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Published: January 19th 2013
Obviously, before leaving Colombia I had to do something epic. Apart from one week in Semana Santa, I had only had long weekends to tour aroudn the country, so I deliberately finished all my commitments 2 weeks before my departure date, and decided that I wasn't going to leave the country with even one peso left - which is exactly what happened!
Even before I went to Colombia, I knew that the main thing I wanted to do was to go on the 5 day hike to reach the Colombian Machu Pichu, an ancient Tayronan city descovered only in the 1970s and only accessible still by foot. I flew to Santa Marta, and from there met the guide who I had booked. At least that was the plan. In reality, obviously, Avianca (national airline) had lost all my luggage and although my guide was ready and waiting at the airport, we had to agree to meet the following morning to start the hike. So I waited in the airport for the next flight, only to meet another English girl who told me the same had happened to her and she had been waiting now for 48 hours...not what I wanted
to hear! Anyway, after lots of arguing and name-calling I eventually got my hands on my bag, and met the guide the next day.
Because my group now had a head start of one day, I was told I had to do 2 days hiking in one to catch them. OK. And also, to get there quicker, I had to do the 2 hour ride to the start on the guide's motorbike. With my big, heavy rucksack still on my back. Driving Colombian style. Erm....also OK! First time on a motorbike, and I have to say it was awesome going through those surroundings in the sun, winding (literally) in between the traffic. Anyway, once there we got our skates on and off we went up the mountain.
The hike was amazing. And that first day was the best, as it was just me and the guide all day. The weather was perfect, and we could not have been in a more remote, stunning place. We passed a few local Colombian farming communities before we got to the indigenous reserve (the whole of Santa Marta is a reserve for the local tribes, completely autonomous and out-of-bounds to outsiders. However,
special permission is granted to a handful of tourists each year to walk to Ciudad Perdida). We began to pass the indigenous peoples, from the Cogi tribe, and I knew it was going to be a special few days.
Eventually we caught the others (slow people) and began to take things a little slower. Our route followed a crystal clear river up the mountain which we were able to swim in everyday after hiking - it was like heaven on earth. On the second day a member of the Cogi even dropped in to talk with us about his culture, which was fascinating. He explained (in Spanish, his second language) about how his culture had feld the Spanish and now had decided to remain isolated from our corrupt, unsustainable and irresponsible 'modern' world (in his eyes). He also explained how their culture revolved around the cococa plant (used to make our cocaine), and how they truly were completely self-sufficient and detached from modern Colombia (very few of them even speak Spanish).
Eventually we made it to the Ciudad Perdida itself. Amazing as it was, it is no Machu Pichu and the purpose of this excersion is most definitely
the hike, not the Ciudad itself. Nonetheless, it was extremely impressive and had a very interesting story to its discovery. Three Colombians were looking in the area in the 70s for the ancient sites they supposed must be in the reserve. They basically stumbled across it, full of gold, and one of them promptly killed the others to have it all to himself.So he and a team began ripping as much gold as possible from the site, doing untold damage. Luckily the government heard about this, and designated it a special archaeological site and opened it for research and now tourism. To this day, only about 20% of it is cleared (the rest still hidden in the surrounding jungle), but the Cogi refuse to allow anyone else to clear the rest of the city as it is sacred to them. Probably there are millions of punds worth of ancient Tayronan gold and treasure hidden in the trees there, but such is their attitude to material wealth that they choose to leave it as it is, and amazingly the government has respected their wish. It truly is a special place.
Afterwards, I went back to Santa Marta and met up
with Jose and we went for a week of Caribbean beaches, parties and snorkelling!
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