Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

A Vista--and a Guide?

Anne Dalke's picture
When we flew into Chile, over those Andes, I felt as though I had finally arrived SOMEwhere. The trip out of the Santiago airport was like nothing I´ve ever experienced before: the snow-capped mountains appeared above the clouds in such a way that we couldn´t tell what was cloud, what was snow, what was mountain, what was sky. Even more incredible was the appearance, halfway into the drive, of another very dark bank—of mountains? Turns out: it was the smog of Santiago, which soon blocked everything else from view, including those snow-capped mountains.

The next day (feeling quite proud of our Spanish) we took the metro, then the bus, to Valparaiso. Our arrival in the plain of the city (which was dirty and crowded) was a disappointment, but then we began to climb...

into Cerro Concepcion, one of the 40-some hills that make up the barrios of Valparaiso. We landed in Residencia en el Cerro, a grand old early 20th century house with ceilings that must be at least 14 feet high. Our room (with windows at least 8 feet tall) looks out on the harbor, where there is a light like nothing I´ve ever seen (what comes closest is that late night/early morning light in Iceland in summertime: the luminous way the full moon strikes the water at night is particularly spectacular. I feel as though I am Una, in Ahab´s Wife, who looked out and -- looking out -- saw how large the sphere was within. After months of living a hobbit-like life, I have a VISTA.

This house is not only large but very busy; I could surely write a novel about all the comings and goings (not to mention my imaginings about what motivates each of them). There´s the couple who runs the place; a grandmother who spends the days sitting in the light-filled patio in the center of things; six or eight men who come to be served lunch and supper every day; several dormitorios (filled with bunkbeds for young travelers who pass through quickly); and several other doubles and singles for those of us here for longer stays. You never know who you might run into in the bathroom (or elsewhere). I asked our hostess how she managed all the activity, she said that, after raising 5 children, she preferred a busy house. If you can´t travel the world, have the world come to you.

This is a good thing, since we arrived in Chile with two broken computers. With the loss of easy web-access, I feel as though I have lost my window on the world. Our hostess asked a friend of hers, who is a computer tech, to come consult with us. When he started quoting Neruda, I knew we were in trouble. He walked in, looked at our machines, and said,
¨But these are Macs.
Why do you have Macs?
No one in Chile supports Macs.
As Pablo Neruda said in his famous poem #20, ´Y el verso cae al alma como pasto el rocio´--that is, ´poetry falls on the soul like dew on the grass.´
In other words, there´s no saying why things work, or why they fail to work. Things happen.¨

This may be our guide to Chile.