Cartagena is a small seaside town South of Valparaíso. Back around the turn of the century, it was a popular location for Chile’s rich and talented. All the famous artists, poets, writers, and intellectuals lived in the European veranda style villas that cover the rolling hills along the water’s edge. But it’s been a long time since the city’s heyday. Now, most of these homes have been converted into apartment buildings that maintain their decadent structure or lie abandoned to the elements. It feels a bit like a ghost town, stuck somewhere back in the 1890s. Paved streets turn to dirt and back to asphalt block to block. Hitching posts still encircle the main plaza as if waiting for horse and buggy to arrive. Converted gas street lamps light the streets. It’s like stepping into a real life time machine, but it’s not a tourist attraction or a stylized ghost town. People live here.
Views of Cartagena
The small seaside town is home to Pablo Neruda’s Isla Negra, Vicente Huerto’s ranch house, and Adolfo Couve’s Villa Lucía. Three of Chile’s most famous writers of the last century. What I’ve found by visiting the houses of famous poets, is that they live in the most decadent and beautiful houses with some of the best ocean views on the planet. We should all be so lucky as to be a famous Chilean poet. Each one had a desk (or three) over looking the ocean and at least one room with wall to wall art. The houses themselves were massive, not to mention their beautiful gardens.
The Ranch House: Huerto’s house was first was an old family farm. It was on the top of a hill (only horse accessible back in the day) that over looked the entire Playa Grande de Cartagena. The house itself was large and open. But the most impressive part was the massive wrap around balcony with the glass windows from which you could see the ocean.
The Gardens; The Wallpaper; The View
Villa Lucía: Built in the early 1900’s in one of the richest neighborhoods in Cartagena, this Villa is known for it’s maze like gardens. Couve lived here in the 1990’s, and filled the house with obscure art from Asia. He transformed the walls into colorful tapestries with floor to ceiling brightly patterned wallpaper and decked out the floor with Indian rugs. While beautiful, the amount of color makes you a bit cross-eyed.
In Front of the House; The “Backyard”; Pablo and Matilda’s Tomb; In Front of the Fish
Isla Negra: Pablo was a collector of all random things, and Isla Negra was his masterpiece. Situated on a rock face above a small rocky beach, the house has a number of odd shaped rooms with massive picture windows facing the surf. Each room has a different theme, though most revolve around the ocean. One is full of figureheads (the woman generally attached to the front of a ship), another sea shells, another massive bugs and butterflies of Chile, another masks from around the world, another glass figurines from around the world, and so on and so fourth. The best part was his upstairs bedroom. The two walls that faced the sea were made entirely of glass, and the bed was pointed diagonally towards the water. It was the perfect view. So high above the water that you could no longer see the beach so it felt like you were standing on the ocean.