a Prisioner¨ and flipped through it. It seem like a heartfelt account of what was like to be a prisoner during Pinochet´s regime. I didn´t read it thoroughly or too carefully. It´s not that I thought it was bad. For all I know, it could be as wonderful as Neruda´s, but I simply didn´t have time. I´m here for Neruda, and I even surprised myself by spending this much time with Floridor and his work.

You type "Floridor Pérez¨ in google at you get about 3,500 hits, not bad for a Chilean poet. You type in ¨Pablo Neruda¨ and you get 2.8 million, from The Chilean poet. The disparity is not fair. That´s what happens in writing and most other artistic pursuits. A few through luck, hard work, talent, and perseverance, get all the attention, money, acclaim, while the rest don´t go completely unnoticed, but truth is few will remember them after they pass away.

That´s the feeling I got from Floridor. He was happy to help me with Neruda, but he is old enough to be thinking about dying and something was unsettling that I was more interested in talking about someone dead 35 years then someone still alive, fighting, writing, and hugging.

Anyways, onwards with Neruda. If anyone knows someone that´ll pay to write about Floridor Perez, lemme know, and I´ll do it.

Tomorrow I´m meeting with a Neruda scholar who´s a big fan of my grandma cousin´s jazz music. Al Cohn is his name.

Posted by LiTripping 20:11 Comments (0)

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