One of the most inspiring and rugged six day journeys there is. Join me as I recount my journey into Colombia’s Lost City in the Sierra Nevada.
Well it started off getting picked up in traditional Latin American style – late, and driven to the take off point in Santa Marta where we finished the formalities and squeezed in the back of a 4WD jeep and headed off. There were 2 Jeep’s in the convoy with 5-6 of us in each. Our packs roped up on the roof, we all were instantly bonding as we bounced around the backstreet’s exiting Santa Marta. 30 minutes later we started hitting the jungle and a very bumpy track. Military checkpoint of course accompanied due to it being restricted area. We went off road for over 2 and a half hours, and over the time it got really, really bumpy inside the car to the point that everyone was laughing because all our heads had hit the roof several times and must of pushed rolling point atleast a couple of times. The scenery was great though, as as we thought we couldn’t get more remote, we kept pushing on deeper and deeper. Finally reaching our drop off point, all were on mates terms already. We hopped out and were immediately attacked by Mosquito’s and bloody Sand Flies like insects which took quite a big chunk out of your skin upon biting. We had a fresh salad sandwich we made before heading off on our trail. The trail wasnt quite so difficult yet. We were about a kilometre up and we could see the clouds lining the side of the mountain valleys. We descended down a track a couple of feet wide through those clouds, that turned the forest very mystical as we could only see 10m infront of us. The jungle was very dense and beautiful. Its difficult to imagine how remote we would be in 4 days time when we reach Ciudad Perdida. We pushed on over a a rocky/dirt path made by hikers that regularly went over waterfalls and alongside 100m drop offs along the way to our first resting spot. We descended alot today, so was pretty easy going, however I definitely dont think it will always be like this, haha!
Hiking up and down over mountains, through rivers all day, we arrived just as night fell at our camp. We were situated right onthe top of a mountain, that i’m sure will provide a fantastic view in the morning when the sun rises and lights up the jungle. Our stay was in hammocks for the night, which Im looking forward too! For dinner the guides made us this awesome chicken and rice salad, over a fire stove. All of us absolutely stuffed after our first huge day of hiking and sat there on the wooden table, lit up by candle light eating our meal. The sounds of the jungle made all sorts of unfamiliar noises in the darkness surrounding us, spooky yet exciting at the same time.
Just before we went to bed I witnessed fireflies for the first time ever! I have ever seen them before, so was quite amazed and curious as I sat there watching them all light up in the black night sky.
than when in the sun. The walk went on forever and the group of us 12 started splitting up into 3 or 4 different groups. Matty and I was hanging around one bloke Eddie, from Alaska, that twisted his knee on a particular steep descent, which was a bummer as he had to fall back to the guide. we took several stops to admire the magnificent unforgettable view and guzzle water like camels from our bottles. On the very top of one of the mountains, marked our day’s half way point, and were rewarded with fresh Pineapple growing locally right up ontop of a steep mountain, that seemed to take forever to ascend. Towards the end of the day, a few of us that were trekking by ourselves stumbled upon a little hutt that had stuff that the muel and porter were carrying. The track gets more difficult the next couple of days and the mules will be unable to come, so we opened one of the bags and found a bunch of oranges that we stole and hoed into! haha… The clouds descended on the night sky, putting another end to a very long and tiring day, as we enclosed on our sleeping spot for the night…
The hike today really was rewarding as we passed indigenous villages and tribal people embedded deep in the jungle, hidden away from the world living completely dependant with their own banana plantations growing for food.
Our camp tonight is fantastic. We are purchased on the end of a mountain ridge, with multiple valleys descending below. We all were extremely sore today as it was a difficult climb, that it was quite painful to get up once we were sat. So after an awesome cooked meal we listened to Manwell (our local guide) tell us the story of how he was kidnapped by Guerrilla groups a couple of years back on this exact route we were to go the next day. The guerrillas armed with automatics and machete’s tied the hands and feet of all the guides, tourists and even some of the indigenous people up with rope. He managed to get his hands and legs free, to rescue some of the tourists before fleeing into the jungle for days on end trek back through the jungle to Santa Marta to get urgent help. The military and Paramilitary worked together on this occasion to rescue some of the others. Unfortunately one girl was held hostage for 74 days before she managed to get out. Amazing, and alot of respect to Manwell our guide for doing what he did.
Tonight I tried my first coca tea (from coca leaves), which was quite delicious actually, and gave a relaxing sensation. Coca plants were now naturally growing everywhere here. I sat in solitude after, mesmerized with the fireflies flickering in the darkness with my thoughts, before I went to sleep, sharing a plank of wood with Carsten from Denmark and Mierko the crazy Italian.
An early and crisp morning presented itself to us, and I had a really good sleep which is a surprise with sharing a wooden huts floor with Mierko, haha! Unfortunately the sky was completely covered with low cloud, only revealing a patch of the jungle every now and then. Breakfast consisted of toast and deep fried eggs, with coffee and chocolate milk. (if you call powder milk, milk that is)! I put on my sweat soaked shirt and shorts and headed off. I first attempted to keep up with the front guide, but he was too much of a hiking machine and went down dangerously steep slopes like it was nothing. haha! So us guys at the front followed the track at our own, what we considered ‘fast’ pace. We now have a total of 3 injuries on us, which Manwell will hang back with and make sure they are ok for the slow, we have a long hike ahead. It was so moist and slippery, not to mention steep with little place to put your feet, so alot of people ended up ass up on the ground or rolling down a section of the jungle, luckily not too hurt!
Upon hitting the valleys riverbed to cross, we all had a bit of a swim, wash and headed back up to ascent the mountain above us. This was no easy task as the path pretty much became vertical and we found ourselves using both our hands and feet to climb. Some times there was barely a square inch of mos covered tree root to place your entire body weight onto, combining with a near vertical drop below us if we slipped. I’m not easily scared, but at times the penalty for failure was quite frightening! Helicopter would be the only way out, and even that would be difficult amongst the jungle coverage. Im surprised they dont give you a warning on this trek before we head off, as you have to be very fit and able to do some sections of this! I have no idea how the injured people are gonna make it up here… This ascent continued on for approximately 45 minutes, and when we reached the top we would had of lost litres of water by sweating. I was in my element and didn’t want to keep waiting for the others resting, so I took off ahead in the jungle by myself for a couple of hours to gain some ground on a couple of the Irish guys that took off first. Treking in the jungle you are in so much solitude, and have so much time to think about everything. Alone with strange sounds, trying to follow a path that’s barely visible. Some points the path was literally non-existent and I had to take a complete guess as to which way to head, while having to deal with the fear that I’m lost in the jungle amongst what is commonly guerrilla territory. But a river crossing eventually made an appearance where the Irish guys from our group were waiting in hope that they too had been going the right direction. It felt a lot better seeing these guys, as I wasn’t 100% confident I was on the right trail. We had some lunch and jumped of high rocks into the water for fun. Matty arrived only a few minutes behind me, so he must of been powering on in solitude as well!
After lunch, there were a couple of plantanya plantations we made use of as we were starving, where the indigenous people lived. Eventually we arrived at another river that we had to cross, yet this time the water was fast running, and came right up to our chest trying to force us down stream. With our bags on the top of our back, shoes held up above our heads and bare feet stumbling on unstable rocks beneath the surface, we had to cross it back and forth several times due to the unforgiving landscape. Well, here I had a close call, as when I was walking on a small path above the riverbed, it collapsed and I would of plummeted 30m straight down onto rocks below in the river. Luckily I quickly reacted and grabbed a vine dangling near by that held my weight preventing me falling – phew! But honestlys, …I shit myself!
The scenery was beautiful, with the thick lush green jungle rising up each side of the crystal clear water that flows in between them. After a few more crossings, we came across a small opening in side of the jungle on the riverbed with primitive stairs leading up, – WE ARE THERE!!! It was so hidden that if you were not specifically looking for it, you’d miss it completely. No wonder why this place was hidden for all this time. We are so buggered and so relieved that finally we had made it, only to find out that there is over a thousand steps to walk up… These steps arnt exactly easy to walk up either, as they are so small, on random angles and have moss growing on them all for us to slip on. The stairs just kept extending further and further up, lit up by only small gaps in the trees above. We climbed up and up and after several rests and great moans of pain we finally reached the top. NOTHING was more satisfying!
The central area in Ciudad Perdida is so beautiful and tucked away from view from the river. …and as I stated before, no wonder why they only found this 30 years ago. I was standing on the edge of the thousand year old ruins gazing mesmerized at the huge beautiful mountains that extend into the distance completely covered in thick lust and beautiful green jungle. The mist rolled in and blanketed the sky turning it a light grey colour just above our heads. It was all worth it, what we were seeing was so amazing! In the distance we could see a small wooden structure with a fire, which was our camp. The trek was so bloody hard, especially todays, but seeing such beautiful ruins hidden away from the world is definitely worth it. We all were pretty stunned with what we were experiencing, and the surrealism just silenced us all! Everyone just taking it all in in their own way, as words cant express the feeling we are all getting from being here after days of hard trekking.
In the night, we showered from running water that came off the mountain. OHHH that was freezing! We ate deserved dinner that our guides cooked over fire that felt like the biggest reward, and sat there in the pitch darkness, except for our faces lit up only by 2 burning candles, lighting up our smiles. We headed off to bed around 7.30pm… Happy times!!!
10th of February dawned and I woke next to Eddie, which arrived last night around 11pm. Manwell (our guide), Eddie from Alaska, the old German and his young Colombian mistress which shouldn’t of even come on this trek, had to hike for hours on end in complete darkness, that would of been absolutely scary out there!! We were worried a bit last night as no one had any idea what had happened to them, and a few of the guides went out looking for them without any luck. Manwell the champ, got them through it with only a few cuts and bruises.
We arose early today and ate our Pampas that our Amigo Pipin our porter cooked. Pipin is so funny, he keeps yelling out “amigo amigo” to us – so friendly and happy all the time. Manwell then took us around the lost city for a couple of hours and explained a few things about them and the native Tayronas that used to and still do live here.
The Tayronas used to be very nomadic but 1500 or so years ago settled in this location and this stone city was the result. This place originally had alot of treasures and gold here, as the natives used to bury their loved ones with valuables to take with them into the next life. Unfortunately when the Spanish entered and invaded South America, they tortured these people for information on the whereabouts of their gold and hidden cities in the jungle. Many Tayronas committed suicided, instead of being tortured to tell the Spaniards where their loved ones was buried. The city was soon forgotten and lost in the dense jungle for centuries after and only discovered by wondering hippie nomads that trekked through the Sierra Navada region, trading with indigenous people. Then it wasnt long until tomb raiders heard about this and robbed the majority of artifacts that was here. However there is a few in the Santa Marta museum if anyone wants to look.
Here there are lots of coca plants and some tobacco plants that the indigenous people use for not smoking, but trade with other tribal communities that do… After the mini tour a bunch of us just relaxed on the ruins and took it all in. When we got there, there was a bunch of local Tayronan’s dressed in their traditional white garment’s with their kids, teaching them about their ancestry history of this place. We didn’t want to disturb them, as this has been their culture for such a long time, and we were nothing less than invading it. Then 14 of them came our way and walked straight passed us, silence hit every single one of us, even them. Up close and personal with these jungle natives. It was like I was zapped back 700 years for several moments!! We locked eyes and we looked at each other exchanging the same curiosity. They are only about 4ft (max 5ft) tall, and all have long jet black hair and dress in white cloth in which they have made from jungle material. An experience I will NEVER forget.
A few of us took in the scenery before leaving back to camp as it was getting later. I stayed behind so I could have the ruins all to myself and take it all in, in solitude. It was the most surreal feeling, being the only person here amongst the ruins in dead silence! The mist moved along the mountains, fading the ruins as I looked up at the ascending stone structures into the mountains. I was completely mesmerized and found it very difficult to pull myself away, as the beauty of the ruins and environment made me feel as if I was in another world. On another planet witnessing structure’s of an abandoned race. An experience like this will have an ever lasting effect on me!!
In the morning we were leaving the campsite, so we were up and ready a little earlier than normal. I put on my blue shirt again, that is still saturated in sweat! I have another shirt thats dry that I wear at night to keep me warm. We headed of walking back to the way we came for a while, except this time we diverted off to another track for different scenery. A section of this track we had to walk steeply up was a muddy hill, and lasted for 45 minutes!! I made myself hike up the entire thing without stopping, an only just managed to pull it off before nearly collapsing with exhaustion. I was hurting so much. The trek continued until we reached a little village with about 20 people living here. They had some electricity, from a hydro generator that gave fluctuating power to the village depending on the flow of the water. In this town they also had a huge waterfall that we were jumping off. Stupidly I decided to do a flip off the bloody high rock that could of ended up badly, which I only just pulled off. They also had beers here which we all kinda went wild on, because we had been busting our guts the last few days, and the sight of a beer was too good to resist! haha.
Sleeping in a hammock was fantastic that night. I swang myself to sleep with the biggest gring on my face, as Im doing what most people only could ever dream about, and I am making this a reality!
Breakfast, and off we went! Some of this journey was extremely difficult as the ascents that we have to climb test your fitness to an extreme extent, while the downhills test your knee joints and ability to balance on unstable ground. We reached a larger town where we had refreshments, chatted with the local military that seemed over eager to let us know they have very powerful automatics slung over their shoulders, but were friendly enough – and very inquisitive (especially of my blonde hair). Here we met our jeep ride back to Santa Marta.
Hasta Luego to a very memorable 6 day treck through the jungle. I had the time of my life!!