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Ciudad Perdida

The Lost City

all seasons in one day 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
River crossing
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
the track
cute indiginous kids
our "accomodation"

Posted by zedgee 15:06 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)


A long journey to the Caribbean Coast

sunny 32 °C

So, after my rather short time in Ecuador, I decided to hot leg it to the Caribbean Coast of Colombia. This meant some serious bus time. I crossed the border at Ipiales with the help of a lovely young man named Joseph. He was a bit worried about me travelling on my own and insisted on not only helping me with immigration, but also getting me to the bus stop and getting a ticket to Bogota! He and everyone else I met that afternoon, seemed suprised that I would be in Colombia travelling on my own and not going to see someone I knew...compared to many other countries in South America, Colombia doesn´t get nearly as many tourists and the people seem really happy to see you travelling in their beautiful country and always ask what you had heard of Colombia before and what you think of it now you are here. Anyway, back to the buses. Joseph stayed with me the couple of hours I needed to wait for my bus, he practicing his english, me my spanish (badly!) Then it was time for my 20 hour overnight bus journey. I was a little worried at getting this bus as the Lonely Planet warns not to do this journey at night, but I figured, if the locals were doing it, it must be ok! In fact, I was the only gringo on the bus. There was a strong military presence on the road, lots of men with machine guns casually strung over their shoulders. After a long trip I arrived in Bogota bus station, the biggest bus station I had come across so far on my trip, more like an airport! The original plan was to stay there a night before heading off on another overnight bus to Santa Marta on the Caribbean Coast. But, it was raining and I really couldn´t be bothered with another big South American city, so I decided to hop straight back on another overnighter - glutton for punishement! The next day I arrived in Santa Marta and headed straight to a little fishing village called Taganga for a couple of days by the beach. Taganga was ok, a little too full of gringos for my liking and although the water was lovely, the actual beach was more like concrete mix than sand! So after two days, I went to Tayrona National Park. Ahhh, this was more like it. Beautiful beaches that you have to walk through the jungle to get to. Heaven. I met an Ecudorian guy, Jorge, on the bus there who had been staying in a campground a little bit back from the beach. Only locals seemed to know of this place and it was practically deserted compared to other campsites on the beach. It was very basic, with no electricity and cold showesrs (perfect after a hot day at the beach) It was run by a couple and their 3 adorable kids, Steven, Andrea and Greg. So I spent 6 days sleeping in hammocks, walking to one of the nearby beaches, swimming, staring at the stars in the clear night sky and eating hot chocolate buns (these were amazing, served straight out of the oven!) My mate Gil, who I had met in the Pantanal, met me in the Park. We spent a few days there together before heading back to Santa Marta to do a six day trek to the Lost City...but that´s another story.
La Piscina beach
El Cabo beach
Steven and Andrea
Gil and I at La Piscina beach
Me at La Piscina beach

Posted by zedgee 12:31 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)


sunny 18 °C

Ahh, Ecuador. I feel a little sorry for poor little Ecuador as I didn´t really give it my full attention. Desperate to get to the beaches in Colombia, and a little bit over the Andes, altitude and the cold, I whipped through Ecuador in 10 days. And it´s a shame really, because the scenery, the towns and the people are really beautiful. I went straight up the middle through lush countrysides and little villages.
First stop was Cuenca and lovely as it was, it was another colonial city, and I´m a wee bit sick of them by now! I stayed only one night.
Then off to Banos, a little place known for it´s hot springs and waterfalls (also for the comedy value of a town effectively named "toilet"!) Getting in and out turned out to be a bit of an adventure as they had a landslide that took out a part of the only road in. Wasn´t so bad getting in, just had to wait an hour in the rain till they opened up a part of the road they were working on, and then a 10 minute walk to some awaiting trucks that took people into town. Getting out wasn´t so easy. I didn´t want to wait till 6pm till they opened the road that I´d walked in on. Instead had to do a 45 minute, gruelling, zig zag walk up a mountain to get to the buses. I paid some guy $5 to carry my backpack! I actually think the locals were rather happy about the landslide, they were making a nice little profit out of it...selling water and food along the way, trucks to take people to the buses, boys to carry backpacks and taxi´s charging extortinist amounts! Anyway, back to Banos. Lovely place. Spent 3 days here, taking in some time in the hot baths, of course, some walks to lovely nearby waterfalls and a day white water rafting! I´ve met many people who´ve been white water rafting who seemed aghast at the fact they went overboard! Personally, I think it´s not a good rafting trip without a good spill!! So I was happy when we hadn´t been on the river even 20 mintues before we went surfing and then finally flipped and we all went in the river! Aah, took me back to my days on the Zambesi!!
After Banos, was Quito. A really nice city. I stayed in the New Town and it was nice to be back in a modern city with some good food. I spent a day checking out the Old Town as well, which was all lovely and white and colonial. Also went to Mitad del Mundo for some Equator fun. You know, putting a foot on each side, watching water spin different ways on each side, that sort of thing. Oh, also saw a real shrunken head in a museum there too, fascinating stuff!
After Quito was Otavalo and surrounds. Ok, so I admit it, I went to Otavalo for the sole purpose of shopping at their famous markets. And boy did I shop. My back pack is overloaded and I had to buy another bag to fit in all the goodies! Also visited a nearby town, Cotacachi, known for it´s cheap leather goods. I bought a jacket...I have a problem...
Also near Otavalo is Ibarra, where I tried the. best. ice. cream. EVER! This is a big call for me. I love my ice cream and have more than my fair share in South America (they´re obsessed with it over here!). Anyway, Heladaria Rosalia Suarez is an ice cream shop that was opened by Rosalia herself some 90 years ago. She perfected the method known as paila, which is ice cream hand turned in copper bowels. It was amazing, I had a big bowel and a cone to take away! Dare I say it, it was even better than Italian ice cream!
Me at the Equator
Quito old town
Rosalia´s ice cream
Otavalo markets

Posted by zedgee 09:55 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Pisco to Ecuador.

Bird crap and the "Pepe" incident

overcast 17 °C

As I had decided not to do the Galapagos (sad, I know) because they were just too damn expensive, I decided to take a trip to see the "poor mans Galapagos", the Isles Ballseta, near Pisco. Hmmm, so named the "poor mans Galapagos" because they are supposed to have a lot of the same birds and penquins and you can see them in a day and it cost next to nothing, but really I think it should be named "poor sucker who has to endure this tour". Unless you are interested in seeing a whole heap of bird crap on some rocks, my suggestion, is not to go. Oh, and the bird crap really is half the attraction. It´s used as a fertiliser and apparently fetches more money than oil! Who would have known. Maybe the islands are nicer in Summer when the skies are blue and it´s warm, but the day I went it was cold, windy and sprinkling, not ideal. And there seems to be a thick layer of smog covering Pisco. Like the rest of Peru´s coast that I saw, Pisco is literally a rubbish dump, plastic bags and bottles strewn everywhere. There was also a thick layer of scum around the islands which I can only assume is caused by all the boat trips there.
The following is an incident that happened to me in Pisco which just about sums up a lot of my experiences with South American men. I have many more such stories, but I´ll just tell the one and you´ll get the picture. Pepe was one of those agency touts that meets you at the bus. He met me as I got off my bus and as he was the only one there, I had no idea where I was going to stay and had a cheap hostal on offer, I decided to stay at the hostel and also booked my tour through him. Pepe seemed really nice. He was old enough to be my father and told me stories of how he used to work for the bank but the government had shut many of them down and now he was touting, I felt a little bad for him. I had lunch with him on my first day there, with two other girls that he had sold tours to that day. Later that afternoon as I walking to find the bus station to book my tickets to Lima, he actually came with me to book them, which I thought was really nice of him since the station was outsided of town. He was restoring my faith in Peruvians who I hadn´t the best experience with so far - mostly because I had only been to a lot of touristy places and they all want to rip you off! Later that night as I sat in my room, Pepe knocked on my door and invited me upstairs for Pisco Sour on the roof top. I was beginning think this was a bit weird, but was glad to see the other two girls up there also. It was about this time he started making comments about how beautiful I was, beautiful eyes etc... So, I had one drink then went to bed. Next day, went on the tour and then rushed back to my hostal to pack for my afternoon bus. I was in my room for all of two minutes before Pepe knocked on my door again. He gave me a kiss on the cheek and then grabbed me around the waist and started telling me how beautiful I was, how he hoped I´d come back to Pisco one day and then kept trying to kiss me, I kept moving my head, literally screwed up my face in disgust and eventually got out of his grip. The whole time I kept thinking, where on earth did he get the idea that I would want an old man to try and kiss me and that I would think about coming back to Pisco for him?! Had I said one too many "muchas grazias"?? Did he assume because I am blonde and western that I was easy game? I don´t know, I am at a loss. I left Pisco with a very sour taste in my mouth indeed!
Then started my long trip up to Ecuador. I was catching a bus straight from Pisco to Lima and then from Lima up to Cuenca, my first stop in Ecuador. The ride up the coast was dissapointing as I mentioned before...one awful polluted coastal town after another. I had decided not to stay in Lima as I really was over big South American cities, and just wanted to get to Ecuador. My overnight bus from Lima was supposed to make it into Piura (the closest town in Peru to the border I would cross) in time for a morning bus to Loja in Ecuador where I could get a bus to Cuenca. But of course the bus was 3 hours late so I was stuck in Piura (possibley an even bigger hole than Pisco) for the day waiting for the next bus out that night. As I bordered the bus, I was pretty happy to be leaving Peru. I am sure if you get off the beaten track in Peru, the people are lovely etc etc, but the gringo trail, despite all it´s wonders (Machu Picchi, Colca Canyon) doesn´t seem to bring out the best in the Peruvians.
Nazca-esque type drawing on the sand dunes - how does it stay there??

Posted by zedgee 08:15 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Arequipa and Colca Canyon

sunny 25 °C

Well, can´t say I was as enamoured with Arequipa as eveyone else seems to be. Mabye it´s because I´ve seen far too many beautiful colonial cities in South America, many of which I think are nicer than Arequipa. Or it could have been the stike - there´s nothing like barred up shops, empty streets, smashed bottles on the roads and protesters in the plaza to ruin the beauty of a city! Still, I managed to spend a few days there, mostly because I was staying in a really nice hostel with a huge library of pirated dvds! And of course the strike put me back a day or two. It was my first strike so far in South America, and I consider that to be pretty good going for 5 months! Oh, and there was also the most interesting musuem I have ever been to. It was for these 500 year old ice mummies they had found on a mountain. One in particular, know as Juanita, has been nearly perfectly reserved, she still as skin and all her internal organs. Fascinating stuff.
My main reason for going to Arequipa was to visit the Colca Canyon and the condors (the before mentioned Inca cartoon has a lot to answer for!!). Not being at my fittest (too much sitting around drinking beer and eating ice cream), it probably wasn´t the best idea to book a 3 day trek into the world´s deepest canyon, but what the heck, I´m on holiday!
First day, we were picked up nice and early at 6am to take the public bus to Cabanaconde where we would start our trek. In the taxi transfer to the bus stop, I was suprised to see that I booked the same tour as Serena, the girl I had met in Cusco (I was making a habit of meeting people accidently I already knew on tours!). After a typical lunch consisting of soup, a main meal which always is served with plain rice and coca tea, we were off. First part of the trek was the descent into the canyon. There are tracks all over the canyon linking the occupants of the tiny villages that are perched into it´s edges. It´s crazy to think of these people living their lives in this canyon, their only way in and out via these tracks, their only transport, their own legs and their trusty mules.
It as a 3 hour walk down some pretty narrow and hairy paths. I took it pretty slowely, because of the afore mentioned unfittness and also because I am clutsy enough on level ground, let alone on narrow and slippery paths! I nearly slipped over about 40 times (no exaggeration, I counted!) One does not feel good when you are overtaken by a couple of 10 year old peruvian boys...running down the path...in sandles made from old tyres...with a mule in tow! And no, the fact that they probably do it everyday, did not make me feel better! After the descent, and a little rest, we crossed a bridge and started our way to our first nights accomodation, on a narrow path that ended in a steep 20 minute scramble in the dark. I was pretty sure that it was never mentioned that I would be walking on paths with sheer drops in the dark when I booked the trip, but no matter, I made it up alive and there was beer at the top, so it was all good! Needless to say, we were all pretty exhausted and with a long day of trekking ahead of us, we had an early night.
Next day, after breakfast, we headed to our next stop, an oasis in the middle of the canyon. Along the way we visited a musuem that the villages had set up that explained about their dress and food and some of the animals that lived in the canyon. Our guide explained to us that tourism within the canyon was helping the villages survive. Many people leave these villages when they finish school, but because of the money and jobs that tourism was bringing into the canyon, more people were staying. At the same time, they´re aren´t too many tourists there, so the small village atmosphere has been maintained.
The next couple of hours we continued our descent downward. All this walking down was killing my knees and I found myself looking foward to walking up at some point! We reached the oasis around midday and it as a really beautiful and welcoming sight! Not really an oasis as such, but there were palm trees and lovely pools to swim in. We stopped here for a few hours to swim, lie around in the sun and eat lunch before we had to make the journey back up the canyon.
It was 3 hours walking up zig zagged paths. We had the option of hiring a mule if we wanted, and my pride was a little hurt when the guide asked me if I wanted one! Apparently he had noticed how unfit I was! I politely declined the offer and decided to try and walk. I was actually petrified at the idea of getting on a mule to take me up the steep and narrow paths, sounded about as much fun as having teeth pulled to me! So I started the walk and pretty quickly became the last one at the back. My guide, Pepe, stayed with me and looked at me hopefully whenever someone came past with a mule and offered me a ride. I kept politely refusing. Meanwhile, my breathing was getting harder and harder (as well as being unfit, my breathing had not been the best at these high altitudes) and my legs were turning to jelly. About three quarters the way up, another man and mule came by and I took pity on Pepe and decided to give it a go! Terrifying. My mule was at the back of three and kept trying to overtake the other two, on the outside, where sheer drops awaited me! And no, again, the fact that this mule probably did this everyday, did not make me feel better! I was torn between being absolutely petrified and the knowledge that this was so much easier than walking. I decided to hold on, close my eyes at the scary bits and hope for the best! Of course, I have lived to tell the story, but I won´t be doing that one again in a hurry!
We arrived back at Cabanaconde at dusk, checked into our hostel, had much deserved showers and then headed out for dinner and some salsa. We were all too tired for a big one and we had an early start the next day for some condor watching.
We awoke to cloudy skies which was not good for condor viewing. And in fact, we almost missed them. After waiting around for 40 mintues, about 5 minutes before our bus was due, the sun came out and so did the condors. They were magnificent, soaring through the canyon. Absolutely huge and they come pretty close too. I was happy. I had now seen Macchu Picchu and condors, two of the main reasons I had come to Peru.
After the condors, came the hot springs in Chivay. Aahh, just what we needed after all that walking! As lovely as they were, the experince was slightly ruined by a weird man video taping an old man and two young peruvian woman frollicking in the pool. Hmm, pretty sure you can get arrested for that sort of thing in Australia!! And that was the end of the tour. A bus took us back to Arequipa where we all went our seperate ways, a few of us got on overnight buses onto our next destinations (me to Pisco) and the others I can only imagine were either talked into more salsa with the guides, or collapsed into their hostel beds - I´m going with the latter!
Colca Canyon
the "oasis"

Posted by zedgee 09:46 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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