Friday, January 29, 2010

Continued Adventure

The past month has been quite incredible in the life of Matthew Grove with this past week turning out to be one of the craziest weeks of my entire time here in South America. Over the past month, I was fortunate to have an incredible time traveling with Bridget, see some of the worlds driest desert in northern Chile, and head to Peru where I have taken Spanish classes, visited Machu Pichu and been trapped in a small mountain village for 6 days due to flooding. Needless to say, the past month has been quite an adventure.

A Long Awaited Visit

On January 1st, I had the incredible joy of meeting my girlfriend Bridget at the airport in Santiago Chile. It had been nearly 6 months without seeing her, so it was a much needed visit. With an even shorter visit than by brother and dad had, there was surely no time to waste. Day one was spent exploring Santiago and getting Bridget caught up on sleep after her red eye flight the night before. We hit up all the hot spots such as the fresh fish market, Chile´s capital building, and Santa Lucia as well as enjoyed a few glasses of delicious Chilean wine while watching the sunset from atop a hill called San Cristobal. Although I had seen all of these things, it was so enjoyable to just walk the city streets and catch up with Bridget.
(just a little excited)

(Capital building in Santiago)

(yummy fish from the market!)

(Enjoying her first Chilean empanada)

Bright and early the next morning, we were hopping onto a bus and were off to a city by the name of Valporaiso which is known as one of the most unique cities in all of Chile and quite possibly in all of South America. We spent the day wondering the winding streets and getting lost in the maize of hills and beautifully colored houses. My favorite part of our short time in Valporaiso was a visit to an old prison that had been converted into a graffiti museum. The contrast between the hard ridged old building and the unique artwork was outstanding.

(Graffiti Museum)

(artwork on the streets of Valporaiso)

The next morning we were back on a bus (this time for 7 hours) to a beach city in northern Chile named La Serena. In this warm and sunny city, we settled down for the next 4 days which were incredibly relaxing as we essentially spent them laying around and reading on the beach, trying to catch as many rays as possible. Now that I think about it, all the time in the sun had its set backs as each night I rolled around in bed struggling to sleep due to some pretty burned skin. Regardless, it was well worth it. During one of our days in La Serena, we got a little abistious and rented bikes. We spent the day biking along the beach to a nearby city by the name of Coquimbo, where we checked out a cool fish market, saw some unbelievably enormous sea lions, and hiked up to probably the biggest cross monument I have ever seen. We once again returned to La Serena tired and sun burned. (sunset from beach in La Serena)
(That is one huge completo!)
(A monster fish!)
Penguins and dolphins here we come!!! A quick hour and a half drive from La Serena is the infamous Parque Nacional Penguino de Humboldt which is known for its Chilean penguins, large variety of bird species, and dolphins. Lets just say that it lived up to its reputation. We spent the entire day with our wonderful tour guide exploring the two islands that consist of the park by boat. It was quite the adventure as we floated around in search of the animals that inhabit the islands. My favorite part was when we found the dolphins that were soaring through the air and swimming right along next to us.

(Ready for dolphins and penguins!)

With only two days left before Bridget had to leave, we headed into the always sunny Elqui Valley whicih is known for brewing the famous pisco (typical Chilean liquir) as well as star gazing. And that we did! We spent the afternoon touring the Capel Pisco Plant, and in the evening we went to a near by observatory to check out the stars. Our tour at the observatory was quite possibly one of the most interesting and mind blowing tours I have ever been on. I have never seen stars so clear in my life. It was fun to observe constalations that we never see in the northern hemisphere like the Southern Cross. The sky was so clear that we were actually able to view two complete galaxies (Magallanas Galaxies) which appeared as clouds in the sky. I dont think that I have ever felt so small in my entire life.
(Biggest Pisco Sour of all time!)

(sunset from Elqui Valley)

The next day we were back to La Serena to spend our last day on the beach, before our 7 hour bus ride back to Santiago to get Bridget to the airport. The following day (the day Bridget flew out) came far to fast, and I once again had to go through an incredibly difficult goodbye. Although I tried to convince her to stay in South America with me for the next 4 months, it just didnt work. Im not exactly sure why not though! Regardless, our goodbye was inevidable. It will be great to see her again in 3 and a half months.

Heading North

Imediately after dropping Bridget off at the airport, I was back to the bus station and hopped on a bus for the next 23 hours. I had been reading Ernesto Che Guevara´s diary titled ¨Motorcycle Diaries¨ which is about his travels accross South America at about my age, and I couldnt help but feel a bit of a connection with him;

´It was kind of a crossroads, at least it was for me. I was looking to the future, through the narrow band of Chile and to what lay beyond…´

-Ernesto Che Guevara

(Salt flat in Northern Chile)

I was heading to driest desert in the world, known as the Atacama Desert. I spent the next 4 days based in a city named San Pedro de Atacama in which I was able to make some truly astonishing day trips. I visited the Titio Gysers at sunrise fallowed by a nice relaxing soke in some nearby hot springs, floated in Laguna Cejar which has a higher salt concentration than the Dead Sea, walked across an incredibly large salt flat which blew my mind, and mountain biked to the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) which has a very fitting name. This was my first experience in a desert, let alone the driest in the world, so I was quite amazed at how oddly beautiful a desert can be.

(Salt flat in Northern Chile)

Peru Here I Come!!!

After making the short stop in San Pedro, I was off to Peru. I crossed the Peruvian boarder, got my passport stamped, as was on my way to Puno which is a city on the shores of Lake Titicacca. Puno was a great start to my Peruvian adventure, as I spent my time visiting smaller, somewhat unknown Incan and pre-Incan ruins, visiting the infamous islands of Lake Titicacca and getting used to the Peruvian spanish.(Islas Uros- floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca)

(Peruvian boy on Lake Titicaca)

Cusco and My Machu Pichu Adventure

After Puno, I was on the road heading North West for Cusco, the Incan capital of the world. The city is a bustleing city, full of tourists from all over the world. Despite all of the tourists, it is quite an incredible city that has been fun to explore. Upon arrival in Cusco, my plan was to take two weeks of intensive Spanish classes, and then be on my way to do some volunteering elsewhere in Peru. But things have not really gone as planned. The first week went pefect. Taking Spanish classes was just what I needed, and it was really great to focus on improving my Spanish and my abilities to communicate in a new language. Then came the weekend, which started out with a bang, and went straight downhill from there.

On Saturday afternoon, I hopped on the train, and was off to visit the famous Incan city, Machu Pichu, for the weekend. In order to get to Machu Pichu, you have two options: hiking the Incan trail which takes 4 days, or taking the train to a city named Aguas Calientes and taking a small hike up to Machu Pichu. There is not a single road into this city. Only a hiking trail and the train tracks. Because I had classes the following Monday, I chose the train. I arrived in Aguas Calientes later on Saturday evening, and checked into a hostel to get some rest for my early morning walk up to Machu Pichu. The doors open at 6 AM and only the first 400 people get a special ticket to go to a different part of the Incan city. I was number 107. The day started out incredibly foggy and rainy, but by about 11 or 12 o´clock things cleared up, revealing the largest of the preserved Incan cities, Machu Pichu. I spent the following 12 hours walking around the ruins, taking myself back in time, and admiring how unbelievably advanced the Incan civilizations were for their time. At about 4 PM, I began my walk back to the small mountain village of Aguas Calientes to catch my train back to Cusco. But things didnt necessarily go as planned.

(Machu Pichu hiding behind clouds in the background)

It is currently the Peruvian rainy season, but they are recieving substantially more rain than they are used to. I arrived at the train station to discover that all trains leaving had been canceled, and that no one was getting out due to the rising river level (which runs along the train tracks the entire way back to Cusco). I checked back into my hostel, with hopes that the roaring river would subside and I would be able to get out the following day. I wasnt so lucky, as the following day water levels were rising and sections of the train tracks had been sucked down into the river and destroyed. Things were not looking good. It was soon realized that our only way out was going to be helicopter evacuation, but the weather was terrible the helicopters couldn´t fly. The next 4 and a half days were spent sitting around waiting for the weather to clear up, and for helicopters to begin evacuating us. At no point was I in any sort of physical danger, but I remember at one point walking down the street towards the area of town closer to the river, and all of a sudden a stampead of people came sprinting around the corner screaming and crying. Part of the river had broke, and had taken a large section of a city street and some buildings into the river. Things were starting to get serious! The towns people with the help of some volunteers were able to get things under control, but the major problem was people running out of money. All the ATMs had run out of money, and most places in this small village didnt accept credit card, so people were without cash to pay for a place to stay or for food to eat. The municipality opened up the local church and the gymnasium for people to sleep, and handed out free lunch and dinner to the people without money. I had a bit more luck than most people.

(Overlooking Machu Pichu)

I randomly ran into one of my favorite college professors from the education department at Gustavus, who had been on a month long service project with one other professor and 22 Gustavus students. It was quite the coinsidence. They kindly took me in for the following 3 days, giving me a place to stay at their hotel and more food than I could eat. It was great as I got to catch up with my professor as well as get to know the other professor who is an incredible person with great stories as well as a handful of the students.
Throughout the entire experience, there was one small incident that will stick with me for a long long time. After the 4th day of being trapped, I ran into three middle aged Peruvian women, who didn´t appear to be wealthy by any standards, and were handing out free bread and coffee to the tourists. These were three women who had plenty of things to worry about themselves, as food supplies for them were running short and their town was being destroyed by the flood, and here they were handing out food and coffee to tourists who have probably never had to worry about a meal in their life. This act of kindness that may not seem to big to many people of the world, was no small act, but rather the largest showing of kindness I have seen in a long time.
By 4 o´clock on Thursday afternoon I was being rushed on to a helicopter for the first time in my life, and was flown through the beautiful Peruvian Andes Mountains which left me speachless. At least I got an exciting helicopter ride out of the deal along with a story I will never forget.

Whats Next?
Although I lost a week in Machu Pichu, I am quite fortunate as I don´t have a strict schedule for the next month. I will finish out my Spanish classes here in Cusco this week while volunteering at a local orphanage in the afternoons, and the following week I will head to the coast where I will do some volunteering to help rebuild houses in a town that was demolished by an earthquake about one year ago. As always, I hope all is well with you and let me know how your doing!


  1. wow. what an amazing adventure. the story of getting stranded at machu piccu was as exciting as it was magical. great pictures, too.

  2. Matt - are you in Chile or Peru? The GAC students are worried about you with the earthquake and all . . . please post an update.

  3. 我們不是因為快樂而歌唱,而是唱歌使我們快樂........................................