I traveled from Cartagena (see blog) to the town of Santa Marta to book the trek to the Lost City.
Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) was built between 500 and 700 AD by the Tayrona Indians who hid the city so well that not even they could find it. Eventually it was reclaimed by the jungle but recently discovered in 1975 by a treasure seeker and his son. There are only two ways into Ciudad Perdida – one is a helicopter and the other is a 6 day trek through the jungles and slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia. It started with the gathering of an eclectic group of 11 in Santa Marta (5 teachers from Cartagena, 3 Dutch people, a Spanish guy, a German girl and myself). We boarded a 'chiva' (see pic) in Santa Marta and rode it up the muddy cliffs, getting out pushing on occasion, to a remote town in the mountains. Soon we were ankle deep in mud trekking up and down (and up and down) walls of mud through the jungle and across the rivers stumbling onto little villages and views of Colombia that made even the biggest feel small. For some people fatigue started to set in on day one but by day three we were all feeling it. It was near the end of the rainy season so the mud and the rivers were thicker than usual not to mention the mosquitoes were out in full force. The park is filled with paramilitary guys in camouflage and fully automatic rifles who are there to protect the crops and farmers within the Tayrona park. The US has been spraying the coca fields in Colombia so now they're growing it in the protected National Parks. Sounds bad but it's a local cash crop that even the locals can't afford to buy because of the US/Euro demand that drives up the prices. Even the paramilitary guys that I talked to only wanted a smoke and didn't seem strung out like 70% of Belizeans or 90% of the people in Jaco, Costa Rica.
Each night we would arrive at a structure filled with hammocks and tables. Most people would try to get there before the rain started which seemed to be around 4pm. Some would lag behind and show up drenched but still in good spirits. We would unpack, put on dry clothes, eat dinner, and then off to the hammocks for some bullshitting and sleep. Each morning we would wake around 5:30, pack up, grab café y comida, put on bug spray and wet boots, and head out.
We soon figured out why they lost this city and at times you wish it would've remained lost. In one day you cross the same river 7 times on the way there and 7 more on the way back. The first time is in a metal platform suspended 100 ft up, pulled across with a rope by people on the other side. The other 6 are by holding your pack over your head and stumbling (waste high at times) through the rapids along a rope or by making a human chain. Depending on how much it rained the day before you may be in for quite a ride. The final crossing of the Buritaca River brings you to the base of the 1,600 slippery moss covered steps. At this point my ankles were the size of softballs and I was feeling the effects of my slow recovery from Dengue Fever (see List of Bad Travels blog for more info) in Costa Rica, not to mention my size 12 boots stepping on little Indian steps. We climbed this lost stairway through the clouds and up to the 150 stone terraces, nestled into steep slopes over almost 1,000 acres which was once the foundations of homes to over 3,000 people over a millennium ago. Many of these terraces are still covered by dense jungle and allegedly still contain the treasures of the dead buried within.
On the last day there was a trip to the local tarp covered 'cocaine factory' tucked away in the mountains. The little old man who ran the tour seemed like the happiest guy in the world (see pic) to show us how to make the paste that would later be processed into cocaine and shipped. The paste 'can' be smoked at this point but is deemed 'illegal' by the drug cartels since it cuts into their profits and is punishable by death.
After Ciudad Perdida I headed into Venezuela to see Angel Falls – the highest waterfall in the world (see blog).