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.
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.
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…