La Ciudad Perdida

Trip Start Jan 07, 2013
Trip End Aug 01, 2013

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Flag of Colombia  , Magdalena,
Thursday, February 14, 2013

Before coming to Colombia, the Lost City hike was the one thing we knew we were going to do. Even after 5 weeks we still barely managed to squeeze it in. It is about a 25km hike one way and can be done in 4, 5, or 6 days depending on how much relaxing one wants to do. With only 5 days left before flying to Equador we opted for the 4 day hike. One problem was that we each only had 2 backpacks, one 20L and one 75L. Bring nothing... or everything. The former seemed like more of a challenge so we showed up to the tour office with one pair of clothes and some basic equipment. Everyone piled into an overcrowded land rover (13 people) and headed into the jungle.

The guided hiking experience was completely new to me, some pros and some con's, Because the area is controlled by the military (for protection from guerilla groups) it's not possible to go alone. There are fees that are paid to the military and local tribes to compensate for the tourist impact. Because of this, it was oddly our most expensive week to date. Our group was made up of about 10 people from around the world (chile, US, switzerland, france, and england) and our guide was a local colombian who was ex military and ex "chemist" (cocaine). Interesting background... Each night we stopped at a large jungle camp that held anywhere between 50-100 people. The logistics of the camps must have been hard to deal with because of the 3 different hike durations, and our guide was constantly on his walkie-talkie organizing things. They fed us huge meals which was much appreciated after the long days of hiking and swimming. In addition to that, there was even beer and soda at the camps. Locals would make the trek with 60 cans on their back in order to sell them for triple the price in the jungle.

Although I loved the large meals, I had a hard time adjusting to the guided hike agenda. It's strange having someone else tell you when to leave, how fast to hike, and where to take a break. I also was much more interested in experiencing the jungle than listening to our guide's constant radio planning. Not for me... Greg and I were either way ahead, way behind, or on a completely different side-trail in order to get some solitude. We tried to take some night excursions as well, but were told that we would get attacked by snakes and jaguars. A very convenient and effective excuse by the guides. I'm sure there was some truth to it, but they definitely blew it out of proportion because we didnt see much more than two snakes. After bushwhacking for only a few minutes we quickly realized that camping in an undeveloped spot would be very uncomfortable.

After I got over feeling like a herded cattle every once in a while, I allowed myself to fully appreciate the beauty of the trail and surrounding environment. Usually on the return trip of a long hike I become preoccupied with landmarks to hep determine how long I have left, but not here. We hiked along the mountain ridges where one can see for miles into the backcountry and took breaks by swimming in the crystal clear river waters. There were a number of indigenous villages along the trail as well where we were able to talk to the kogi and other natives. The children always asked for "dulces" (sweets) but after hearing a story about how it caused rapid cavities and tooth loss in a culture that didn't use toothbrushes we had to deny them. Even if the lost city was not the final destination, I would have been completely content with just the scenery from the trail. Its about the journey, not the destination right? 

The Lost City was a grueling 1,200 stairs up from the end of the hike. Here our guide gave an explanation of the site, with an entertaining english translation by Greg. A succession of over 200 terraces led up the mountainside with views of the surrounding jungle. The site dates back to 600AD and was used by 4 different native tribes. It was discovered in 1972 filled with gold. All of the treasure hunters went back to Santa Marta for a "coke and hooker binge" and died soon after. After that the area was plagued by local warfare until the government intervened. Today there is a military camp at the top of the city where officers are on guard 24/7. I wouldnt mind being stationed there for a while... After the tour we were free to walk around. I spent some time climbing and jumping from the terraces. On the hike back to camp we left the group in order to travel by the river, jumping through the pools an waterfalls. Vibrams for the win. 

Also, note to any future lost city travelers: dont eat the small bannanas. They are filled with sap... 

On the 2-day hike back we challenged ourselves both by running, and me by hiking barefoot again. The swimming pool break areas were more than enough motivation to move quickly. By the time we got back to the starting point my knees and ankles were ready to give out. For once, I'm happy to have a long bus/airport day ahead.
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