Mission : Locate the Lost City !! – Cuidad Perdida, Colombia

The Tayrona Indigenous childrenLooking down over the lost city

Hola from Colombia

Ok, so this is what I have been waiting for, yes believe it or not this was in my top 5 things to do on my world trip away. For those of you who are thinking what the hell is she talking about, Cuidad Perdida translated means the Lost City. The only way to get here is by foot. I’ve been dying to do it for the last 3 years when someone told me it was better than Macchu Pichu in Peru…we shall see !! The Lonely Planet describes it as a gruelling 6 day trek, since I’ve been in Colombia I’ve met loads of people that have done and have said it’s been their Colombia highlight…yippee !! Anyway on with the story….

DAY 1

I have to pack incredibly quietly so as not to wake up the rest of the dorm and store my bag before having breakfast with Hennie and Selina. I would have done it the night before but we did get a bit wasted so couldn’t manage it. We got to the office and were put on to a minibus and driven to an entrance by an army roadblock. The army searched all our bags and then we were split in to 2 jeeps whilst we played with their little monkey. In all we are 13 – me , Hennie and Selina, 2 Dutch guys, 1 American, 2 Colombian and 5 Israelis. We have 2 guides, a cook and a porter. We are going with Sierra tours, this was who Norma had gone with but I seemed to have a much bigger group. There are only two companies to choose from here, the price is the same and really it’s just pot luck who you get in your group.

We spent the next hour driving over an incredibly bumpy road, visions of the disaster in Kampot came back to me but maybe it wasn’ that bad – could anything be ? Eventually we arrive in a village with lots of bars and loads of pool tables, not sure where the population comes from to fill them but never mind. We are given sandwiches and have to eat them guiltily in front of the skinniest set of dogs I have ever seen since embarking on my travels. Then at 12.30pm we’re off !!

After going through the town we walk along a grassy area until we come to a river. The Dutch and Americans had sensibly picked up some large sticks to walk with. The first river was fine, as for the second my foot slipped on the last rock and went in the water. Actually it was okay in fact nice and cool. We stepped up and down on boulders along the river and then came to a path. After 30 minutes we came to a deeper part of the river and it was time for everyone to go swimming. I couldn’t be bothered to dig out the bikini so just sat on the bank and watched. I think the swim lulled everyone into a false sense of security, the guides were obviously giving us a treat before the hard part. Suddenly, we were on a red earth narrow track which looked like a ditch carved into the hill. This track curved and winded it’s way up and up and up and up…you get the picture. It was really hot. Uphill is fine for me, I can just keep walking but the Colombians and Israeli girls were really suffering. Selina and I stayed together at this part and I just kept zizagging my way up. Eventually we get to the top and there’s a little shack selling drinks. The guides stop and give us fruit and the owners of the shack have a little pig that’s very dirty but very cute. I give him my melon skin and give his head a good scratch, yep think I still want a pet pig when I get back !! Off we set again and around the corner is yet another steep climb. The earth changes from red to white and keeps going up, most people I met who’d already done this told me this was the worst day but I have to say I found it fine, despite the intense heat. The only thing that was really bothering me was that I could feel a blister coming on my left heel. We could see hills and thought we were at the top but as you turned the corner there would be another one. Suddenly we are going down, yes I can see camp ahead. It’s 4.30pm so we’ve only been walking for 4 hours including breaks. The camp is better than I thought although the toilets are not the best. Grab a bowl of water and flush, that sort of thing. We cross a river to get to camp and on the other side are 3 houses. One has a pool table, I pity the poor mules that brought that up. Time to wash, we all head around the corner to a deeper part of the river. I just sit in the shallow part and it’s freezing but refreshing. Back at camp the guides have set up our hammocks – lovely !! They also put up mosquito nets before it gets dark so we just chill out and read. Dinner is served and it’s chicken, potatoes, rice and salad and we get chocolate for desert. It’s all really tasty but as we are spread out over two tables we don’t really end up chatting too much. We have an early start the next day and surprising I slept pretty well despite having to sleep on my back (first night ever in a hammock !!). Well, I say pretty well until at some point in the middle of the night I woke up to find my mosquito net being lifted up (not the best thing to do to me after my robbery), I shrieked rather than screamed at the dark head of hair, he whoever he was was also shocked and put the net back. It couldn’t have bothered me too much as I went straight back to sleep.

Injuries : 1 blister left heel

DAY 2

I am woken up at 6am by someone singing. It appears to be the cook, this man is so happy he sings all of the time, I can’t see how most people can sleep through it. Oh well at least this gives me time to go and find a hiding place to go and get changed (the downside of hammocks). Breakfast is served and we have scrambled eggs and bread and hot chocolate. The nicest Israeli guy comes over and apologises for trying to get in my hammock, he’s actually really nice unlike the other 2 and likes to imitate English accents so I teach him some cockney slang, which he keeps repeating to remember it. Originally I think they were going to split us in to 2 groups but today some of us want to go and visit a little cocaine factory – well, one is in Colombia !! We leave camp and cross a river and then head up through some scrub land on a very very secret path. Suddenly after only a couple of minutes we come across a little wooden shack. Inside is a man who says we can take photos as long as he is not in them and he shows us how cocaine is made. I have to say an addict should come and see this, I am sure it cures some people. After crushing tons and tons of coca leaves they are then mixed with petrol as well as a few other household ingredients. It stinks. Then the petrol is taken away with sulphuric acid (this nearly sets the floor on fire there’s so much smoke). This again is all mashed up and strained and then eventually this becomes coca paste. Once acetate is added elsewhere you can then make it in to cocaine. We decided to rub some of the paste around our gums, within seconds it felt like we’d all been to the dentist and our gums were numb. We were then told that once we got to the lost city we would have to take our memory cards out of the cameras in case the army searched them. No problem, time to start the hike.

We caught up with the rest of the group in no time, but I decided to walk at the back on my own for a bit. I love walking on my own, some of my most important decisions have been made during a good old walk. Today we seem to be walking through grasslands but with a slight incline upwards. Ivan the Columbian guy is having problems with his bag so the guide offers to carry it for him. We cross a village and then we are on a small path hugging the hillside. I catch up with everyone at the water stop where they are all having a wash (it’s boiling hot today), however, I can feel monster mosquitos and just keep going, Suddenly, I feel like I’ve walked in to my dream filmset. I turn a corner and there is the most gorgeous indigenous man I’ve ever seen in real life. Actually, he wasn’t that handsome but his whole look was. He sat astride a huge white horse and was wearing white trousers and a white poncho (angelic). His black hair was long and hanging down his shoulders – like I said my dream look (well I always have been a bit strange). The bubble then burst when I saw his woman and baby behind, but they were standing on the edge, I could have just pushed them over and he could have been mine….oh yes, he could have been mine !! Okay, I couldn’t do it and wife no. 2 would not have been acceptable so time to keep walking but at least I got to say hello.

The hillside path then changed in to jungle for a bit. Then once more a severe uphill bit. I was walking with Henne and Selina and we came across a beautiful green dung beetle furiously rolling mule pooh around. I think they must be short sighted as he kept getting a really big bit, losing it and having to settle with a smaller load. Then we came across an indigenous village. We were granted permission to go in and look at their houses and I gave the children some sweets so we could take their photo. I hate taking photos like this but they are so cute you can’t help it. A couple more corners and we were at camp it was only 1pm so a really quick day. Definitely bring a book !!

The camp was full of army, but they were quite happy to chat and one of the snipers was keen to let us play with their gun. You’re not allowed to fire it but you can look through the sight and hold it. Obviously, the Israelis having all done their national service came over to check things out. Camp was near another river so we all went for a swim even though this camp impressively has flushing toilets and showers. It then really started raining so I read in the hammock for ages and then dinner is again served. Tonight is meat, lentils, rice and salad with cookies for dessert. There always seem to be dogs at the camps, this one looked cute but we were told it had rabies so we kept well away.

Injuries : 1 blister left heel, 1 blister right heel

Day 3

The morning started with Justin thinking he was Tarzan and climbing up the vines on a tree. he and the Dutch boys have decided they like going ahead of everyone so leave first. Apparently, they sday it amkes them feel more like Indiana Jones, to which I replied what 70 !! Breakfast is scrambled eggs with pancakes and jam. Time to leave and we hike across fields and past the secret army camps. The day starts along the river with lots of boulders. A family of indigenous come along and the little children are more or less running across them, I’m hanging on for dear life !! Today is a day of crossing rivers and going through jungle. I get bored of taking my shoes on and off so just wade through with them on (rafting shoes are what you really need). We also come across a few fences that need climbing and I’m walking with the Israelis and the Colombians at the front. Just as we come through a real boggy bit we meet some people coming the other way for the first time. They are obviously on the return leg (you have to go there and back as the circuit route is too dangerous at the moment). A man at the front of their group says “what’s the secret password ?”, to which I answer, your name is Craig and you’re from New Zealand. He looks up stunned and starts laughing when he recognises me as we shared the same dorm on my first night in Bogota. Then to let us past he made me hum the theme tune of the Muppets..well, there was no other way we were going to be allowed past and I don’t think the rest of the group knew it. Time to say goodbye and keep going. We are walking through an awful lot of jungle today and some is downhill so it’s all very nice. At 1.30pm we do our final river crossing (I’m hoping my other pair of socks will be dry by tomorrow) and arrive at the steps. I can understand why this place was only found 38 years ago and why the Spanish never found it. I am amazed that anyone actually found it. The steps seem to start up the bank, they are covered in moss so are really camouflaged against the jungle. We grip our way up the muddy bank and then start our way up. The steps are jagged and slippery and to make matters worse there are 1200 of them. Half way up it starts to rain. It does take a while to get up them and over half way we come to some amazing brick terraces. There are trees growing out of the ruins it reminds me a bit of Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat. More steps and we can see the army waiting at the top. The rain is really coming down hard and I walk with Selina over to the main part of the city. We still need to find camp and it’s pouring, we skirt around the ruins and find a camp, it’s not ours though. We have to cross one more river and walk up more steps then finally we are there.

I get changed in to dry clothes as quickly as possible, it’s about 3pm and it’s still pouring, you can barely see anything through the clouds but you do have the sense that you really are in the middle of nowhere. We are given some crackers. Tonight we have mattresses so I grab a blanket and read under my mosquito net. It is so much colder at this camp. Tonight, we are given spaghetti. I’m feeling a bit cold and not that hungry but I stay up for a while and chat with the Dutch and Israelis. I have to say the group hasn’t really bonded which is a shame but they are okay to talk to for a bit. The army then come to get stoned with the American (no wonder they always seem so happy). He must have been pretty gone as he actually walked off without his gun, until he was reminded that he may have forgotten something.

Injuries : 1 blister left heel, 1 blister right heel, 1 blister right little toe

DAY 4

Ooh a lie in and tuna empanadas for breakfast. They were jolly good and I got the cook to show me how he made them. We have all decided to do 5 days rather than 6 which means we’ll spend the morning here and then leave at lunchtime to get back to yesterday’s camp. Today is absolutely beautiful even though it rained all through the night. This means the steps are extra slippy going down. We go to explore the city. The Dutch and Americans have already left so it’s only the 9 of us in the place apart from the army and our guides. That is what for me makes it more magical than Macchu Pichu. You just don’t get the people who turn up on the bus, and that’s really why I prefer it, plus the walk is harder as it’s hotter. The photo above is me looking over the main area, as you can see it really is tucked away in the jungle. As I said it was discovered 38 years ago. Unfortunately, the people who discovered it had to get permits to remove and study the various items, tombs and gold. In that time, the government department concerned informed a few people where it was so a lot of the items were looted and disappeared. There were once 3000 people living here and now two families still do although in the more modern indigenous housing. These people are the Tayrona people. We walked around the whole city and back to the terraces. They still have some strange bowl like items on top of the walls and there is jungle everywhere. Then we go to what was their main water source and have a swim. At noon after some lunch it’s time to go. I am really slow going down the steps. I have 2 little indigenous children running down them in front of me in wellies – just showing off if you ask me !! Time to go back over all the rivers and the Indians keep running just ahead and then letting us catch up before they run off again. It’s weird but they actually run the way you see native American Indians running in films, kind of a slight crouch and the same stance, I have to say I am a bit transfixed. Many, many boulders later I get to the main camp at 4.30pm. It’s raining so I just jump in the shower and get dry. Rabies dog has gone and we have the same meal that we had before here. The American has had rice from the army for lunch and bought bananas from the Indians and now he’s buying dope from them. It’s cheap but smells like rubbish to me (not that I’m an expert, but it smells just like earth). He and the Israeli girl smoke it through a pipe. I chat for a while but find the dope desperation boring so head to my hammock and chat to Selina and Hennie. Tonight, we don’t appear to have mosquito nets which is a real pain as flying things are attracted to our torches. I heap on the repellant as these Columbian mosquitos just love me.

Injuries : 1 blister left heel, 1 blister right heel, 1 blister right little toe

DAY 5

Final day boo hoo !! Mosquitos have ravaged my hands, they must have been poking out of the blanket. It’s porridge, museli and toast for breakfast. The Isrealis don’t eat it – I have to say they are really fussy with their food. Oh well, all the more for me….Today we are covering Day 1 and Day 2 in order to get back in the 5 days so we leave at 7am. The first bit is really up hill. It’s weird how you don’t notice how far you’ve covered when you’re going down hill, actually I probably wouldn’t have wanted to have been reminded about this. Despite the early hour of the day it was boiling. My legs are aching a bit today and I decide not to stop at the river with the others and to keep going. I am now a woman on a mission to get this trek finished. I’m on the paths which cling to the hillside when I turn a corner and a huge cow is coming towards me. I shriek and decide the safer option is the cling to the hillside rather than stand on the side with a big drop. The indigenous Indian boy guiding the cow laughs at my shriek. He may well laugh but he hasn’t met the people mauled by the bull in Salento has he !! They pass, I am safe once again – hurray !! At the indigenous village I hand out cookies for all the children (I’ve been hoarding them after dinner), this also means they are reasonably happy to pose for a photo as you can see above – how cute !! My final river before a break and I manage to slip on the last stone and my hands land in mule manure – lovely !! We stop at the camp from day 1 (I immediately wash the hands) for more fruit and cheese and crackers (Colombia has really bad cheese, in fact a cheese and wine party would be a complete disaster over here !!). It’s only 10.30am, we seem to be covering the ground pretty fast but my blisters are really sore.

Last leg. I must look knackered as the army keep asking if I’m tired when I pass them, I am bombing along, and just say it’s very sunny. I avoid further cows that are eyeing me suspiciously and cross more rivers. Then we get to the bit which was tough on Day 1 only this time we are going down, I am running – it’s a brilliant feeling…. Then the swimming hole. Again I can’t be bothered….I just want it over !! I stroll past and find the track. I end up photographing some rather industrious ants and then I’m walking with the Colombians, who’ve turned out to be my favourite people on the tour. We get to the grasslands and I know we are only minutes from the end, I can barely put one leg in front of the other. Then I feel something. Today, as my t’shirts are all so disgusting from previous days I decided just to wear my crop top. Looking down to where the movement is coming from I can see something burying itself under my skin. Ugghhh !! Yuck !!! What the hell is it ? Then I remember Norma said she had two tic like creatures that buried themselves in her hands and she had to dig them out. Apparently you have to get them out before they get in too deep as they can make you ill. I grabbed the bit of it that was still sticking out and pulled. It was really stubborn and didn’t want to release itself from my nice warm ribs (well, who can blame it, although they would have been extremely sweaty but still smelling of roses at this stage !!). Eventually, after 3 attempts I got it. Well, really it looked like I got just over half of it. There was definitely something still under there. I’ll have to dig around with a needle later. Finally, yes we have reached the village. Unbelievably, we are given another lunch. Well, I suppose there’s 1 hour in a jeep, 1 army check point and a mini bus back.

Final Injury Count : 1 blister left heel, 1 blister right heel, 1 blister right little toe and 1 tic in my side (well only some of it left)

Cuidad Perdida has lived up to all of my expectations, it’s a shame the group didn’t gel a bit better but as I said in the beginning that’s the luck of the draw. I did get to meet a couple of lovely Columbians and a few of the other people were okay too. Simply put it’s been brilliant and definitely a Columbian highlight !!

Transport count:

Plane = 23, Bus = 100, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 25 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

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4 Responses to “Mission : Locate the Lost City !! – Cuidad Perdida, Colombia”

  1. A Clear Future » Mission : Locate the Lost City !! - Cuidad Perdida, Columbia Says:

    […] the whole thing over here This entry was posted on Friday, April 18th, 2008 at 9:06 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. […]

  2. stas Says:

    hey this sounds very cool! i want to do it too 🙂

  3. Rich Hewson Says:

    What company did you do your 5 day treck with? If you did it un guided, where do you start?

    Cheers

    • sallyd Says:

      Hi Rich
      I think you have to do it guided, I think that’s the preferred route due to there being a lot of army on the way and it may rain so you can stay in hammocks under the guides shelters, also you may miss the entrance to the lost city as it literally is lost. Some of our party went ahead of the guides and missed it. I can’t remember the company name but I stayed in Taganga beforehand at Casa Felipe and it was the company they used.
      There are a couple of stores in town that you can book it through.
      Enjoy – it’s a fab experience. Also really recommend Parque Tayrona afterwards….a mere bus trip and walk away.

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