News & Media

Kristen Spees’ South America Adventure!

Published: April 14, 2011
Kristen Spees

By 3L Kristen Spees

After finishing my second year of law school 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 I left December 7th 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, Colombia had good wind for kiteboarding and the city was beautiful.  It is 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 down 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 knives, 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 be 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 Cuzco, 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 Machu Picchu.  The first 400 people to arrive get to hike Wayna Picchu, the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu.  I was the first one up Wayna Picchu 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 from Machu Picchu was the tough part.  I hiked back down to Aguas Calientes but the train back to Cuzco 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 on steep cliffs, but 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 got 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 Year’s.  The city of Tacna, Peru  lit up like a war zone with fireworks for 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 when I was there.  EveryoneI met was amazed and surprised that I could speak Spanish, which made getting around and meeting people really easy.   I recommend traveling as much as possible, especially when in law school, to get a different perspective of life and to wind down after the stress of finals.

To see my video of Machu Picchu on YouTube, log onto