Visit Isla Negra, Chile

Visit Isla Negra in Chile, Home of Poet Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda was a big man who sacrificed comfort for aesthetics, to create a ship-like feel in his home; Isla Negra. A visit is well worth the easy day trip from Santiago

Neruda’s home in Isla Negra tells a story about his love of the sea. He called himself “a Captain on dry land,” as he suffered acutely from sea sickness. Even the name is enigmatic, for Isla Negra is neither black nor an island.

Of course Neruda was no ordinary poet: This Nobel Prize winner wrote his first poem at age five and was published by the time he was 13. The man formerly known as Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto constantly reinvented himself as a diplomat, ambassador, political activist and communist party senator.

The Living Room of Isla Negra (Pictured)
The front door to this rambling house is low and most visitors instinctively duck to enter. The wooden slat floor creaks like the deck of an old boat. A concrete border is studded with sea shells, clues to Neruda’s love of the sea.
In Isla Negra’s exuberant living room, carved wooden angels soar in the rafters, hovering over a loft railing made of rope. Ancient weather-beaten figureheads stretch outwards from the rugged stone walls, their faces seeking a long lost spray of salt water.

A worn white canvas sofa lounges in front of the fireplace’s massive charred boulders. Even the edge of the window sill is carved like a wave, and one becomes aware of the spectacular ocean view.

The Dining Room

Returning to the foyer, visitors will pass through a slim doorway to reach the dining room on the other side. This was part of the original 70 square metre house that Neruda bought in 1939. Constant construction and additions over the next 33 years expanded it to a maze-like 5,000 square metres.

The wooden ceiling is curved and a round hazelnut table is invitingly set for eight. Enormous wine goblets are made from amethyst-coloured glass, as Neruda believed one drank with both the mouth and the eyes. Figureheads, maps and model ships also fill this room; telling of Neruda’s penchant for collecting.

Neruda’s Master Bedroom
A narrow staircase leads upstairs, where ships’ wheels and nautical paintings crowd the tiny bedroom Neruda shared with his third wife Matilde. A low double bed, not so different to the modern bases with drawers is covered with a white crocheted spread, is angled toward a large corner window, to take in the best views of the pounding surf below. After a peek in the closet, which still holds the tuxedo Neruda wore when accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971; the tour continues down a skinny flight of stairs to the outside.

Outside Isla Negra
A colourful border of mosaic fish floats around the top of the nearby bar. The Shark; a small wooden boat, sits on dry land as it did when Neruda was alive. He enjoyed sitting in the boat and drinking with friends.

Neruda’s Office Space
Diplomatic work and poetry readings took Neruda to destinations like Singapore and Burma, and numerous exotic artefacts fill his office. But nothing is tagged with any information. For Neruda, Isla Negra was a home, not a museum. He never catalogued his collections.

Neruda was an avid recycler, rescuing orphaned doors and windows from abandoned buildings and designing his homes around them. His desk was a wooden hatch, which drifted from an old ship onto his beach. A gift, he said, from one captain to another.

On the café’s terrace, visitors can sip a blue pisco sour and listen to the roar of the Pacific. Below, a stone bust of Neruda contemplates the ocean.

The End of Pablo Neruda’s Life at Isla Negra
Chilean armed forces stormed Isla Negra after Pinochet’s coup in September 1973. Neruda’s friendship with former president Allende and his outspoken left-wing views had made him a target. Already weakened by prostate cancer; Neruda died of heart failure in a Santiago hospital several days later.

His remains were returned here in 1992 to overlook the sea, fulfilling a wish he made in a poem years earlier.