The coolest thing I´ve ever done... Ciudad Perdida

Trip Start Jul 06, 2005
Trip End Mar 10, 2006

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Friday, September 23, 2005

One of those things that may seem a wee bit crazy fom a distance...So we trekked twenty K into the Colombian jungle, waaaayyy past the realm of national government control and off into the realm of paramilitary dominion and active guerilla activity. Ever here of those 8 tourists kidnapped in Colombia a few years ago and held in the jungle for months? On this trek. They tried to do it solo though, and we went with the only sanctioned trekking company, the one that gives half their money to the paramilitaries to make sure all goes smoothly so to speak!

Day 1

Trek left on time - Colombian time that is. Scheduled for 8:30, the jeep rocked up at 10ish, and we left by 10:30 or so in our super funked out, multi-coloured 12 seater with a pool ball topping the gear shift and tassles fringing the front window. Our guide was a 50 year old local named Walter who worked for 10 years clearing and restoring the lost )}(found?) city, and then for 11 more years as a guide. the man knows EVERYTHING about the place and we were really lucky to get him. They run 1-2 treks a week, usually five or six people - we had six. We also brought an assistant, Nicholas, who was the cook and once the trail became impassable for the mule, our human mule. The man carried ALL our food, his gear, and helped with our stuff at times - still outpacing us by miles.

Two or three hours later we pull into this weeeee little town in the mountains to have lunch, then after passing the paramilitary checkpoint (essentially 20 guys sitting around, armed to the freaking teeth) and shouldering all our gear for the next 6 days, we set off down the trail into the jungle. The entire trek is done on essentially a single file trail through the jungle, over mountains, fording occasionally raging rivers and in theory eventually finding the lost city of Teyuna, only rediscovered in 1975. As Walter was fond of saying, "it is very difficult, but not impossible." Oh, and Walter only speaks Spanish, and suprisingly enough, our Spanish has gotten to a point where that just wasn´t a problem.

Day one, easy enough. We walked for an hour in the heat and humidity, we sweated more than I thought humanly possible (pretty sure the water i drank neve hit my stomach, just in the mouth and straight out my face as sweat), the hit the first swimming spot in the river. The rivers were godsends, frequent bath breaks and our water source (just drank the river water the whole trek, apparently safe). This is not to say we were clean in any sense of the word - be glad the attached pictures are not scratch and sniff. Oh, and we almost immediately came across a freshly killed cow being butchered ON the trail path by some local indigenous - quite gruesome. The local natives are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the lost city, only forced to leave when the Spanish came - they now live a semi-nomadic life in the mountains in small scattered groups.

After an afternoons walk/climb/scramble in the gruelling heat, we stayed at...a coca farmers house! Yay! He even had a coke lab nearby that could be visited for a nominal fee where the whole process could be seen. Really just a nice old farmer, trying to make a buck. His back yard contained the most beautiful natural swimming pool I´ve ever seen, only accessible by a 12 foot jump in and rope ladder out (pic above of me jumping in). After a more than adequate meal, we were out COLD in our hammocks by like 7:30 or 8.

Day 2

After another morning swim we were off - first streth an hour exposed in the sun on a hill side cleared years ago by local farmers, meaning no shade for us and very, very hot walking - someone died of heat exhaustion a couple years ago. Essentially a day of straight up one side of a mountain, then straight down the other, about 5 hours to cover 6 K´s at a not exactly breakneck pace, but enough to wipe us out again completely. Easy to forget when you are watching you feet trying not to break an ankle, but some of the most incredible scenery you´ll ever see. A couple of splashes in the river along the way, another good dinner and a good talk with Walter about the local situation. The government has negotiated to take over control of the area in December and no-one knows what will happen then to the treks, the locals, the coca farmers, all up in the air and people are visibly anxious.

AND....everyone passed out by 7:30 again. We stayed in what was essentially a wall-less barn, with hammocks strung between poles. NOTHING resembling what you might consider civilization within miles and miles (and kilometres) and only the sound of the river, frogs, cicidas and god knows what other insects and animals. Lots of bats, lightning bugs and glow-worms too, but they aren´t so noisy...

Day 3

So today´s the day! We´re gonna find us a lost city! Headed out very early (easy enough when you keep falling asleep at 7 at night) and immediately saw what we had ahead of us. 1) The trail got noticeably trickier and had to leave our mule behind - enter the human mule, a man with the strength of ten men who have the strength of ten men! 2) We have to cross the river NINE times today, and the water is plenty stong to knock you off your feet and ditch all your gear into the river. 3) All of a sudden Walter is setting double time pace as it tends to rain in the late afternoon and the river gets much harder to cross.

With some help from Walter and Nicolas steadying us at times, we made another monster trek up one side and down another of a mountain, through a surreal indigenous village in a valley (just bizarre coming upon a settlement so far in the middle of what seems like nowhere) completed all NINE river crossings unscathed and eventually came upon the entrance to the city. A one thousand year old staircase decending out of the jungle to the river´s edge and disappearing into the darkness above - pretty amazing stuff. We proceeded to climb the 1600 steps (ouch and double ouch) out of the valley to the city high on the mountain slopes, and as the rains started to pour down it somehow seemed quite appropriate.

By the time we reached the top our stone staircase had degenerated into a full out waterfall as we fought our way through several inches of water to our shelter - a three story open sided cabinish structure with mattresses on the top floor - luxury! Wost part of the trip? Vicious swarms of mosquitos at the actual site - had to be very brave to venture out of your private little mattress mosquito-net set-up. Everything we brought absolutely drenched, puddles in my shoes, we were early to bed again in anticipation of a full day exploring the site the next day (and in fear of the mosquitos).

Day 4

Spent the day exploring the site, learning some of the history from Walter. Won´t bore you here, e-mial me if you want details. Essentially the Tayrona we´re forced from the city about 400 years ago when the Spanish came, not because they found the city (they didn´t) but trade routes to the sea were cut off and disease and hunger drove them too. The current indigenous communities are descendants, and prefer to leave the city abandoned as they feel it is a spiritual place best left undisturbed. The site was pillaged by grave robbers two years before the government arrived, and Walter says that when he worked at the site in the early years the archaologists were just as bad (one for the museum, one for me). Now it is about 140 terraces, along with many stone staircases and walls. Homes were made of wood so nothing remains, although current natives use the same structure (pics above). Really cool day, and Walter seriously knows a LOT about ancient Tayrona culture.

Day 5

Ouch, ouch, ouch.We basically did all of days 2 and 3 in everse, in one day. 4 hous in the morning, then 4 more in the afternoon. Worse, when we climbed back down all the stairs, the rain had brought the river up significantly (waste high in places and fast), and turned it an angry brown...greeaaaattt. Could tell by the look on Walter´s face this was unexpected to say the least. Some seriously hairy moments trying to get across a few of the tougher crossings, and Walter took a couple of dips trying to find safe paths for us, but as a good guide does, got us across safe and sound each time (pics above again). Really just a gruelling day through some stunning scenery again, got caught in another flipping monsoon and soaked all the way through (just when my shoes were dry!!). Can tell you that pool at the first house was a very welcome end to the day. Picked up one more member, as someone from the next group to set out had to drop out - the heat and strain were too much after day 1 of their trek and the guide sent her back with us. Had a pretty funny night around the dinner table as ou group had clearly bonded a lot through all the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the past several days. As promised, this day was the hardest by far. Also as promised, we arrived, we arrived dead, but we arrived.

Day 6

Homeward bound. We had a fairly slack last day after the backbreaker before. Good deal too, as we were all completely dead tired. Light breakfast and no lunch, we just blasted back through to the town with a little swim break along the way. Found our ride waiting and very happily climbed in for the ride home, to contemplate what we´d just accomplished and start planning the next adventure!

I now find myself in Santa Marta, a little beach town that lots of people love but I think is a little seedy. That said, its been a long six days and I´m freshly showered and shaved (you have no idea how exicting that is)! Guess we´ll give the town another shot tonight...

Off to the beaches for a few days - no towns really so I´ll be out of touch again for a bit. Heading to Bogota next week though, before working our way back south to a bit of a Quito homecoming then Peru. Talk soon!

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