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El Trek Ciudad Perdida

COLOMBIA | Thursday, 28 December 2017 | Views [215]

It took a total of four days to cover about 44 kilometers (28 miles) of up and down hiking in the summer heat and humidity to complete the round trip to the archaeological site Ciudad Perdida in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern Colombia, but it was totally worth it. Great views, great adventure and a great group of gringos to boot. Our 16-person motley crew consisted of nine Dutch, three French, two Aussies, a Kiwi and yours truly along with a couple of guides.

Ciudad Perdida is a small site founded by the Tayrona tribe around 800 AD, about 650 years before Machu Picchu to give you some context (thanks Wikipedia). It is well hidden in the jungle and is only accessible via a 1,200 step staircase, which is both steep and has small footholds. People back then must have had some small feet as I'm certainly no giant of a person but I had to walk up and down those puppies sideways and on my toes. Anyways, the site was rediscovered in the early 1970's by treasure hunters who did some good old fashioned looting and was later opened to tourists for hiking in 2005.

The start of the trek begins with a two hour drive from Santa Marta with the last hour consisting of a lovely off-road, bumpy drive to the small town of El Mamey, or as the locals know it, Machete. No, I did not see any machete wielding locals or any horror movie favorites with a tan. Sad! After lunch we began the three hour hike to the first camp, which could have started at a better time. There's hot and then there's 1:00 PM hot with no tree cover. When we made it to camp, we immediately made our way to the ole swimming hole, jumping of a ten meter cliff into the refreshingly cold river water below. This routine would become my daily batheing ritual over the next three days.

The three camps we stayed at were relatively the same in form and function: bunk beds with misquito nets for sleeping, long tables for eating, bathrooms and most importantly, next to rivers for swimming (and showers). In my defense, the showers definitely used the same cold river water; however, with the added disadvantage of a couple creepy crawlies and a not so lemon fresh scent. While the lodging certainly was basic, it was also very tidy for the location and better than expected. I was happy to not have to sleep in a hammock and they had modern washing machines for the bedding. Yay! No bed bugs! The food was also good too. We got three squares (meat or fish, rice, plantains, salad and funny enough, oreos or some other chocolate bar for dessert) along with endless snacks along the trails. Remember getting orange slices, capri suns and other treats after soccer games when we were kids? Of course you do! Well every couple of hours we'd get fresh fruit: pineapple, oranges, watermelon or bananas. Que rico!

To beat traffic and the sun I suppose, we were waking up at 5:00 in the morning every day and walking by about 6:00. I know this was necessary given the seven hours of walking every day, but I still cannot remember the last time I woke up that early when it wasn't for a flight. My circadian rhythym is still off. Besides Christman Eve when I was out past midnight, I've been going to sleep before 10:00 and up between 6:00 and 7:00. Soy un viejo ahora!

The moring we arrived in Ciudad Perdida was just like the others; however, with the added benefit of the grand prize within a 30 minute hike. After conquering a small river crossing and the 1,200 stairs, you enter the city. The site itself is amazing with over 200 terraces of varying sizes and elevations, which used to house the small lodgings of the Tayrona people. Only a handful remain now. After walking to the top, it was so pleasant and peaceful to enjoy the views of the surrounding forest in the cool morning for a couple of hours while the warm sun began to rise over the mountains drenching the city in light. Oh yeah, we also got to enjoy even more snacks! I know the pictures I post never fully do justice to the amazing views in person, but hey, I try.

Needless to say we all survived the trek back and I'm sure everyone went to bed early that night just like I did. Throughout the trip I learned a couple interesting things. The mix of dry coca leaves and ground calcium that the locals chew throughout the day and put in their lip is quite terrible. Sure, my mouth went slightly numb for about ten minutes but it also cut up the inside of my lip. Totally not worth it. Also, custom dictates that this is only for men. You're welcome ladies! Also important to note is that the wonderful card game Uno has not made it across the pond to Holland but has successfully landed in Australia, and I have no chance of picking up Dutch or French. I'm sticking to Spanish for now!

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