Archive for October 15th, 2008


October 15

October 15, 2008

Is it just me, or is “Elevator of the Holy Ghost” a bit of an unnerving name for a device that dates from the early 1900s and plies almost vertically up a thirty metre cliff? I think a name like “Ascensor Todo Bien” or “Ascensor Lo Siento, Esta Muy Alto” or “Ascensor Facil y Tranquilo” would be more appropriate. Perhaps I should petition for a name change after I buy my beautiful, quirky, vertical artist’s abode here- you know, the one with the panoramic view of the hills and port.

And the hills and the port are where we spent our day today, the former with more success than the latter. After our incredibly communal breakfast (twelve people elbow to elbow around the big square table laden with homemade jams, scrambled eggs, fruit, coffee and the inescapable bread, all chatting in Spanish, English and German seemingly interchangeably), we directed ourselves toward the port for a harbour cruise of the cheap and nasty variety. Unfortunately, the numbers of people required for a colectivo boat ferry were not present, and, for reasons whinged about at length previously, we had to turn down the offer of a private boat for 7000 pesos. Our intentions were to return later in the day with the hope that demand had picked up.

To fill the intervening period we bumped up our second-planned activity for the day: a visit to Pablo Neruda’s house, which is where the elevator of the holy ghost came in. The ascensor, a very steep funicular built in 1911 to bridge the otherwise impossible difference in levels between the port and Cerro Bellavista, was an old wooden jobby with a cab the size of your average elevator, either side flanked by what appeared to be the original glazing. The track-and-cable pulling system was operated by a small man standing in a small booth up the top with his hand on a lever. About six people crammed in to the little box, and some clanking moments later were deposited at the top of the hill in the middle of the Museo de Cielo Abierto, a region of restored historical goodness on Cerro Bellavista. A short wander up the hill through the shiny streets brought us to La Sebastiana- the one-time house of Pablo Neruda.

The house was entered through a charming little garden that was populated by some not-so-charming American tourists, who were a little put out by having been asked to wait for entry. We too were asked to wait, and we spent ten minutes looking at the chic arty tidbits for sale in the museum’s shop before heading to the front door. The house was designed and mostly built by a craftsman named Sebastian, who died before its completion. Neruda bought the place in 1961, realised it was too big for him, and sold half of it to some friends. The ground floor was shared, and Neruda’s residence occupied a bit of the first floor as well as the second through fifth floors.

The place was interesting, with some inspired décor choices standing next to some wholly uninspired ones, and all coming off in little pockets from a narrow enclosed staircase. The house was meant to represent a miniature version of the city- the colours of the walls borrowed from the surrounding houses, wood panelling and wallpaper emulating the corrugated cladding used in the area, and everything sort of thrown together in the same way the city is. The bedroom was perhaps most fluent design wise, with dark wallpaper and intriguing foreign furniture, but the living room architecture was striking and presented a bank of squared windows skirted by a curved, ledged floor which butted up against the circular fireplace dividing the sitting and dining areas.

Once we’d had our fill of the disappointingly sane sort of peculiarity the house emitted, we took the long way back to the hostel, which involved an utterly pleasant walk in the sunshine along a winding, clifftop road with a view of the ocean. The purpose of this was to not lose our vertical ground and have to reclimb the hill from the port to the hostal, and we managed this with great success, a few improvised turns on the random street layout spitting us out of an alley just opposite our place of residence.

Insert forgotten ferry trips and hours of lazing here.

Once most of the afternoon was wasted, we went for a walk to the supermarket to stock up on ingredients for the rest of the pasta, where we focused on a big bag of beans for some sorely needed vitamins. Inexplicably, a crème caramel and a bag of peanuts also made the shopping bag. On the way bag we were enticed once again by the prospect of not having to climb the hill, and took a chance on another ascensor- this time named Concepcion (another slightly dodgy name, no?) and built in 1883, a full century before my birth. Luckily,we recognised our endpoint from previous wanders, and only narrowly avoided repeating the hot chocolate incident from yesterday. The usual wending through narrow pedestrian alleyways filled with elaborate graffiti murals brought us back home, where we now recline pleasantly on bright. coloured doonas.