EXPLORING SANTIAGO WITH NERUDA

It wasn't until long after I moved to New York that I was introduced to the poetry of Pablo Neruda. As a lifelong Francophile, my literary interests always led me elsewhere, eastward - and quite honestly, I was intimidated by the thought of traveling to South America. Despite the beautiful Chilean imagery and love I found in his words, I found myself anxious at the thought of planning a trip south. I'm not exactly sure of the root of this travel anxiety, but I do distinctly remember hearing about Pinochet as a child and seeing scary footage on the TV. 

But discovering Neruda's work was just what I needed to kick me into gear to read more South American modern masters, and not surprisingly, this has shaken up my travel wishlist. So when I saw a good opportunity to head to Santiago for a long winter weekend, I packed my swimsuit and summer dresses and left my snowboots at home. After an overnight flight through Atlanta, I checked in bright and early to the Crowne Plaza (free stay, thanks to points!) and immediately set off to explore the nearby barrios - Lastarria and Bellavista. I was absolutely blown away by all the street art, which puts many areas of Brooklyn to shame. And the people were so friendly, and street life so vibrant! I even found myself in the middle of a parade celebrating dozens of native South American cultures - marching bands representing Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and more.

One of the highlights of my short trip was booking a guided photo walk through Foto Ruta Santiago. I met up the next morning with Cat, a local professional photographer, to explore street scenes off the beaten path. We met up at Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral to explore the beautiful and imposing campus, which has a complicated story that follows the arc of recent Chilean history. Originally built to be the venue for the United Nations trade and development conference in 1972, it was repurposed by Pinochet's military junta as the center of operations for the Ministry of Defense. Cat told me that to this day, people don't know the full story of all the terrible things planned within its walls. But now, it's been restored and reused as a beautiful cultural center at the heart of the city, and it was obvious how effective the restoration has been. We watched dozens of dance teams and musicians meet in its enclaves to convene and practice.

Setting off from the center, we explored the back streets and alleyways of the city, checking out star attractions like the Mercado de Flores and Mercado Central along the way. I loved seeing the city through her eyes and hearing about her experience living there, and it's definitely an experience I'd recommend for any photographer - especially one traveling solo as I was. Returning to my hotel afterwards, I was pleasantly exhausted and buzzing with stimulation, so grabbed my handy Neruda compendium and headed to the pool to relax and dream about my next trip back. Perhaps it should be to Valparaiso and the Pacific coast to see his houses at La Sebastiana and Isla Negra? Let's go!

All photos shot with either my Pentax 645N & Kodak Portra 400 or my iPhone.