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El Ciudad Perdido (The Lost City)

COLOMBIA | Monday, 30 January 2012 | Views [2301] | Comments [2]

I came to Santa Marta to visit El Ciudad Perdido, The Lost City. Known as Teyuna (Mother Nature) it was built about 700 A. D. but after the Spanish arrival almost all of the inhabitants died from introduced diseases and the city was abandoned. It was only rediscovered 40 years ago. You can read more here. The trek is designed to take five days, even though the distance is only about 20 Km. I knew it was going to be challenging, but when Jairo from the hotel showed me a photo of a German woman with one leg who managed the trek, I thought I should be able to do it too. For me, the trek was the main point of the journey – I thought that El Ciudad Perdido would be quite interesting, but not on the same level as Machu Pichu. I had read that the scenery and wildlife made the trek worthwhile, so that was what I was most looking forward to. I was in a group of only six, which was a good number. Everyone was very nice and easy to get along with, which helps when you are together all day for five days. As it turned out I was actually, during the hike, often by myself because I was slower than the others. We were met at the hotel in Santa Marta by our guide, Gabrielle, and his 14 year-old son Juan Carlos, who was on school holidays. We piled into the back of a 4 x 4, the passenger door secured with a bit of string and the back door with a wad off paper. It was a two and a half hour drive to the village of Mami, where the tour begins. The sealed part of the road was fine but the last hour or so on the rough unsealed road was quite uncomfortable. Bruises appeared on my arm the next day from bumping against the door, but they would be the least of my worries. We had lunch at a restaurant in Mami before we set off. I tried to bring only what I really needed; we only had to carry our own personal things, bedding was provided and donkeys or horses carried the food, but even so, my backpack felt quite heavy. The start of the trek was quite easy, and we stopped for a swim at one of many rivers (or was it the same one that we repeatedly crossed?) Then the honeymoon was over. For what seemed like eight hours but was probably two, the track was nothing other than hard work. It was a very steep climb cut into the mountainside, steeper than these photos reflect, with no view other than the next switch-back. I learnt to stop hoping that the next bend would be the last, because it never was. (Well, obviously it was once.) I questioned the value of a challenge for the sake of challenge – that was to be a recurring theme in my head over the next five days. When we finally got to the top of the mountain, after a watermelon refreshment stop, it was a pleasant walk along the mountain ridge to our first night’s accommodation. We had left Mami with another group of 16 or so, they also stayed at our camp. I was impressed with the facilities at the camps – there were even flushing toilets and showers. I hadn’t expected that, so it was a real bonus. The water was cold but it was lovely to be clean. We slept in hammocks: I think everyone was in bed by 8.30. It was so peaceful, aside from the snorers not a sound was to be heard. Day one had been hard for me: I had kept up, but didn’t really enjoy the walk because I was going faster than I would have liked. Day two was supposed to be easier, but for me it was just as hard, although at least now there was scenery. The climb was longer, but not as steep. The scenery was nicer, although I still didn’t see any wildlife apart from insects and a few birds. In the jungle we frequently came across streams and little waterfalls, it was very green and pretty. It was much cooler amongst the greenery than on the open hill face, and if I had had more energy I would have taken many more photos, but the effort of stopping to take off my backpack and retrieve my camera was too inhibiting. Throughout the trek we passed indigenous villages, and entered one, where we were allowed to photograph the buildings but not the people. Quite often we would pass indigenous people on the path, or they would come from behind us, on foot or donkey, seeming to appear from nowhere. They wore white tunics made of cotton or sacking, and often carried bags, with the strap over their foreheads, the men sometimes had white trousers underneath, and the women or girls often had necklaces. Although they are quite small people, and so the children were apparently older than they appeared, I was impressed by the independence and skill of the children. A young child that looked to be five years old but may have been nine was walking using a machete, thrusting it into the ground directly in front of her feet to keep balance and propel herself along the track. A baby that looked too young to walk was riding on a horse, its mother nearby with the horse’s rope, but the baby was up there by itself, seemingly with very good balance. Whilst some of the indigenous people were shy, some seemed to know the guides and were quite chatty with them. A few children had the hand of the tourist idea and called quite demandingly “dulces” (sweets) to the tourists. Horses were a common sight on the trail, they were invaluable in getting supplies to the camps and people’s homes. Having nearly been knocked over the mountainside by one, I learned to make sure I gave them enough space to get past with their packs. Our second day of trekking ended near a river, again the rocks forming a natural swimming area, but this time we had bunks instead of hammocks. It was nice to cool off in the river, then have a shower (cold of course) and relax for the evening. Throughout the trek, all of our meals were prepared for us in pretty basic facilities, but were always filling and tasty. (Except for one breakfast of heavy corn pancakes, which I could not bring myself to eat) Without electricity we used the candles provided and played cards until it was late enough to go to bed. On the second night we had a different group alongside us. It is interesting how quickly group identity kicks in – although we were sitting right next to each other, each group kept largely to themselves. Day three would bring us to within one kilometre of the lost city. It was an easier trek, possibly because I allowed myself to go at my own pace rather than trying to keep up with everyone else. I had more time to enjoy the scenery and the sheer peace of the illusion of being alone in the mountains. Throughout the trek there were regular stops for fruit – just when I would be thinking I didn’t want to do it any more (a fairly futile thought, because I didn’t have much choice really) I would turn a corner and the group would be sitting there, having fruit and a rest. At the end of day three, we stopped at our camp, 800m above sea level, with tents erected in a raised shed, and waterfall views from the balcony. That in itself was almost worth the effort to get there. By day four, the day that we were to visit El Ciudad Perdido, my legs were starting to get tired, but more concerning; my knees were suffering from their lack of cartilage. Day four was technically more challenging, with the trail passing above the river and rocks below along several narrow cliff ledges (I didn’t need the yellow “Peligroso” police-scene-like tape to tell me that it was dangerous) and requiring a bit of jumping and climbing over rocks in other places. If I wasn’t tired, didn’t have sore knees, wasn’t carrying my pack, then it probably would have been easy. Being fitter might have helped, too. Nearly everyone else seemed to manage without any dramas. I say “nearly” because there were two men in other groups who seemed to struggle more than me – no offense to them, but I was secretly glad that I wasn’t the only one who found it challenging. When we arrived at the entrance to El Ciudad Perdido Park, there were of course the approximately 1 200 steps to contend with. I’m not sure what part of “narrow” and “slippery” I had missed when I was reading about it before hand; maybe I blocked that out of my mind. Actually, 1 200 steps isn’t really that many, it was just that they were narrow and slippery! Once at the city itself, I forgot about the pain and enjoyed the site. It was bigger than I had pictured and the mist added to the mystical feel. The buildings are long gone, but the circular platforms where they stood have been uncovered from the forest, along with the ceremonial platforms and significant features such as a rock resembling a toad (representing fertility) and the King’s thinking chair. We spent quite some time looking around the city, with Gabrielle explaining the significance of what all we saw. It was so misty it was hard to see from one platform across to another. At the very top of the city was a para-military camp. Officers stood on guard with their large weapons, flags flying. They apparently do six-month tours of duty – a long time to live in a tent on top of a mountain. As I had anticipated, going down was worse than coming up. Juan Carlos helped me going down the start of the slippery, narrow 1,200 steps. I felt like I was an invalid, but it was good of him to help me keep my balance. At the bottom, it was retracing our steps back over the rock face and ledges, I was very glad to finish that leg of the trek. I was so slow that I didn’t even have a swim at the river with the others, just rested and then hobbled my way back to camp. That night we stayed in the same place that we had stayed on the second night. Lying awake in my bunk, my right knee was so swollen and sore that I was honestly contemplating how I was going to get through the last day. Like the fourth day, the last would be two days travelling in one, as it was more downhill. Memories of the switch-backs were still vivid in my mind. I thought that unless I had a big improvement over night, I was going to have to suffer the indignity of being carried off the mountain on the back of a horse. By the next morning, my knee was a bit better, so I headed off with the rest of the group, thankful I didn’t need a horse just yet. I was even slower than ever, and by the first break I knew that carrying my backpack any further was just not practical. On other days, if I was last it didn’t really inconvenience anyone else, but today at the end of the trek we were having lunch and then going straight back to town, so I didn’t want to hold everyone up. One of our group members (the only guy amongst us, and dedicated mountaineer) very kindly offered to carry the heavy things from my pack. Gabrielle had offered to take my whole pack the day before and I had declined, but now I could see I needed to swallow my pride. Despite the fact that Gabrielle is 74 years old, and had his own small bag already, he cheerfully took my pack as well and set of at his usual speed. Without my pack I could go at quite a decent speed on the flat parts of the track. It was only on the down-hill parts that I had trouble. I found that going down backwards was the quickest if not the most elegant way of moving along, but by now no one was around so it didn’t matter. When I arrived at the last swimming spot, again, I didn’t go in, preferring to get a head start on the others to avoid holding them up. So, from being the last every other day, I was almost first on the final day. I changed and washed in the bathroom at the restaurant in the village, and sat down ready to relax with a beer and lunch. The trip in the 4 x 4 back to Santa Marta was even bumpier than I remembered it, or maybe I was sore to start with. It had been a challenging and at times painful five day trek, but the beautiful scenery, the interesting destination and the people I met along the way made it worthwhile. For a video of my photos, you can visit here

Tags: colombia, culture, el ciudad perdido (the lost city), south america, travel, trek

Comments

1

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  Turcol Travel Jun 9, 2015 4:09 AM

2

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