After finishing my second year of law school in San Diego, I decided that I needed a little adventure in my life. I planned my classes so that all my finals were done by December 6th, and December 7th I left for South America by myself.
I planned to go kiteboarding in Cartagena, Colombia, for ten days and then to Peru for three weeks to hike Machu Picchu. I went totally unprepared, which is my favorite way to travel. I didn't book any hostels or make any travel plans and the only thing I brought was a backpack full of kiteboarding gear.
I wasn't nervous traveling alone, even to Colombia, because I'm fluent in Spanish and I knew that I would meet fellow travelers along the way. I didn’t realize how fast I would make friends on my trip: On the plane from Florida to Colombia I happened to sit next to the only two kiteboarders on the whole plane, and they invited me to stay in their beachfront penthouse apartment for the week and in return I could translate for them. I translated and they were my bodyguards, so it worked out great.
Cartagena had good wind for kiteboarding and the city was beautiful. It’s surrounded by a 30-foot wall built by the Spaniards in the 1500s to keep pirates out. In this small romantic city there is live music in every plaza and the Colombians rumba (dance) until the sun comes up.
When the wind died, I headed to Parque Tayrona up the coast of Colombia. Some torrential rains hit, and all of the towns in northern Colombia flooded. The victims of the flooding stopped cars with ropes strung across the freeway to ask for money while their kids were swimming in three feet of water in front of their houses. The van I was traveling in was stopped and held up with knifes, but the driver gassed it before they could open the door. This was apparently quite typical in Colombia.
The national park was totally flooded, so all of the hikers rode horses through the deep mud. I decided to run though the national park – which turned out to be a 13-mile trek. The mud was up to my shins, and at one point the jungle trail disappeared and I was lost.
After about six hours of hiking I ended up at a beach, out of food and water with the sunset approaching. I came across two Colombians with a machete who saved my life. I was frantic, but they told me to calm down and they climbed palm trees to get me some coconut water. They offered to let me stay in their tent but I declined, so they gave me cookies and showed me the way back to the entrance. I made it out of the park in the pitch black just before the rains came again.
I flew from Colombia to Cusco, Peru, and took the train straight to Aguas Calientes, where the hike to Machu Picchu begins. I got up at 4 a.m. and started hiking alone in the dark uphill for an hour and a half to get to the entrance of the ruins. The first 400 people to arrive get to hike Wayna Picchu, the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. I was the first one up the mountain and the view was amazing! It was really steep and the altitude made it hard to breathe, but having a bird’s-eye view of Machu Picchu made the whole trip worth it.
Getting back was the tough part. I hiked back down to Aguas Calientes, but the train back to Cusco was too expensive so I decided to take the long way.
What should have been a one-hour trip ended up being quite a journey. I hiked two miles with my kiteboarding gear because the bridge connecting the road had washed away in the rains. I took a five-hour taxi ride alongside steep cliffs, but then the driver decided he didn’t want to continue, so I was stranded in the middle of nowhere. Finally a bus came, but the seats were double-booked and the bus ride was freezing. The worst part was that I was stuck sitting next to an old drunk man who smelled like a zebra and kept falling asleep on my shoulder.
I ended up traveling down to the southern tip of Peru and into Chile for Christmas and New Years. The city of Tacna, Peru, lit up like a war zone with fireworks on both of those nights. Every single house shot off tons of huge fireworks, making the whole city light up – and the funny thing was that fireworks are illegal there!
For my last few days I went back to Lima, Peru, where I surfed the famous beach called Waikiki (stolen from Hawaii), which had great waves.
I love traveling, learning new languages and experiencing new cultures. I ate guinea pig, kissed a llama and learned some Colombian and Peruvian slang while I was there. Everyone I met was amazed that I could speak Spanish, which made getting around and meeting people really easy. I recommend traveling as much as possible – in my case, it was a great way to get a different perspective of life and wind down after the stress of finals.