Tribes and Tribulations: La Ciudad Perdida

Trip Start Dec 29, 2009
Trip End Dec 24, 2010

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Monday, March 22, 2010

You may be wondering about my 'how naieve we are' comment in the last blog. Here you will be enlightened! To recap the conversation, Hubber asked if we wanted to do the lost city trek, Em asked what this was, and I replied, 'i think its a one day bus trek'.


One day bus thing.. hahahahahahaha. Idiot!

We arrived in Taganga at about 11.30pm on the night of the 22nd March and almost cried when we disembarked.. a gust of the most tropical, warm, fresh sea breeze met our delighted faces. We looked at each other and you could read it all over Emmies huge smile... CARRIBEAN BABY!

After a short taxi ride we realised promptly that Casa de Felipe does not have 24 hour reception. Buzz the doorbell:
Voice: Ola
Voice: Spanish gubble
Us: Me: Its Nikki! Em: Its Emily!
Drunk voices from afar: Nikki and Emily! HELLLOOOOOOOOOOO friends!

Our drunk amigos were already 1 bottle of delightful medellin rum and 4 games of 500 down in at the hostel bar, luckily for us, as they made enough noise that a groundsman came and let us in. He had gotten a key from the owner so brilliantly we were escorted to our rum..  i mean room... where we dropped our bags, changed into shorts and joined the boys for a reunion with our plastic cups outstretched like begger children. Hi! Rum! Cards! We missed you! Hurrah!

We of course got loads of rubbish for 'stalking them', pffffft, and proceeded to get completely intoxicated at a hostel party before stumbling home at dawn. How good is the Caribbean!

The next day we made plans over milos (they have milo here! heaven!). 'So tell us about this bus thing'. The boys looked confused. Bus thing? They smiled. 'The lost city is not a bus thing girls. its a walking thing'.
Faces turn white: explain?
Boys: Its a.. walking.. thing
Us: A TREK>!>!!!>!>!. (then, composure, a cough. Ahem.) 'We can trek. we trekked colca canyon, we are totally professional trekkers'. (DAMN YOU PRIDE!!!!!)
Boys: Sweet! we will organise everything! (run around like chickens, scurry with excitement)
Room emptied.. Em and Nikki look at each other... "Oh. Shit."

Lets cross over to google to get an idea of what the Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida) is.. (this is like a newsreport...)

"Imagine a six-day trek through the Colombian jungle, crossing eight rivers and 40 km of treacherous terrain and climbing 1,200 ancient steps to reach the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida in Spanish), an archaeological site in Sierra Nevada, Columbia.Sound like fun?"

ha! NO! Okay....

"The trek also involves a stop at cocaine factory where the indigenous coca farmers show how the drug is produced in their small labs. The trek to the Lost City was closed in 2003 after eight tourists were kidnapped by guerilla groups and were freed after several months"

Oh great. Note to self: turn off phone before parents can google and potentially find same article...

"Coming back to the Lost City, it was founded in around 800 AD, some 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu. It stretches across 169 stone terraces carved into the mountainside, and the entrance can only be accessed by climbing those 1200 steps. "

Inner lara croft (she always comes out at inappropriate moments) surfaces from within both Nikki and Em. "This does sound awesome". "Si". "And we didnt get to do Macchu Picchu". "Si". "We are really going to do this..?". ".....Si."

The next thing we know, we have packed according to our group agreed list of essentials, done some shopping, had a quiet dinner (this does happen), passed out, and woken to the soulful sounds of a crowing rooster (nearly made him Red Rooster i swear to you!!!) and arisen at sunrise. We had to be at the travel agent at 8.30am and for a bunch of wanderers this is early and we needed to swing by the boys hostel to pick them up... busy busy bees

One might ask what are the essential items five amigos bring on a 5 day hiking trip to the depths of the Columbian jungle? Here was our list, should you ever be crazy enough to do the same thing:
- 12 litres of rum
- Mosquito repellent
- 2 tshirts
- bikini (yes boys bought bikinis too)
- jumper
- 5 decks of cards
- toilet paper
- sunscreen
- pants (we do own them)

thats pretty much it. oh and you know, socks underwear and shoes. now that is really it. Thats right people, by the end of that trek, the garbage guy off sesame street would have been cleaner than me. But thats for the end of the story...

We all piled into our 4x4 with our driver (Zero english) and commenced the 2 hour drive to Tayrona national park. Well, we got to the end of the block, broke down, eventually got going on a hill start, and then commenced our trip. The roof had no lining, which made for a very interesting 2 hour bumpy ride to the park with four in the back. But we made it! We met our guide whilst he was packing our mule: he asked if we had anything for it, we submitted the rum. He thought this was hilarious. Note: not one other group bought any alcohol! The guides name was Diego, and he is a young little spanish guy of about 22 years of age. Diego has a story, and I will fill you in on what he told the boys a bit further on. We had a HUGE smorgasboard of sandwiches for lunch (which set the tone for the rest of the trip, food was excellent, congratulations to go to our chef Oscar who cooked for us) and set out on Day 1 of the trip.

It must be said we were all still quite hungover from the night before the night befores festivities. Stupid reunion. stupid rum and stupid cards. Quite stupid of us too as Day 1 is notoriously the hardest day. Partly because after 30 minutes the lanscape turns from river side stroll to vertical hill of doom, but also because it is of course HOT in the Columbian jungle (and I dont do hot walking, hot yoga yes, hot trekking, no thankyou) and this vertical cliff takes 1 hr to walk up, then it gets flat, then it goes up again.

Diego explained it to me like this (he doesnt speak a single word of english so we used my itsy bitsy spanish + hand signals for the first day):
Fingers walking (walking): 20 minutes
hand vertical (Uphill) - 40 minutes
hand horizontal (flat) - 30 minutes
Hand up (uphill): 1.5 hrs
Hand down (downhill): 1 hr

So 3 hrs walking the first day. Should be no problemo. We did the fingers walking bit along a nice little creek and then crossed a river, and then we looked up. I looked at Em (we were at the front), we nodded (we no longer need to speak, strange for two chatterboxes but it comes in handy) and then we stood aside and waved the boys on. "Bye boys! have fun sporty mental people! see you at the top in 2 hrs!"
Boys: but its only supposed to be 40 minutes uphill?
Us: Look who has their sporty smug pants on

We huffed and puffed and got up to the top EVENTUALLY, almost seeing double, sweating profusely, covered in dirt (already), and found the boys sitting at the top of the hill, drinking gatorade, playing with chickens, and looking like they got out of a Kathmandu commercial. Damn them!

The next parts were okay and after we coughed up a few lungs it got easier. Along the 'hand horizontal' flat part, we got into a game of eye spy.
Em: I spy with my little eye something beginning with T
Em: Hurrah!
Me: I spy with my little eye something beginning with L
Em: Leaf!
Me: hurrah!
Boys: Groan.

And so it went on. After some whingeing they joined in and this made the walk way more fun despite all complaints!

We got to the downhill part and bounded down merrily into our campsite. We were shown our hammocks and the natural pool and we swam under the 'Canopy' (I said Canape by accident and got a huge amount of rubbishing for this simple error) where there were vines and a waterfall and rocks to jump off (also set precedent for rest of the trip: men like jumping in weird shapes into the air and crashing into water). We then went back to camp, got changed, and settled in for the evening. Then came opening of rum bottle numero uno...

Day 2
Stupid hangover. stupid rum and cards. stupid trek. Glad I dont smoke even a teeny bit (old lung now on path). Have to say one thing that did cheer me up was the scenery. Absolutely breathtaking. We climbed up and over mountain number 2 and the huge trees and beautiful sunshine was absolutely amazing! Now there is one thing that cannot be avoided in Columbia, and that is the national export. No I do not mean coffee. Obviously, the product of the Coca leaf is not Hot cocoa. Before we left that morning a little local man came and took us to his cocaine 'factory'.. this being a small tent down a windy narrow jungle path. For those interested, cocaine is made of coca leaves, water, 20 litres of gasoline, salphoric acid, toilet cleaner, potassium and something called calle, which i believe is paint stripper. And that, my friends, is in the pure paste.. before it gets sent to the drug mules and drug lords and sent around the world in peoples insides. Unbelievable.. Before I get abusive emails this was an organised part of the tour and the 'factory' was a teeny tiny marque tent amongst some forest with one little tribal dude showing us around. It was more dangerous being in evil  Bogota than being with this guy! They make 2kg of paste a season, so its a tiny scale. The guy and his wives run it to make a living as their family has done for decades.. it was interesting to see the people behind this commodity which causes so much destruction for Colombia. Just a normal guy making a wage. Bizaare. Another interesting point is that in the whole time they have been producing the paste, no one from the family has tried it EVER. And why would you, really, after watching what goes in it! To give you an idea of what it is like, I attach Lonely Planets video on it. We did not go to this factory however and it was much much smaller and with only one guy in it. No guns or nudda. Anyway, we left the factory and Diego hurried us along quick smart. He wanted us to beat the other groups so we could get the best beds (amazing!) so off we went for our next three hours of trek trek trekking. This day was even harder than Day 1 (and yes the hangover did not help). We arrived at campsite number 2, the first group to do so again (we are super group!) and collapsed into our hammocks. Less rum, Diego warned, (in Spanish, my spanish skills were improving pronto given that it was that or continue hand signalling for a week!) you have 7 hours tomorrow! Yikes. By 8pm we were passed out campers... but not before we noticed the entire jungle around us was lit up.. by fireflies. Stunning. 

Day 3

Damn roosters. I LOATHE YOU. Even in the outback jungle I can't escape him.. I think there is one just following me around. Day 3 was amazing as despite the long long walk in the morning (we started at 6pm PS) we saw heaps of local tribes people. The little kids are SO cute and mr lucas just loves them (and they are drawn to him equally) so we had flocks of kids around us in 2 seconds once the cat was out of the bag that we had lollypops to share. We reached the campsite we would be staying at that night around 2pm, had a quick lunch and made our dash for the final frontier... 1200 green mossy steps which would lead us to the Lost City, aka La Ciudad Perdida. Woohoo! It was bizaare, we had enjoyed the journey so much that you almost forget there is a final destination waiting for you at the end

We let the boys go immediately (they were racing, could we be more different?) and we began our slow yet purposeful climb up the steps. It ended up being 40 minutes but given our fitness level had improved exponentially it wasnt too bad. Diego took us around the major sights (in spanish) and I translated for a bit, who knows if what I said was exactly right but it sounded like an interesting story! Probably went really like this:

Diego: Here we have the garden (in spanish)
Nikki: Oh wow! the magical burial ground of sacred tribes!
Diego: This was the chiefs house
Nikki: They used to slaughter their young here
Diego: Native birds were used for cooking
Nikki: AND THEN a bird came and destroyed the entire village with fire!!

If your interested, Wiki gives a pretty good summary of what we learned:

Some interesting facts from Diego:
-The head of all the tribes is called the Mamma, and in his house only men are allowed
- The tribes that inhabited the city all believe you have to change your house every 3 years (something to do with the winds), so there were lots of abandoned ex Mamma and tribal houses
- In the 70s, everyone found out there was gold there and all the heads of state sent people to dig up the gold.. which they found, however they all killed each other for it until the last man standing stole it.
- The gold is now in a museum in Cartaghena

The lost city was eerie, being deserted and Diego showed us all the old tools which the inhabitants used to use for cooking etc, and which some of the local tribes still use

There are armed army guards up at the city permanently to protect against the guerillas that come and try to take it over.. they dont look too stressed about impending invasion though, they just stand and pose for photos and smile at the tourist girls, and wander around. Good news is, in case anyone was wandering, yes you can buy a beer at the top of the 1200 steps! Which we all did, of course!

We came back, finished off the evening with more rum and cards (still 2 bottles to go!) and hit the hay (or hammock..) I wont bore you with details of Days 4 and 5 as we only had 3 hrs to trek the next day, back to the previous nights campsite. The thing with the trek is that its not a loop, you just go back the way you came. The last night was very quiet as we had a 7 hour, 2 mountain hike in the morning of Day 5 (left at 6, back at 12 for lunch!) to get back to the lunch spot from the first day to meet our 4 x4 chariot which would escort us to back to Tagaganga. We came, we saw, we conquered.. and what an epic adventure it was!

Em and I did the mature thing and made sure we were in the restaurant first so we could claim to be the fitter and mightier trekkers.. I think the boys had predicted this completely as they did not look surprised to see us sitting there with a beer smugly all of 5 seconds before they showed up. Smug? us? never!!!

Diego came back with us to Taganga and we shouted him a night of feasting and red wine and a bed to celebrate.. the delight on his face, and the look of disgust at his first glass of vino, made it so worth it! He was going back to his village the next day, so it was nice to sit down and talk to him when we werent all dirty and smelly, drunk or exhausted. His family used to produce coca paste just like the 'factory' we went too, but the money they were making wasn't good and his family was struggling. So he started training to be a guide, and he makes a few hundred a trek, which is quite a lot for a Columbian villager. His sister Marjorie will attend school until she is 18 and then she will become a guide as well, which is why she came along on the trek and helped out. We were relieved to know she was there because it was school holidays so she wasn't missing anything, and she did actually attend school. She will be one of only 5 female guides on the whole trek, but this girl is so fiesty and strong despite her skinny appearance I have no doubt she will be absolutely fine!

So after our very refined evening with Diego, he packed his bags and headed home. He was a great guide and definately one of our top 3 in South America. With Diego gone, we all grabbed breakfast and got excited for our last two nights in Columbia, nay, in South America. It was time for... THE HOFF

We made that name up, dont know how it came about but it has stuck. Think, huge mansion. Now think huge pool on top of mansion. Now think huge fridge. Now think Nikki and Emily raiding supermarket for supplies for fridge. Now think boys and beer in the fridge. Now think 5 amigos, just finished trek of 5 days, one is going home, 2 are going to work, and none of them will see each other for a long time

Chaos is the word you are after!

You can see the photos, 5 very happy, very drunk, tanning people made the most of it and went all out for 2 days.... it will not suprise you to learn we slept for 15 hrs after this party. Crazy crazy crazy. The americans also staying in the house did not think us so amusing. They were teachers from Ohio, enough said!

Thanks must go to Lachie for shouting us this amazing extravagance.. it was awesome fun! We fully support you spending all your savings before work on a mansion. We had the most amazing time, and it was a very fitting farewell to spend our last 2 nights living it up with our South American stalkers :) Haahhaaa. (They hate that.)

Finally, at 5.30am on our last morning, we put down our drinks, showered and packed, bid our farewells, and dragged our sorry asses alllll the wayyy to the bus stop, for our 3 hr bus ride to Cartaghena before our 1 hr flight to Bogota... it was not pretty. but we made it! And by the time we woke up we were excited, as they say as one door closes another one opens... as we were heading to THE BAHAMAS!!!

As you can tell, Columbia was amazing. I can't recommend it enough, and we only just touched the sides of what it has to offer. Cannot wait to go back!

With this long blog done, I am off to swing on a hammock.

Love and miss you all very much

Much love

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