Published: January 6th 2009January 2nd 2009
Hanging Out With The Army
New friends swapping email addresses!
You scratch another mosquito byte as you head deeper into the Colombian Jungle. Sweat pores down your face saturating your stinking clothes. Your back aches from sleeping in a hammock while you take another stride in soaking wet shoes. For a moment you feel a sense of isolation as your mind drifts back to the 2003 kidnappings. You lose your concentration and slip once again in the thick mud. Blisters become painful as you wade through fast flowing rivers and over spectacular mountain passes. Suddenly the Colombian army surrounds the expedition team. The negotiations start and the real adventure begins.
"Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) is the archaeological site of an ancient city in Sierra Nevada. It is believed to have been founded about 800 A.D., 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu. It was discovered in 1972, when a group of local treasure looters found a series of stone steps rising up the mountainside and followed them to an abandoned city. On September 15, 2003, ELN kidnapped 8 foreign tourists that were visiting Ciudad Perdida, demanding government investigation of human rights abuses. Only In 2005, did tourist treks became operational again" (Wikipedia, 2008)
I have just returned from an epic
Bring On The FARC!!
Playing with guns at the Lost City
6 day adventure through the Colombian jungle to the Lost City. Government controlled treks to the Lost City have only been possible over the last 3 years, although its not without hidden dangers. FARC kidnappings are always on most travellers minds, although the slightest injury could have horrifying consequences in the remote Colombian jungle. A friend of mine had to be air lifted out of the jungle on an army helicopter gun ship after falling and twisting her knee. But don't let that put you off, for you truly feel like Indiana Jones making your way to one of the worlds most ancient cities hidden in the remote Colombian jungle.
During the trek the jungle becomes more dense by the hour. You spend time trying to dodge mud holes while bonding with other members of the expedition team. The humidity becomes unbearable and your cloths are saturated with sweat. Eventually any hiking trails slowly disappear into dense jungle passes and dried river beds. At every opportunity you strip off and jump from cliffs into beautiful jungle lagoons and waterfalls. You swing like Tarzan into the crystal clear rivers from long thick vines hanging from prehistoric trees. You stop for
I dared her... she did it... Now its a rumour on the gringo trail. Nice one Alex.
a moment and think about the dangers of swimming in jungle rivers... But you feel disgusting and have no choice, you must wash to maintain the sanity of others in the expedition.
The large tree roots provide a prehistoric feel to the unexplored jungle. You pass indigenous villages while shy children emerge from the jungle in ripped dirty clothing to see the strange Gringos crossing their land. You watch their faces light up with joy when offered gifts of candy and pencils. You stay for a few moments to play with the children before pushing on with the trek, knowing you must reach the next campsite before dusk.
On the way you pass several landslides and climb along cliff edge passes. You desperately hold on to rocks, vines and trees knowing one slip will send you plummeting towards sharp jagged rocks in the fast flowing river below. One accident and you know you are in trouble, there is no chance of a quick recovery, you are in the remote Colombian jungle.
You pass poisonous snakes, frogs and spiders while eagles fly overhead. You stop to take in the breathtaking beauty of the Colombian jungle and brightly coloured
The Lost City
Finally made it after an exhausting climb!
flowers and trees. You smell strange berries and fruits that grow within the jungle. You touch strange insects and feel the texture of trees and plants. You watch on in amazement as ants walk in straight lines carrying leaves through the jungle.
On the way Colombian soldiers emerge from the jungle to meet the crazy Gringos hiking to the Lost City. On many occasions I found myself using cigarettes to negotiate for photos with the Colombian army. They are more than happy to let you play with their machine gun, wear their army issue gear and hold rocket launchers. The soldiers are very young and extremely bored so are always up for a laugh. They are enlisted at 18 and are posted in the jungle for 2 years. The days of FARC confrontation seems to have disappeared for now, so they get excitable at the chance to meet foreigners and practice their English. Hanging out with the army is a surreal experience and a big part of the trek, it is just as rewarding as visiting the Lost City its self!
As day suddenly becomes night you go into a trance watching fire flies light up the sky
A Gift From The Colombian Army
A soldier giving me his dog tags!
to an orchestra of insects and frogs. You fill your water bottle from the river and hope not to get sick. You wait for a while as the cook makes a basic meal. You fight over your food with a thousand prehistoric looking insects before climbing into your net covered hammock for protection. By 8:00pm you drift off to sleep in complete darkness to the unforgettable sound of jungle insects.
Its difficult sleeping in a hammock as the jungle becomes surprisingly cold. Wrapping a cover around your body that has not been washed in what feels like a decade is bad enough. Rolling over in your sleep and falling out of the hammock is a real concern. Its difficult to get comfortable but you are too exhausted to care. You eventually fall asleep while scratching the insect bites all over your body. Each day I couldn't help feel that the morning arrived too soon!
On the third day you stumble across the beginning of an ancient staircase to the Lost City. The staircase actually begins on the bank of a river and ascends high into the jungle covered mountains. You wade through the river trying not to get
Super Army Soldier ???
I wouldn't mess with this soldier!
swept away by the current. One slip and you know you will be sleeping in wet cloths! Eventually you scramble up a slippery muddy embankment. Soaking wet and covered in mud you begin the climb to the Lost City.
"Ciudad Perdida consists of a series of 169 terraces carved into the mountainside, a net of tiled roads and several small circular plazas. The entrance can only be accessed by a climb up some 1,200 stone steps through dense jungle." (Wikipedia, 2008)
Knowing the reward was close, the race was on between expedition members. Unlike Machu Picchu there was no need to rush because few people hike to the lost city. The staircase is a difficult and exhausting climb. Each ancient step is incredibly steep, warn and covered in green jungle moss. You have to climb using both your hands and feet while being careful not to slip. Together with the dense jungle and prehistoric trees, the setting is astounding, its just like walking into a movie set!
The views from the Lost City were breathtaking. It sits high in the mountains with panoramic views of mountains and dense jungle in every direction. Only the ancient foundations of
The Lost City
Not more bloody steps!
the Lost City exist although they are inspiring themselves. The site takes about a day to walk around and is larger than expected. This archaeological site is amazing, definitely on the same level as Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat. Simply stunning!!
As you wonder around the Lost City, its easy to find yourself completely alone, although there is a strong Colombian army presence. Its strange to wonder around an archaeological sight passing soldiers armed to the teeth with missile launchers, machine guns and grenades. With a little bit of courage, walking into one of the many army campsites at the Lost City is an unforgettable experience. Me and Alex spent the entire morning just hanging out with the army, playing pranks, posing with guns and negotiating the sale of bullets and official army gear. The experience lead to some very funny photos and a completely surreal experience!
After hanging out with the army, I got an unofficial guided tour of the Lost City with two solders doing their perimeter check. It was a surreal experience walking through the jungle and around the Lost City with two soldiers carrying machine guns, rocket launchers and grenades. At every opportunity they
The Colombian Jungle
Daylight shining through the dense Colombian jungle
wanted to pose for photos. They even showed us an ancient prison and parts of the city I doubt I would have found alone. They were such a good laugh and great fun to hang out with.
We slept in hammocks at the Lost City and watched a spectacular sunrise. We left early on the forth day to hike back the way we had come. Since the hike back was mostly down hill, we completed it in 2 days.
The entire trek was approximately 50 kilometres through dense jungle in humid conditions. Its physically challenging and the sleeping conditions are extremely basic. You have to purify drinking water from the rivers and be prepared to get eaten alive by every bug imaginable. You wash in the rivers and sleep in hammocks. A few people in my expedition got sick and the hike can be strenuous at times. The route is extremely muddy and can be dangerous when hiking along cliff edge passes and through rivers. One simple accident could be a disaster!. The rewards are amazing, the Lost City is stunning.
My advice for this trek is to take a 200 pack of cigs to negotiate with
The Ancient Staircase
These steps were steep, dangerous and very slippery!
the soldiers and sweets for the children. It will go along way in making friends and being welcomed into army camps.
There are more photos below