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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

A 5 Day Trek to Find Ciudad Perdida

COLOMBIA | Tuesday, 20 November 2012 | Views [1006] | Comments [1]

We’d booked this 5D/4N trek to track down Ciudad Perdida through Magic Tours at an outrageous P600 000 each!  There was no point shopping around as the prices are fixed but the daftest thing is it’s the same price whether you do 4, 5 or 6 days.  The trek can very easily be done in 4 days but we plumped for the 5 day option to make it seem like slightly better value for money. http://www.magictourtaganga.com/

We were told we’d be picked up at 8.30am but the chuckle that accompanied this meant that Colombian time keeping would be coming in to play.  We expected the jeep to be late but an hour late was starting to get silly.  Then we had to drive to the sister office in Santa Marta to collect more people and there was some sort of vehicle shuffling going on too.  This all took close to another hour before we were at last on our way only for us to have to stop for petrol.  By midday we finally turned off the main road where we bumped and jolted along a very rough track to the start of the trek at Machete Pelao.  The group was quite big at 14 but 5 of those soon left us as they were on the 4-day option leaving us a more manageable group of 9.

In the end we didn’t start walking until 1.15pm and hadn’t gone very far when we stopped for one of many stops that afternoon.  Each one had to involve some sort of food or drink and granted you can’t beat fresh fruit plucked directly from a tree but did we have to stop so many times?  By the time we reached that night’s camp we felt we’d eaten more than we’d trekked!  This first camp, Adan Hut, was reached via a long downhill mudslide – a taste of what’s to come?  Probably, and there are numerous river crossings to contend with too.  With all the time wasting we approached camp as the sun was setting so there was a mad scramble to get sorted out, showered and changed.  There wasn’t really enough space for all of us to be doing this simultaneously; added to which we were all under one open-sided hut with hammocks strung in a row.  Subsequently there’s not really anywhere to put your things and then it started to rain.

Not an enjoyable first day that was compounded with everything having that damp, jungly feeling.  The mossies were hungry but each hammock had a net hung over it; however, it was quite a claustrophobic feeling.  I was always under the impression that hammocks were for lying in, relaxing and reading a book for a few hours at the beach not a night’s accommodation in the jungle, silly me!  Day walks in jungles or even over-night trips are fine but 5 days - how on earth did I allow Steve to talk me into this?!  There’s that once lost, but obviously recently re-spotted wonder to look at of course.  We know it’s not going to be up there with Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat but hopefully it’ll be worth all the mud squelching, river plunging and hammock wrestling.

 

DAY 2

The rain continued through most of the night but at least it had stopped by the wee hours.  Sleep came in fits and starts but the night passed marginally more quickly than we’d anticipated.  Breakfast was served promptly and we were all ready to start on time.  The food throughout the trip was more than plentiful, presented self-service buffet style, there was ample choice and it was prepared using loads of fresh fruit and veg.  Following the initial tardy time keeping everything else happened on time and the predicted walking times were very accurate.

Today didn’t see us stopping quite as much and the guide allowed the group to go at their own pace.  As per usual with these things we’ve split into two ability groups but the guide is happy to explain the next section of the walk and tell us where to stop and wait.  Luckily, we have enough understanding of trekking Spanish to understand the instructions but there are people in the group who are happy to translate for us too.

Although we were in the jungle we were going up and over ridges so we were afforded views over the surrounding hilly area.  Plus, there are many indigenous peoples living in the area who have cleared sections of the forest to build homes and cultivate crops.  One stop inevitably involved visiting one of the Corgi peoples’ settlements but fortunately it wasn’t too embarrassing.  Other than the children being told to line up for us to gawp at them it was nonsense and more importantly gimmick free.  The guide simply explained a little about their rituals / beliefs and general way of life.  We also popped into a mercifully empty settlement too where we learnt about the importance of the large ceremonial hut.  Once a couple is married off they begin reproducing and from the family we saw soon have a sizeable brood.

Not far from Camp 2, Tezhumake Hut, the final break for the day was a waterfall with natural swimming pool.  Obviously Steve went for a dip and I was the only one that didn’t.  While everyone else had fun in the pool and frolicking under the falls Steve hand-washed his trek top!  The falls were quite impressive and set in a pretty glade; by the end of the trek we’d seen many beautiful waterfalls.  From this break point it was only a further half an hour to the camp which we reached at 1pm.   We hoped to be more comfortable through the night as this camp has bunk beds.  We were still all under one roof with no walls but the toilet and shower facilities were pretty good.

We’d reached camp way too early in terms of trekking but we got there in the nick of time regarding the rain forest weather patterns.  The heavens opened so we were very glad to be under shelter having just finished showering and putting on clean, dry clothes.  That afternoon dragged out as we read, wrote, watched the rain and stroked the cat that moved as far as my lap to Steve’s.  All I could think about was all the extra water was making the conditions doubly squelchy and squerchy for us to slip and slide upon.  Not to mention the higher river levels and tomorrow we have to cross ‘the big one’ – oh joy!  The worst thing about it all is that every single step we take we’ll have to do in reverse once we’ve visited the wonder.

DAY 3

As with the first night we got some sleep but you never feel properly relaxed and refreshed by the following morning.  Fortunately the afternoon / evening rain had once again stopped during the night.  As I have said this is definitely only a 4-day trek but with taking an extra day meant we could walk in the morning and sit out the rain in the afternoon.  The down side is it makes the afternoons drag so a good book is imperative.  The muddy conditions making the going a little tricky at times but to be honest the trek is not difficult or strenuous.  In fact, we’ve decided that trips like this shouldn’t be awarded the title ‘trek’ and that ‘adventure walk’ is much more appropriate.

Considering the amount of money each person is forking out to find this here lost city we think the paths should be improved.  Not to make it easy under foot but to cut down on the already quite severe erosion.  The Incas knew all about this and a similar technique employed here prevent further deterioration.  Now I know crossing rivers by wading through them is all part of the fun/adventure but bridges over the deeper crossings would be a treat.  Luckily when we were there the water wasn’t anywhere near as high or fast-flowing as I’d feared.

Today’s walk was by far the most enjoyable as we spent most of it in natural forest.  Much of the path was mud free and this is probably mainly due to it being impassable for the mules.  Admittedly they’re invaluable for carrying goods to the camps and villages but the churn up the paths significantly.  Since mules don’t go past Camp 2, some kind, strong souls have done a good job transporting all the stuff to enable Camp 3 to exist.  The kitchen, dining and washing facilities in Deromualdo Camp are good but the sleeping area is cramped and the most damp smelling.  We were in a tent set up in a hut with literally no space between the tents; however, there was plenty of space to hang up soggy clothes.

Once again, the camp is positioned on the banks of a tumbling river but this time we had the added attraction of a waterfall.  Today as with every day, we could hear birds twittering as we were walking along and got glimpses of parrots and parakeets.  The only animals we’ve seen have been of the domesticated variety and we feel all the wild animals steer well clear of the busy part of the forest.

Our guide (Nicolas) has been excellent throughout and very aware of and attentive towards people’s needs.  One girl’s shoes disintegrated on the first day and he gave up his own for her use while he carried on in a pair of flip flops (Dani subsequently ruined these shoes too!).  Any parts of the path that were a little more tricky to negotiate he was there to advise, help and ensure that everyone passed safely.  Our cook also stayed with us throughout and proved to be a very helpful second guide.  As soon as we reached camp she went straight into the kitchen to fix something for us even though we’d have been fed or watered within the previous hour.  This isn’t a good walk to do if you’re hoping to lose some weight!  We’d hoped for that to happen but it was hard to be disciplined when the food tasted so good and was full of fresh ingredients.  Other than the length of each day’s walk not being long enough it’s a well organised event.

Serious boredom set in by 4pm and we’d been for a potter along the river, played with the 3 resident cats and disaster – I’d finished my book.  At least we’d got this far without getting drenched in a tropical downpour and we could only hope we’d get to see the wonder in the dry.

 DAY 4

This day saw us complete our first proper full day of walking and it proved to be by far the most enjoyable.  Now obviously this was mainly due to the fact that we tracked down that Lost City.  So was it worth 3 days of being sonched, full of clarts and stinking to high heaven?  Incredibly, I have to say yes, and even though the site isn’t as spectacular as other’s the world has to offer it oozes its own unique charm.  Its setting amongst lush, dense foliage is splendid, and because you have to trek for 2 or 3 days to reach it, visitor numbers are very low (70,000 per year compared with 2,500 per day at Machu Picchu).

Our guide continued to be as excellent as previous days and he conducted the tour around the site.  He had much knowledge and information to share and luckily for us another member of our group was happy to translate – muchas gracias Dani.  It appears the city wasn’t lost at all – no surprise there then!  In fact the indigenous peoples have been using the site since it was founded in 700BC.  However, as with other ancient settlements in this part of the world, once they learned about the marauding, looting Spaniards they abandoned it.  They moved their homes higher up the mountains and deeper into the jungle but of course left their buried gold, ceramics and other precious items behind.  You’ve guessed what’s coming – once it was ‘found’ in the 1970’s it didn’t take long for thieves to divest the site of its treasures.

In order to preserve what was left the government moved the indigenous groups, which were once again using the city and surroundings, and declared the area a national park.  It seems harsh to move people who belong there but the government wanted to fully preserve the area, including the remaining building foundations along with the natural abundant flora and fauna.  If people were to live there they would need to cultivate crops and their domesticated pigs would cause untold damage.  So an agreement was reached involving all parties concerned but I would suspect the government gains the greatest out of tourism.  However, every September the park is closed to outsiders so that shaman from far and wide can hold their most important ceremonial meeting.  This is a time for purging bad spirits, calling upon good spirits and replenishing any natural supplies they need for shaman purposes back in their villages.

The whole city is actually huge but it’s impossible to get a sense of scale since it is hidden amongst the trees.  Visitors are only allowed to walk around a limited area leaving the rest to the archaeologists, anthropologists, indigenous groups and Mother Nature.  The homes and ceremonial buildings were built between 900 & 1200m with steps carefully laid down to interconnect it all.  The buildings, with the exception of a couple of ceremonial ones, were all round and had terracing surrounding them to act as paths.  The single remaining object is a map chiselled onto a huge boulder indicating the 5 main rivers, paths through the jungle and ceremonial huts.  Is this the world’s oldest map?

On the walk back down we were invited to listen to another shaman but luckily this didn’t last long.  It’s great to interact with the local people but we’d heard it all in Camp 2 and wanted to get back before the rain set in. The most interesting thing he did tell us is that a map of the area is woven into his hat.  We couldn’t really see the distinguishing features but thought map hats were a cracking idea.

Now it was time to hot-foot it back to camp and we could see the clouds gathering.  In fact we were amazed that the afternoon’s precipitation hadn’t already begun.  Unbelievably we got back down to Camp 2 and were washed and changed before the daily pitter-patter of rain drops was to be heard on the corrugated roofs.  Who’d have thought we could have got through 4 out of the 5 days in the rainforest without even being caught in a shower?  Phew!

DAY 5

The weather pattern continued with tropical downpours through the night and clear skies in the morning.  We were up early today as we needed to combine Days 1 & 2 then rendezvous with the jeep by 2.30pm.  These sections of the walk had been the muddiest and least enjoyable on the way in and to be honest we just wanted to get back and get a good shower.  Despite the rain the morning sun had made conditions considerably drier plus we were now more adept at skirting round boggy areas.  Added to which we were so smelly and dirty we no longer cared about a bit of mud!  With a set deadline to meet the pace of the walk was much more to our liking.  We walked for a steady 7 hours, including breaks, back to where we’d started 5 days previously.  It had been cloudy, soggy and threatening rain on Day 1 but today we got lovely views of the jungle shrouded hills.

For once the collection and handing over of tips was hassle free and gratefully received.  I can’t recommend the husband and wife team of Nicholas and Maria highly enough.  They worked tirelessly to make the trip as enjoyable as possible for us all.  They were constantly checking everyone was okay (possible a bit too often for our liking) and were aware of everyone’s needs.  Nicholas ensured everyone negotiated tricky sections of the path safely and Maria doubled up as a second guide.  They both catered for the groups needs first before thinking of themselves and did it all with a smile.  A super team.

As with yesterday we felt like we’d done a proper day’s walk and so enjoyed it.  It’s definitely a 4-day trek but with the cost being the same regardless of it taking 4, 5 or 6 days we just couldn’t resist squeezing value for money from the trip.  Day 1 was the worst with all the faffing and too many breaks plus that was our least favourite camp.  Days 2 & 3 would have been better if they’d involved more walking but at least we avoided the rain.  The section of the walk between camps 2 & 3 is the prettiest and the most enjoyable walking conditions.  All-in-all I was glad they’d found the city as it was well worth looking at; so long as you’re prepared to get thoroughly filthy and stinky it’s worth the effort.

The service and food were excellent but there’s room for improvement in the camps.  Chiefly they need to find a way to keep the bedding clean and fresh including the hammocks, mattresses and pillows.  Lying on damp, musty, far from clean and not changed frequently enough bedding when you’ve forked out P600 000 a head isn’t really acceptable.  I appreciate that keeping things clean and fresh in the jungle in nigh on impossible but there must be a way to provide better sleeping conditions.  That said they are working on improving the camps with the washing and toilet facilities being better than most we’ve encountered over the years.  Obviously no one expects luxury but ……………

Magic Tours claim they give back to the local communities and from what we could see we have no reason to dispute this.  The guides are very respectful towards the indigenous people and a good relationship has been developed over the years.  Personally we feel this is extremely important if you’re running a tour that sees big groups of gringos traipsing through tribal lands on a daily basis.  It’s vital that all parties accept the situation and benefit from it; this appears to be the case but of course nothing’s perfect.  There are so many interesting things to see in the world we simply count ourselves as lucky and privileged that we’ve been able to experience and enjoy another one.

 

Comments

1

Hi Emma & Steve,

Great to read your story of the 5-day track!! Hahaha, especially the part about the shoes and the map hats. We have to work on that.
We are in Cartagena at the moment, leaving on Friday. If you like to have a drink, send us a mail. Big kisses, hugs and a poporo! From Franky Rey too

  Dany & Jikke Nov 28, 2012 10:54 AM

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