‘Valparaíso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.’ Pablo Neruda
I, Ada Gomes, a happy resident of India, also a seriously restless soul, given to backpacking and coddiwompling every now and then, with some agenda in mind got this little grain of a feeling that I must visit Valparaiso once again. I had fallen in love with it, the quaint little port town with so much life, colour and bright happy poetic people. That was the time I had visited it with my parents as a little girl of twelve. My father, a sailor, took us around at least once in two years, and we would be with him, sailing around the world, wherever work took his ship. He being a Captain, was busy most of the times when the ship came alongside. But it was time for my mum and me to rush out on terra firma and feel the unmoving earth beneath our feet, take long walks on the pier, watch the seagulls swoop down for food on the oceans wide, watch the methodical non-stop work go on at the port, and stroll along beyond the waterside, into the city close by . And this one trip when we visited South America about three times in four months, it was Valparaiso that I fell in love with. The city with colourfully painted houses, gaudy and flashy graffiti on the roadside walls, and very friendly people. To me, it seemed that God had thrown his box of colours onto this pretty little city. I do not know why, but it did attract me so.Little did I know that I would keep visiting it in my dreams, in the stories that I wrote, and even study enough about the South American history and life.It was time for me to visit the place again. I felt strange disembarking at the airport this time rather that at the port of Valparaiso.
My connections with the port through my father were still there, but I preferred to do the travel by myself and keep the addresses in case of an emergency. It cost me a few extra pesos, but a taxi did just fine for me, at least till the bus station. I enjoyed the peaceful ride, while I decided what my schedule for the next week would be. The colonial buildings, the hills around it, the pleasant breeze and the fishy, ocean smell, brought back to life the days I would be here as a child, along with my mother. We passed Vina Del Mar, a place I would insist on visiting as it had a pretty park with swings and sounds of noisy happy children. The port smells, woody, salty, and the peculiar unexplainable aroma that one can never forget if you have been to ports filled my brain.
On reaching the hotel, by the sea, I was surprised at the bouquet of red roses and a basket full of those amazing fruits I used to enjoy as a child, waiting for me with a note saying, “See you at dinner, 8 PM. Love Sebastian.” Mixed emotions profusely permeated my heart and mind, making my thoughts fuzzy and unclear. We had met in India when he had come over to study Indian music for a year on some government exchange program. Our parents knew each other, and my father had kindly invited him to stay over with us, which he had refused as he had a place in the Arts College hostel allotted to him. But he was a frequent visitor, and we had become friends. I was very fond of him and idolised him and his love for music. He was twelve years older, and I was intrigued by the loose pants and casual shirts he would wear, also his way of talking, the strange English accent, all of it captivated me to no end. Latin American music became my favourite, and unconsciously I imitated his style of talking too. I had decided I would meet up with the family, but now this. I put my thoughts on hold, and looked out my room window, almost hanging over the Pacific Ocean. The calm blues soothing me. Lots had changed in the fourteen years that I was here. I complimented myself at the decision I had taken to come by myself to the place I always fancied coming back to.
I got dressed for dinner, waiting for Sebastian, my numero uno singer star. And there he was, the same dress style, his wavy hair, big eyes, tanned complexion, and though he was not very tall, he carried himself well. Wide grins greeted each other, and then a hug. I remember digging into the yummy tomato salsa so often as a kid and wanted a repeat, but not tonight I thought. We had wine and a sumptuous appetising dinner of some local seafood specialities. He had a complete plan chalked out for me, a heritage walk in the day, traversing through the narrow, hued bylanes of the city. I truly wanted to make it on my own but resigned to the offer. It was December, Summer in the Southern Hemisphere, but that was the only time I had free to travel. June would have been ideal, though the temperatures do not really go very high, but surprisingly it was hot and quite humid.
We walked up to Pablo Neruda’s house, the Nobel Laureate of Chile, whose house is a museum now. It was just a slight drizzle, and an uncomfortable oppression in the air and I wondered. Then loud screams and people rushing in different directions, and in the hilly terrain, the lamas and domestic animals, toppling down, heralding chaos and the deafening shrieks of a tsunami made us sprint for our lives in the opposite direction of the Pacific.