Getting to Isla Negra


Entering the Museo Neruda of Isla Negra, one of three homes the famed Chilean poet designed as a retreat, one follows not only his travels but the sources of his inspiration. The house’s proximity to the sea and the nautical theme of many of its contents give visitors on Chile tours the feeling that they are indeed on a boat or at least an island, not just the village of Isla Negra.

Visitors pass through a huge entry gate, made of tree branches and travel along a foot path of irregular stones that winds its way to the front door, encountering the Neruda line, “I have returned from my travels in which I sailed along, building happiness.” Inside, visitors are greeted by two tall Venetian statues, leading to a living room with stone walls and a large window looking out to the beach where spring wildflowers bloom. The fireplace is constructed of small round stones dug by Pablo from a stream bed. Suspended around the room are a collection of figureheads from the bows of ships that he found in various travels.

Passing through the house, guests encounter an odd selection of mementos from sources far and wide. A figurine looking through a telescope was purchased in a Paris antique shop when Neruda was ambassador to France and sat on his desk until he left his post. Two large angels hanging from the rafters were purchased in Valparaiso, supposedly made by an Italian craftsman, replicas of those in the Sistine Chapel and shipped from Italy. One figurine of a Saint was purchased in a Hungarian antique store and probably left the country illegally. Visitors will see an iron cauldron large enough to sit in, purchased in a Persian market that Neruda joked had been used to cook missionaries. The bronze Shiva figure on the mantel, he bought on his first trip to India, early in his diplomatic career.

The dining room off the entry has a large window facing the sea. At its entrance is a wood statue of the virgin wearing a Manu Tara bird as a headdress. Carved by a local craftsman, the piece was purchased in 1970, a replica of one Pablo saw during a church service in his earlier travel to Easter Island. One room contains only items related to the sea, including some of his famed shell collections and the tusk of a Narwhal whale he found in Norway. One of the chandeliers is made of bottles.

The library’s large stone mosaic fireplace includes lapis lazuli purchased from a bereft, penniless widow with only eight sacks of these blue stones to her name. The stones sat in the house for years before being incorporated into what would become the room’s focal point.

When a 1960 earthquake destroyed portions of the house, including the library and underlying structure, he built two new rooms, one for his horse statue and the other for himself as a hideout where he could write. Visitors on Chile tours who set foot in the room can envision the master sitting at the small table, gazing out to sea, composing his verse, the walls lined with shelves displaying pottery he collected over the years. The room also contains a multitude of animal figurines as well as a portrait of Matilde drawn by a Russian artist and given to her by the Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet. His writing table he first spied floating in the waves at Isla Negra. When it finally washed ashore, he attached two banisters he had been saving for just the right purpose as legs for his new find. Next to it sits his father’s old desk, lugged to Isla Negra from the family home in Temuco when Neruda was sixty. The heavy handles to the room’s doors, having once adorned a Russian monastery, were given to Neruda by a friend in Moscow and carted home.

If you appreciate Neruda’s poetry, a visit to Isla Negra during your Chile tours will give you some understanding of the man.