For Princesses or Presidents

VINA DEL MAR, Chile—In a tired tourist city of dusty apartment buildings and shuttered discotheques, the turreted stone towers were striking. After an afternoon of beachside wandering, they were also alluring, and we decided to leave our sandy perch to hike up to the castle.

When we arrived we didn’t find the anticipated signs and ticket booth. In their place was a conspicuously open wrought iron gate. This must be the Chilean Tourist Bureau’s indication that the castle was ours to explore, we guessed gleefully. Shrugging off the eerie emptiness of the place, we filled the silence with snapping—first photos of ourselves on the steps leading up to the bay windows, then standing in front of the stone wall overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

As we were getting ready to leave—the spooky loneliness had begun to wig us out—a little girl appeared atop the largest tower. I suppose our Disney-enriched childhoods took over, because we immediately announced, giggling, that she must be a princess. She was, after all, wearing pink. Determined to say “hi,” and reassured of our original conviction that the castle was, after all, some well-known Viña del Mar tourist attraction, we pushed open the faded wooden door at the side entrance. Inside we found a room of unmade bunk beds and a bathroom. But before we could find the princess, they found us.

“Excuse me, what are you doing here?” Two policemen appeared. We stumbled, the Spanish words to explain our presence getting stuck between our teeth. “You are trespassing on the property of the armed forces,” one of them began.

“But, the door was open. We thought—”

“A very bad thing. This is the residence of Chilean military and police. No one else is permitted to enter.”

After some discussion they decided, quite generously, not to arrest us. But we were promptly escorted out, and as we walked down the street the three of us laughed nervously—startled but smug that we had trespassed onto federal property, however unwittingly.

Two weeks later I was driving along the coast in Viña, listening to dated American hits on the radio and talking to Eduardo, a Chilean friend who was showing me around for the weekend. He pointed out sights along the road—the high school on strike, the pub with a view of the ocean.

“And the castle, up there on the hill, that’s where the president stays when he visits Viña.”

I looked up. I did a double take. “It is?”

“Beautiful, right? The view of the ocean from up there must be amazing.”

“Yeah,” I said and smiled down into my lap. “Definitely.”

Rebecca F. Elliott ’14 is a magazine writer in Winthrop House.

Tags