(Mis)Adventures in Colombia and Peru

Overlooking Machu Picchu
  • Overlooking Machu Picchu

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.

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Wow, I bet you don't even let menstrual cramps get in your way. I see a book in your future. I'd love more details about your adventures.

You cant let the mensies get you down!! No cramps keep me from travelling-I have flown many a mile in pants that are too tihgt and cramp my penis but I still travel!!

I recommend traveling as much as possible –

Yeah, and as long as money is no object it is easy to say that!

BTW where did you get the surfboard to surf Waikiki since you only left with a backpack?

I surf, but have never been there. But according to someone whi surfs all over the world, Waikiki in Lima is pretty well known to locals. It was named by some rich guy who was friends with the Duke. That being the case, I guess it wouldn't be too hard to find a surf board.

There’s no question that long term travel is more difficult for most people in this lousy economy. But for many it just comes down to choices. I’ve chosen travel over accumulating more things in my life. I really don’t care about keeping up with the Joneses. I have very few material things, drive a Toyota Echo instead of a Lexus, etc. I’m very happy to have made this choice because travel has made my life so much richer -and I’m not talking about money.

Also, travel to other countries doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think. Our dollar goes much further in certain parts of the world, particularly Asia and Latin America. You can accumulate flight points on your credit card and couch surf when you get there. I encourage people to make wise decisions with their lives. If you can swing it, I agree that you should travel as much as you can. A gap year trip or volunteer experience overseas can change a life. But this may entail a bit of research, planning, saving and sacrificing.

Just dream about that llama you may get to kiss!

"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."

Colombian here. What made you think that? That's not common at all. I've traveled every day by bus for studying and work between Bogotá and a town near there and I've never withenssed anything remotely similar to what you described.

You also have to take into account that Cartagena is not Colombia. Nor Medellín or Cali. The country is too big and diverse for a single city being representative of all the country.

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