The Lost City
18.07.2007 - 23.07.2007 30 °C
I don´t think there has ever been a time that I have ever been so dirty, sweaty and tired in my life as after my fourth day trekking the Ciudad Perdida in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. A particularly gruelling day on the 6 day trek, we walked (in torrential rain) down mossy, tiny, slippery steps, struggled up muddy steep paths and crossed through waist deep white water rivers. The day finished crossing one of the rivers that had risen too high, in a ramshackle, sketchily built cable car.
Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City) is a city of the Tayrona people, pre-colombian, and was only discovered in 1975. It has a turbulant history, with one of it´s three founders mudering another over gold they had found, and a kidnapping of a group of tourists in 2003 by ELN guerillas. What remains of the city is a network of terraces overgrown with the jungle (very Indiana Jones), and it´s one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. It has a mysterious air about it and with only small groups visiting (the gruelling 6 day trek to get there and back and the kidnapping tends to put people off!), I have to say I was somewhat more impressed by the place than Machu Picchu - big call, I know, but it´s far less touristy and the jungle surroundings just lend to the feel of it all. However, with more and more tourists visiting Colombia than ever, groups are growing in size (ours was 34), so I advise people to get in quick before this place becomes South Americas next Inca Trail!
I set off for the tour with my mate Gil, who I had caught up with in the national park. I was a little worried about doing a 6 day trek, especially after finding my last trek so hard - and it was only 2 days! I had heard from various people who had done it how hard it was, but also how also totally worth it. Being in the jungle and cloud forests, the place gets rain almost year round, so I was expecting mud, humidity, torrential down pours and viscous mosquitos! I got them all.
Our first day we headed out to beginning of the track by 4w4. I was a little disappointed to find our group was so big, I have a hard enough time with names as it is - and I still didn´t know everyones by the end of the six days! We had a pretty good mix of people though. Lots of Brits, Aussies, a few Americans and five Colombians. We had two guides, Omar and Robinson and four porters. After lunch, we set off for 3 hours of walking, pretty much all up hill in the sweltering heat. I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, taking in the views everynow and then and drinking lots of water. I was rather suprised when we arrived at our first nights camp to find I was the 6th to arrive - first girl! Ok, so I know it´s not the Sydney Marathon, but it may be the only time I will be able to say this in my life, so let me have it!
Our accomodation for the 5 nights would be hammocks with mosquito nets and with 34 of us, it was a little squashy! Lots of rolling over and bumping into your neighbour in the night! All the camps were in specatcular settings, most of them by rivers so we could have a well deserved swim after our walking. The porters led mules with all our food and supplies for the six days and cooked us our meals - which were suprisingly good, we even had handmade empanadas one morning!
Second day started with more uphill followed by a long stretch of downhill, which would be great if you didn´t know you would have to climb back up them on the way out! After a couple of hours walking we stopped in a river for a swim and some fresh pineapple. Gil took a bit of a stumble this day and arrived at the river with a pretty messed up hand and bump and scratch to the head. There would be many more falls, incidents and injuries on the trip, including Lara, a Colombian girl, being swept down the river, our guide frantically chasing her down the shore! She came back with some pretty nasty brusing from where she had held on to a rock!
Third day, was the day to the city itself. It was also the day of the river crossings. I didn´t have any walking sandles and thongs would have been washed away, so I did most of the crossing bare foot. Not an easy task and luckily there was always a porter or two on hand to help (these guys were amazing, they couldn´t take the mules on this part of the walk, so they were carrying everything on their back plus helping us cross the river!). The white water was pretty strong and stepping on little stones was agony! I gave up in the end and walked in my hiking shoes! By this time it was coming down hard and fast with rain, so it didn´t seem to matter. After crossing the river some 8 or so times, we arrived at the steps to the city. Apparently there are around 2000 steps all up. I didn´t bother counting, I was too occupied in making it up alive! The steps were narrow, wet and covered in moss and I climbed most of them like a ladder! Suprisingly it didn´t take as long as I thought it would. When I arrived at the first terraces, I was greeted by some very bored looking military (one of whom looked all of 12!). They are posted here for a month at a time, basically just to look after us tourists after the kidnapping. They are so bored, they even agreed to pose in photos for the boys and let them hold their guns - not sure how ethical that was, but they seemed to enjoy it! We spent the afternoon drying out in the cabin (this was the only night we slept on mattresses) and eating popcorn and drinking hot tea. This was also the night that Gil and I discovered that our guides and god knows how many other people on the trip, thought we were lesbians. We had to share a mattress and the guides were making crude jokes...later on the trip, one of the Colombians asked me where my "partner" was from! Hmmm, not sure where they got this idea from, could have been us joking about the mud wrestling we planned to do in Cartegena or discussing our lesbian islands - yep, that would just about do it!
Our fourth day (the before mentioned particulary gruelling one) we started off the morning discovering the city with lots of information from our guides. All that is left of the city is the terraces. The houses were built from wood and straw and were moved a lot due to their custom of burying their dead under their houses so that the next child that was born would be reincarnated as the dead person. For this reason also, men and women lived in seperate houses. The guides also told us about the kidnapping, Omar was recruited to help find the hostages in the jungle so he had a lot of inside info. Fascinating stuff. After our tour around the city, we had some lunch and headed back to our camp. Because of all the rain, the rivers had risen so the crossings were even harder than before. The path was also extremely muddy and it rained on us the entire walk. We arrived at the camp, wet, tired and covered in dirt. Gil and I had a few well deserved beers before collapsing in our hammocks.
Fifth day was spent trudging through ankle deep mud tracks. Gil fell down five times and was absolutely covered in mud by the end of the day! Nothing a quick dip in the river wouldn´t fix though. That night, the wear and tear was starting to show on everyone. We were all exhausted and lamented over the fact we still had a day to go.
The last day, we awoke to some sun at last! Nothing much had dried overnight and I put on my wet clothes and shoes like I had been doing for the last four days. We were keen to get away early to try and avoid the rain which seemed to mostly come in the afternoons. As we headed off, I tried to remember this part of the track, and I swear there had not been that much down hill on the way in, but it felt like I walked up and up for a long time before the track gave some well needed relief in the form of flats! And then it was down hill for pretty much the rest of the trip. I don´t know where I got my energy from, but I managed to walk pretty much non-stop, think I was just keen to get out of there! I felt really proud and happy with myself as I walked towards the cafe where we had our first lunch those long 6 days ago. I got myself a beer, sat down, and couldn´t keep the smile off my face. Oh, and I finished 8th, second girl, not bad, ay?!
Gil and I take a dip after a hard days walk
Nope, haven´t wet myself, just crossed a river!
Steps leading to the city
Terraces of the lost city
most of the group on the terraces
another river crossing
Gil on the cable car
Gil and I after the fourth day
cute indiginous kids