Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Colombia’

The Lost City – Trekking La Ciudad Perdida in Colombia

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

They call it La Ciudad Perdida – the Lost City. Nestled in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria mountains, it is the ancient capital of the Tairona people – a city laid abandoned since the decimation of the indigenous population following the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s.

 

To find the Lost City is no easy task. Starting from the Caribbean coast just east of Santa Marta, South America’s oldest surviving city, it requires five days trekking to cover the mountainous near 50km round trip. As if that is not enough, there are 1,260 steps to climb on the penultimate day to reach Ciudad Perdida. Throw in trekking in high humidity with temperatures in the mid 30s, it is quite a challenge and one that our group of 14 others took on in the first week of December.

 

Our trekking group came together from Ireland, Finland, Belgium, Canada, the UK and USA, along with our three Colombian guides and our local husband and wife team who would provide the meals and the badly needed calories for the trek.

 

We were told to pack light and since we would be carrying all our own stuff that made sense. Which would be harder I thought – carrying our own gear or going off-grid for five days? There may be gold up there in them there hills but there wasn’t going to be any wifi!

 

An hours fourwheel drive away from Tayrona National Park, took us to the village of Machete Pelao. From there we began our trek and a half an hour in I’m already struggling in the heat. Thankfully, the trek will take us along the River Buritaca giving us the chance to swim in pools along the way and so it isn’t long before we cool off in the river.

 

There doesn’t seem much point in drying off after, especially as after yet another steep climb through the jungle, I’m already dripping with sweat again. I’m questioning whether it is really possible to sweat out this amount of liquid and am slightly reassured when I look at some of my travelling companions and like me, their clothes are stuck to them – so much for trekking tops that will wick away moisture!

 

“Better than work” is what I usually think when I’m on holidays but I’m daydreaming of a cool December day back in Dublin as the incline increases again. A couple of unofficial water stops and there is what I think is a life-saving official stop for watermelon with a great view across the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains below.

 

We go down into the valley to come back up and we’ve finally reached our camp for the night and it is a room with a view. The setting is on a ridge with some cloud touching the high mountains above and hanging in the adjacent valley below us. It is as picturesque a place as you can hang a hammock.

12478CBC-F5F0-49FA-9D93-5F54C1BA0802

During our candlelit dinner, the stars emerge to light up the night sky as does an electrical storm beyond the far valley. The mosquito net covered hammock provides a surprisingly good night’s sleep and the days exertions mean that even the snoring doesn’t keep me awake!

 

At 11 degrees north of the equator the sun rises quickly around 5.30am (having set sharply at 5.30pm the previous evening) and we stir from our slumber soon after for breakfast. By 7am we have left camp to try and beat the main heat of the day. The morning’s journey is broken by another rock pool swim and we cross the river by bouncy suspension bridge.

 

By now our group has split into a number of cohorts who are walking at different speeds. Conversion is plentiful during the downhill and the seldom seen flatter sections. The uphill pieces are played out to the sound of breathing and the tap-tap of the trekking poles.

 

By lunchtime we are in Camp 2 adjacent to a Wiwa village and are done for the day. The afternoon affords time to swim again in the Rio Buritaca or for the braver to go diving from the 5m high rocks into the deeper sections of the river. We get a chance to play football with some of the local kids. They, like all the members of the local Wiwa tribe, are wearing their traditional clothes woven from the fibre found in the finca leafs. Alberto, one of our guides, takes us up above the village as the sun is setting to show us how the fibre is broken out of the leaves

4B28556F-FF79-4B74-9BAA-D103FE3EEEF2

There amongst the coffee plants, cocoa leaves are growing and we are shown how traditionally the locals chew the leaves mixed with seashells to give a natural high. Something that would make trekking in the heat more bearable but I think I will stick with water. After dinner at 7pm, most of our group are in bed very soon after as a 5am walk up call awaits us next morning.

IMG_5710

The third day will take us to the foot of the climb to the Lost City. It is a pretty vicious climb out of camp first thing in the morning and we cross several streams en-route, before we must ford the river close to the busy Teyruna camp. It is the end of the rainy season but it hasn’t been a very harsh season which means that rather than waste deep, the water is mid-shin so thankfully it is not too difficult to cross. The camp has a number of other groups staying there including a group of 15 year old schoolkids – a tough school trip!

 

The kids are still stirring from their slumber by the time we leave the camp at 6am the next morning. We cross the river further up the valley, using a rope stretched across to prevent us falling into the knee high water. There had been much talk up to this point about the 1,200 steps (or 1,260 depending on which guide book you read) to take us up to la Ciudad Perdida. I don’t bother counting and am glad of having left our backpacks at Camp 3 for this ascent.

IMG_5458

Maybe that is why I am pleasantly surprised when after around 20 minutes or so I step up and turn to the right and see the jungle open up and flatten out. We have made it to the Lost City.

 

Our early start means we get to explore the city with only a handful of other people. We (mostly) stick to the paths as the city is sacred to the indigenous Wiwa and Kogi people. We ascend some of the uncovered terraces past the ancient jail, some fertility stones and the carved boulder that replicates the Sierra Nevada mountain range with the water courses cut into the rock.

 

The city was build between the 11th and 14th century, but has origins back in the 7th century. It fell foul of the arrival of the Spanish in 1499. Smallpox, syphilis and the violent search for El Dorado saw the city abandoned within a century of the arrival of the colonizers, before looters re-discovered the site back in the 1970s.

FullSizeRender

The army secured the location and still maintain a presence on the site – guerillas previously controlled the territory where we are trekking. The soldiers have the best view of the city, just above where we stand to look out over the two main terraces that are perched on the central ridge below us. Only about 30% of the city is uncovered with the rest blanketed by moss, trees and foliage.

 

Our reward for getting up before dawn is for the sun to rise above the waterfall and the mountain range behind us to light up the terraces below. It is a truly stunning setting and is as good a place to take a group selfie as I can think!

IMG_5500

IMG_5404We are also rewarded with a couple of chocolate bars before we begin the trek out. We are going to need that energy boost as we have an hours hike back to Camp 3 before a four hour trek back to the Wiwa village. We are a pretty broken bunch by the time we arrive there after 4 days of trekking. Dodgy tummies, blisters, bites and sprained ankles are shared out in the group, as our the tablets, plasters, antiseptic cream/alcohol and bandages to help overcome them.

 

With no wifi, the evening conversation revolves around travellers tales. Stories are swapped of journeys made and journeys planned with email addresses scrawled into the back of notebooks for when we get back online. By the end of day 4 and with phones dying, thankfully someone has a battery powered mobile charger with them. For a decent price of just one beer, you can get the phone back up to 100% for those last few photographs on the final day!

 

We get a lie in on the last day till 6am! It is a tough slog up and down, up and down, up-down and out on day five. Two hours in and we are back where we stayed the first night and a combination of watermelon and chocolate cake is our fuel for the final few hours. From here the odd motorbike scrambles by us and there is a temptation to grab a lift – especially as they stop to offer. But we have sweated too much and toiled too long to take the easy way home when we are so close.

 

It is a quiet last couple of kilometres as we descend towards the river, dipping into it seems whatever reserves of energy we have, concentrating on just putting one foot in front of the other. Rounding one final bend, Machete Pelao – our staring point but more importantly our finishing point – becomes visible.

 

We have made it. Day five done and dusted and it is high fives and fist pumps all round. We have found something in ourselves to make it to the Lost City and back. Time for us to return to our own civilisation and plug back into the matrix. So whose got the wifi code?

IMG_5432