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Footsteps

The Lost (But Now Found!) City

COLOMBIA | Wednesday, 21 June 2006 | Views [3923] | Comments [3]

The city...

The city...

My last 6 days have been spent hiking to the "Ciudad Perdida" (The lost city) which is, true to its name, a city built around 1000 years ago, forgotten, lost and swallowed up by the jungle for a very long time, only to be rediscovered in 1975 by some tomb robbers in search of some loot (They definitely hit the jackpot here!)

Here is a brief outline of the journey before I go into the specifics of my experiences there...

The round trip is 6 days:

1st day: 4 hours of walking. It is still pretty populated here. Much of the land has been cleared to make way for crops (mostly coca...). The first "lodging" is with a family which make pretty damn good business for themselves (more about that later!)

2nd day: Another 4 hours of walking. A little more remote and leafy. Just before the second shelter we pass an indigenous community still living in tradition without much outside interaction.

3rd day: A 5 or 6 hour walk which involves quite a bit of scrambling over slippery rocks, 9 river crossings, mud and ascending 2000 tiny slippery steps to finally make it to the Ciudad Perdida.

4th day: Exploring the city in the morning before the habitual afternoon rain commences (Giving us a good opportunity to rest up for the next day of 9 hours walking)

5th day: Consists of walking 2nd and 3rd days in one push... Almost 10 hours on the path...

6th day: Walking the 4 hour walk back to civilization where we are collected by our "trusty" (More about that later also!) jeep which should then take us back to our hotels...

The sleeping accommodation is of the hammock kind.

It is "winter" at the moment (Hahaha! I would like to see them endure a REAL winter!) which means that it is not cold but that it rains a hell of a lot, mostly in the afternoons.

NOW! Back to the real story...

I arrived in Santa Marta on the 12th of June, quite disappointed with the city itself... I booked my trip to the Ciudad Perdida the next day as there really was no reason to hang around much longer there. By some stoke of luck there was a trip leaving the next day and with only two other people in the group; an American couple, Cristin and Adrian, who, luckily enough, were good and friendly company!

We got collected from our hotels at 7am in taxi, which delivered us to the "jeep"... A Landrover from before the Stone Age which was on its very very VERY last legs... We all said a small prayer and got in... Then so did about 20 others... Let’s say that it was a particularly uncomfortable ride for all, especially Adrian being over 2m tall...

After a 2h+ trip to the drop off point, over roads among the worst I have ever seen, we packed up the mules (Who I was warned bite and kick if you get too close so I kept a good distance!) and set off on our first 4 hours walk to the shelter no. 1. The walk went really fast, even with a giant hill to climb and the stinking hot sun. We made it around 4pm then went swimming in the river next to the shelter, followed by a well deserved dinner. At this stage I was feeling very confident that I would not have any issues completing the hike as I had done much harder before with a much heavier pack (hurdles had not been reached yet!).

That night as I slept like a baby in the swaying hammock, none other than the guide slithered over, deciding to be a pervert and feel me up... It took me a few minutes to realize what was going on and what to do about it... As I knew that I had to spend the next 5 days with him I tried to make myself clear without too much insult ( I refrained from using my new learned Spanish insults... just... ). I slapped his hand and turned around hoping that he would get the subtle point of the gesture... At that moment in time, I gave birth to a 6 day ongoing problem... lesson learned: With Colombian men the only message they understand is the sledge hammer kind...

The next morning we rose at 6am, eager to take up the farmer (Who owned the property we were staying on) on his offer of $30,000 pesos to see his cocaine factory...

The farmer I decided is doing pretty well for himself while not having to do any work whatsoever... Firstly, he gets paid by the hikers, almost every day, to sleep on his land (already a very good salary considering how many of them come through to get to the city...) He runs a small "shop" where hikers can buy a limited number of essential items... Most important being beer... He then lets others farmers in the area use his cocaine factory (as he doesn’t have a crop of coca himself) to make their product and in return, they must give him 5% of the cocaine that they make which he then sells and profits from. He also makes $30,000 pesos per hiker he shows through his factory (which I dare say would be a hell of a lot of them). All combined, I think he must be making a pretty good run of things really!

Anyways... The 15 minute walk to the factory was a pleasant one, with the jolly farmer pointing out his marijuana plants growing along the path and proudly telling us about his little drug trafficking scheme...

How cocaine is made... I feel it necessary to educate you all so that you can turn down the opportunity to try it if you ever get the chance... As I will surely be doing now!

Around 1000kg of coca leaves are used to produce just 1kg of cocaine...

The leaves are harvested and chopped up into mulch by a whipper snipper... Into this mulch, salt and chalk powder and both added and well mixed in.

Step 2 is to put this mixture into a container and to add petrol... Yes... That’s right... Petrol... This is left to sit for 5 - 6 hours.

Step 3 involves adding water to the mixture and to every 1l of water added, 1 cup of sulphuric acid goes in... I know! It keeps on getting better doesn’t it?!?

it is all mixed up with a giant spoon as the petrol, being lighter, likes to sit on top.

After the mixture settles and the petrol returns tp the surface again, the water mixture at the bottom is syphoned out (this contains all the coca extract and now the petrol is clean and can be reused) into a clean container. To this (I don’t know what the chemical name for it is in English but it was definitely sodium something...) the stuff that is used to make Mercurochrome (the red antiseptic stuff) is added making it, at this stage, a reddy brown colour...

This mixture is then filtered, and comes out clear (If it doesn’t it must be discarded...)

But wait, there are still more chemicals to be added because there were not enough in there already! To the clear solution, caustic soda is added to react with the acid... You can now see the white "pulp" floating around in the clear liquid and this is the cocaine...

After this, it must be filtered again, leaving the wet cocaine mixture in the filter... This is then dried and ready for smoking... For snorting it must be mixed with acetone as it still has caustic soda residue which I guess aint all that good for your nose...

I can’t quite work out here whether people are getting high from all the chemicals in the end product or from the coca itself...

I am also perplexed as to how someone invented such an obscure process to make a drug... I am thinking that that someone was a little drunk perhaps?

Well that’s how it is made folks... I hope that you are all now as turned off it as I am!

Back to the trip now... We set off from stop 1 around 8am. The walk began very hot as there was not much shade but as the walk continued, we got more and more into no mans land which was the way I liked it... Just before we got to stop no. 2, we reached the indigenous community. They still live pretty much in traditional ways and speak their own language although this is starting to change bit by bit I think as more and more tourists are passing through the area.

After 4 hours of walking, shelter 2 was reached, just as it started pissing down with rain (washing off all our mud collected along the way!) Hmmmm.... Shelter 2... Where all of my problems started!

On the way out on morning 3, we were all pointed in the direction of "drinking" water... We filled up our bottles joyfully and went on our merry ways, eager to find the lost city finally...

We got there around 1pm, just before the rain hit... The 2000 stairs up to the place were wet, steep and verrrrrry slippery so climbing them was an adventure in itself (climbing down was twice as bad...) To get to the stairs we had to cross a raging river 8 times which come to think of it was pretty dangerous - It didn’t help that while we were wading through waist deep strong currented water the guide was telling us that this was the spot were the German tourist got swept away and died...

Exhausted after the 5h+ walk, I had a quick swim in the river and headed off for a nanny nap in the hammock while it poured down with rain. When we met with our guide in Santa Marta before leaving he said to me: "Now! It gets cold up there, bring warm clothing"... I laughed at him as we sat in the sweltering 40 degree Santa Marta heat and said to myself: "Yeah right! Cold? They don’t even know what that means here!"... I take full credit for spending two of the coldest nights of my life... I was warned.

This night is when the good old health problems began... The two out of the 3 of us who drank the water at stop 2 ( Including me of course as we all know that I never like to miss out on the opportunity to catch stomach bugs...) were up half the night commuting to and back from the toilet block with the green apple splatters... Being unlucky enough to get trapped in the toilets at the same time as Adrian made me think that I was the lucky one out of the 2 of us, hearing what he was going through... Man I like being wrong (again...). As he recovered the next morning I gradually got worse...

We went exploring the city on day 4 which was impressive to say the least... We were told that in fact the city is far more extensive than the part we got to see but it has not yet been cleared and the other parts are inaccessible but apparently far more impressive...

After our morning walk we got back to the shelter before the rain started... By this stage I had pretty bad stomach cramps but was thinking that it would pass... After eating dinner and getting into the hammock half frozen to death and wanting to vomit, the night went very slooooooooowly...

I woke up in the morning completely unrested, frozen cold and aching (possibly a fever), a splitting headache and with the worst stomach ache and unable to even look at food because I wanted to vomit... We set off at 6am on our 9 hour walk. The first 5 hours back to stop 2 were a blur as I was just trying to get there as fast as possible... I had to force myself to eat bread once we got there as I had no energy to walk anymore. We left a half hour later to do the last 4 hours of the walk which I managed to distract myself for 2 of, singing songs and joking around... By about the 7th hour of walking it was fairly clear to me that I had a fever as I was aching all over and was hot/cold...

We got to the shelter at 4pm and I was sooooo relieved to be there that I almost cried... I slept for the rest of the afternoon, looked at dinner (and almost vomited imagining all the lard that was added to it) and went back to bed... I woke up this morning to find that I had an appetite again which was good although still sustaining a headache and toilet stops (if you know what I mean...)

We got back to the starting point in good time, passing a few deadly snakes along with way... I rejoiced about being able to get CLEAN, cold water again! I wasted the time waiting for the jeep counting the 10´s of 1000´s of mosquito bites on my poor beaten up body... I have never seen anything quite like it - The mosquitoes here are nasty!

An hour later the jeep showed up, sounding worse than it did on the way up (Uh-Oh!). We got in and left with half the village hanging off the back, including a pregnant girl who we had to keep on making morning sickness stops for...

On the way down this mega kick ass hill, the driver mumbles something and pulls over. We are then informed that the brakes are no longer working at all but that we will continue anyway... I considered getting out at this point but didn’t, knowing full well that I would most probably be stuck out there for a very very very long time... Going down the hill we passed about 20 crosses by the side of the road and after each one, I was praying hard to the God that I do not believe in, to make it safely back to a point where we could find a taxi...

I am here to tell the story and may consider renewing my faith!!!

This afternoon after taking a nice, long, cold shower and washing all of the remnants of the adventure off, I took my skanky, mouldy, smelly clothes to the lavanderia to be washed as I thought that this was a job best left to the professionals! I apologized deeply and sincerely to the staff and left the before I saw the look of horror on their faces at the state of the contents of the bags.

I am now here writing this, feeling sick as a dog after trying my luck with food again... Better luck tomorrow or to the doctors soon perhaps?

Ciao xxx

Tags: Adventures

Comments

1

Good read! Thanks for sharing. :-)

  Leah Aug 4, 2006 10:43 PM

2

Even after reading this, I still want to go there. Can't wait!

  Cali373 Mar 29, 2007 2:20 AM

3

Awesome story man, I'm colombian (currectly living in Canada) and I never got to go to that place. Seriously thinking of going

  Mauricio May 19, 2007 6:47 PM

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