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Jungle Boogie

COLOMBIA | Wednesday, 2 July 2008 | Views [643]

Jungle Boogie; A six day hike through the Colombian jungle in search of the Ciudad Perdida.

(The Lost City)

The Sierra Tours sale pitch described their guides as being very experienced, well equipped and the

most prestigious of all guided tours to the Ciudad Perdida.  Sam, Kate (an English couple we have

 befriended) Sebastian and I bargained the salesman from 480,000 pesos down to 400,000! What a

bargain! Well, we soon learnt why...

When we arrived at the meeting place where our journey would begin by vehicle for 2 hours, there

were 10 other people who had been sold the tour also! So now we were 14 people trekking together

for six days. Not quite what we had expected or what we were sold...

So we all begin to board a minivan and it becomes obvious that we weren't all going to fit.

Hadn't this company already thought of this? No... A taxi is hailed and 3 of the group, including

myself get into the taxi.

At this point it is already obvious that the company has squeezed as many people as possible onto

one tour with one guide to maximise return at the expense of comfort, quality and as we later learnt

, safety.

In the taxi were Jason and Ryan, Canadian guys who religiously believed in the motto 'hair of the

dog' and were persuading me to drink beers with them for breakfast on the way to the starting

point of the hike. Hilarious!  

One hour later, We arrive at a military check point where we were greeted by very large Israeli

made automatic weapons. They were casually slung over the shoulder of every military guy in sight.

Our names were checked off a list and we were given the OK to enter the village. Here we boarded a

couple of very cool, old (1970's) Jeeps, which took us a further hour through a village; not quite

 jungle yet.  Halfway through this journey the driver noticed we had engine trouble, pulled over

and opened the bonnet of the Jeep. The most obvious choice of material to solve this engine problem

 was, of course, an onion bag! People are so much more resourceful here! And within minutes we were

off and racing again. The boys had also passed me another beer at this point.

The temperature was mid thirties with extreme humidity. We walked only 3 hours to where we spent our

first night but it felt like a full day of heavy hiking due to the intense climate and steep, muddy

mountain slopes. The nearby waterfalls and beautiful swimming lagoons quenched our thirst for coolness.

The group dynamics developed quickly and we were happy to be a part of such an interestingly hilarious

and well balanced group of travellers. (see the portraits of each group member attached to our story).

 Ryan and Jason wore perpetual smiles, and made light of the many sticky situations we encountered.

They often made off the wall comments or gave a really bizarre perspective of life,

bringing the whole group together with lots of loud from the belly laughing.

This may also have something to do with the fact that both boys enjoyed a joint at each rest stop,

using an old glow-in-the-dark Frisbee bought from a garage sale in Canada, to chop and roll their joints on!

The next few days were much the same, although the trekking varied between long periods of hot

steep, open-aired ascents and long periods of humid jungle covered descents. The jungle was lush

green and a nice place to zone out from the city. The days varied between 4 and 5 hours after day

one and were always rewarded with waterfalls to bathe in and a hammock to rest for the night.

We often came across military check points where the military were camping out,

controlling/monitoring large portions of land. One particular photo I’ll add here is where you

can see hectares of cleared land. It was explained that these (and there were many more of them)

are areas where the military have eradicated the farmers´ coca crops only one year ago.

We were told that the military presence is to deter the FARC and to ensure that the farmers

begin to grow new crops; coffee, maize, bananas, avocado etc. One farmer told us that, according

to him, many farmers actually prefer to grow alternative crops as the production of cocaine is very

 involved and quiet a complex method. A method where in the end the farmers are not making the money

 but the real drug lords who export tonnes of the finished product are.

I won't mention the food very much. The company skimped a little considering the number of people on

 the trek, so it was a lot of beans, rice and egg.  Pedro was the name of our cook, and is the son

of the man who our company paid to trek through areas of his land. Pedro is 22 years old and

incredibly keen to learn and practice English. He quickly became Seb's private English student and

they spent time together each evening by candle light conversing in basic Spanish and English. They

 were both (Seb & Pedro) very adorable.

The water to drink was not supplied so we were drinking from jungle waterfalls (luckily Kate and Sam

 had enough chlorine tablets to share with us). We were served cordial with meals and the water was

 not treated. This is probably why 5 of the 14 people in our group had diarrhoea and vomiting

(of course, I was one of them; I thought Kenya would have given me immunity or something, damn!).

Day four was probably the most memorable of all.  By now virtually everything in our packs

was drenched save a T-shirt or two wrapped in garbage bags.  Eduardo (our guide) had

informed us that we needed to be hiking by 6am in order to manage to cross

the river on three separate occasions before the afternoon rain raised the water level making it

impossible to cross.  In true "Hasta manana" style, they were still

preparing breakfast at 8am.  This was always going to end badly...

The first time we approached to cross the river the group stood back waiting

for instructions on how we were going to tackle this with our backpacks etc. We noticed that the

porters had absolutely no idea what they were doing and that our bags were going to end up going

down the rapids never to be seen again. (please refer to photo of this crossing for true imagery

of the event). After standing back and politely watching the event taking place for over an hour

, a rope became loose and two backpacks owned by the Israeli couple (Janeef and Or) plunged

into the water and were quickly carried away by the rapids. Seb (of course, our hero…not)

and Pedro (truly heroic and good natured) ran after the packs catching up with the drenched

 belongings about a few hundred metres downstream. The Israelis could not revive an ipod or digital

 camera, but were actually very very calm about the whole situation (Yes, calm Israelis!)!    At

this point every one in the group moved in close and completely took over the river crossing mission

 from the guide and porters. All politeness became a gesture of the past. It’s needless to say that

 the remainder of the luggage made it across the river beautifully,

and we were all beaming with the satisfaction of

 great team work and accomplishment,for the while at least...

We hiked onwards coming eventually to a small Indian village

where Coca plants grew arond the houses and the men carried small

containers containing a powder made from Coca and another plant which

gave them energy (surprise) and quenched their hunger.  You could see

that they weren´t overly keen to have us there which I can understand

si we moved on.  By now the rain had just started to sprinkle and we

still had another two river crossings...  Fortunately, the second river

crossing was easy and we hiked onwards in the streadily increasing

rain.  We could see the river increasing in height in front of our eyes

as we walked along its jungle-clad bank.

By the time we got to the spot to do the final crossing the river had turned into a

torrent.  Eduardo looked worried and shook his head; "No podemos cruizar" (we can´t

cross).  He continued to explain that we had no choice but to sleep the night on the

side of the river since the river crossings behind us were now also too high to pass. 

Hmmm, monsoonal rain, no shelter, minimal food, lots of mosquitos a muddy jungle twine

covered slope.  Good combination.  Eduardo and the porters started to machete down a

few small trees to make a shelter and we helped by cutting down palm fronds and vines

 for the roof.  Dee and a couple of the other girls started to tie the vines to the

wood and thatch the fronds onto it (have a look at the pics!).  Janeef and I asked

the guides a little earlier whether there was anywhere else upstream where we could

cross and the answer was no so we all had accepted out fate for the next 12 hours or

 so...  About an hour into building our shelter though, Eduardo came crashing through

 the jungle excitedly shouting that he had found a place for us to cross!  It turned

out that it was only 20 metres from where we were standing.  Oh yes, a team of

experienced guide and porters they weren´t indeed. 

Our group easily crossed at the new spot, macheted our way through 200m or so of

jungle and then the 2000 hand-carved stone steps leading up to the Ciudad Perdida

stood in front of us.  It was majestic to climb the little steps made for tiny

barefoot indians rather then size 12 gringo feet with thunder and lightning all

around.  Soon the jungle cleared somewhat and we were surrounded by immuculate stone

walls with circular living areas where the Tayronas built their houses. 

Completely saturated, we  arrived at the long house and celebrated with the rum we

had lugged through the jungle.  The mattresses had bed bugs and a less than

respectful Austrian girl decided to sleep under a crackling space blanket all night

 waking us with her every move.  Regardless, we were happy to be dry and sleeping

under a roof!

In the morning we got up and walked around the Ciudad Perdida.  It was built by the

Tayrona people in around 700AD as the political, religious and trading centre of the

 culture.  By 1600 the Tayrona people were almost completely wiped out by the invading

 Spanish conquistadores.  The city disappared under jungle growth until 1973 when

tomb looters found the site.  It was officially refound in 1975 and the first

tourist began to come in 1984. 

Again, better organised guides in other groups made sure that they left early enough

 to cross the river but we didn´t start hiking until it was late enough to get stuck

again...  Thankfully the rain decided not to fall as heavily that day and we made

it back to the closest longhouse.  The group had really bonded by this time

throughout our ordeal and it was nice to hike and chat.  The last night was spent

lying in hammocks with the caretakers celebrating a daughter´s 14th brithday by

playing disastrous Bayenato music.  Yep, that slit your wrists accordion genre that

the Colombians love which is always about guy-meets-girl-guy-is-cool-guy-has-to-

leave-girl-gets-upset played from five in the afternoon until we left the next

morning!  We cruised the next day, had a final lunch where we had begun our trek six

 days earlier and were then informed that one of the 4wd´s had broken down and

that we would have to travel the last hour and a half as half a group while the

other half waited thereby adding 3 hours to the time when we could have a warm

shower and dry, clean clothes.  We were 14 angry people by then and the company

quickly realised that this wouldn´t be an option so they russled  up a bunch of

guys to double half the group on motorbikes!

We got back to the beachside town of Taganga smelling like wet dogs, disappointed

with the level of organisation but happy with the experience and the people we had

come to know.

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