The Neruda Pilgrimmage – Chile

You’d think after almost being robbed that that would taint my view of Chile. Unfortunately no, I enjoyed my time in Pablo Neruda’s country and visited each one of his homes while I was there: La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso and Isla Negra (his most beautiful home and burial place along the sea). My Chilean adventure started when catching the bus from Mendoza, Argentina into the picturesque Andes mountain range. Although I got on the wrong bus and didn’t find out until the driver asked to see my ticket at a rest stop in the middle of the Andes. I had obviously made the error, but I wasn’t about to let him leave me in the middle of nowhere, so I stuck it out and ended up being dropped off at the Chilean border where my intended bus was waiting to clear customs. Close call.

Once in Santiago, Chile I quickly noticed the smog and terrible air quality I’d been warned about. But I was so caught up in the celebrations for the  ‘Day of Culture’ when all Chileans get in line to visit La Moneda, Chile’s extravagant presidential palace. I waited about three hours to see the site of the September 1973 coup against the world’s first democractically-elected Marxist, Salvador Allende. It was perpetrated by the now infamous dictator Augusto Pinochet, one of history’s worst tyrants. While inside La Moneda I came face-to-face with Chile’s current President Sebastian Piñera. What irony!

In Valparaiso, I enjoyed the culture even more as I walked around town eyeing one of South America’s most wonderful cities. Chileans call it the cultural capital of the country and I quickly found out why. I fell in love with this city and it’s charm. As I waked down Calle Ferrari from La Sebastiana to Bellavista, I read the poetry written on the walls and visited Museo Cielo Abierto (Open Sky Museum), where art murals came out into the street and blended into this vibrant cityscape.

Then as I made my way along the coast of Chile, my first stop was Calama, where three thieves tried to rob me of my belongings. But since I started traveling, I’ve learned to stay on my toes, even if fatigue has set in from a long bus ride (24 hour-long to be exact). I quickly thwarted their attempts when my adrenaline kicked in and they fled the scene. In San Pedro de Atacama, I saw the psychedelic landscape that everyone raves about in the middle of the Chilean desert. What a trip, literally.

And over the last few days I’ve been traveling slowly, acclimatizing myself to the altitude and I’m now in La Paz, Bolivia (3,660 metres above sea level). Time to start the second leg of my journey. ¡Hasta la victoria siempre!

Adam Bemma is a journalist, humanitarian, and media consultant based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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