Ciudad Perdida - Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia

Published: March 31st 2016
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Ciudad Perdida, or The Lost City is the ancient political and manufacturing capital of the Tairona people. This site is believed to have been founded around 800 A.D. I read that this is about 650 years before Machu Picchu in Peru which to me is pretty impressive. Not much is known about the Tairona civilization, but they were expert craftsmen that made beautiful and intricate gold ornaments and jewelry. Something I have seen in the various gold museums in Colombia. This probably led to their demise once the Spanish arrived. The Ciudad Perdida is thought to have been abandoned by the Tairona during the Spanish conquest in the 17th Century. I was to go there and see it for myself. One four night, five day guided tour including food and water - $335. One pair Merrell hiking shoes - $110. One bottle Aguardiente to share with fellow trekkers - $13. One pair of ExOfficio Boxer accidentally left at base camp 3 - $25. Feeling like an 8 year old kid again trekking through dense rainforest ridden with malaria, poison dart frogs, blood sucking insects, and all sorts of jungle manner to discover a city you know little about - priceless.

So I signed up for this trek with Turcol Expeditions. In order to do this journey you have to book through a tour agency. Their are maybe 4 companies that do this trek and they all seem to be of similar quality. The price is fixed at 600,000 COP no matter who you use. I'll try to write the experience with the rudimentary notes I took whilst on the tour. Forgive the partial sentences.

Day 1 - Hopped into the jeep for what would turn out to be a 2.5 hour ride to the trailhead, 1 hour of which was on a terrible dirt road up the mountainside. Looming death on each side of the jeep. No guardrails up here. I wonder what the insurance rider is on an outfit like this is. After sandwiches we depart for the trek at about 1:30. I am super excited. We are a group of 11 trekkers and 14 total with our guides and cook. Everyone seems nice. I'm the only American. Typical. It's OK, but I wish I had some backup for the jabs at the good ol' USA. Most Euro's - not all - I've come across do not like Americans and are very judgmental. The Irish couple are great though and are very friendly. The hike is mainly uphill to start. Very difficult in the heat and humidity. I am soaked. The scenery is surreal. Lush misty green mountains with deep greens that pop and make my eyes dilate in amusement. We make it to camp about 3.5 hours later. The knee feels good except on downhill grades. I'll be fine. Lots of rain during the night. I hope the trail is not muddy tomorrow. We sleep in hammocks and hearing the rain and the sound of the jungle serenades me to sleep instantly. I cannot believe I am here.

Day 2 - I awoke at the crack of dawn around 6am. The jungle is alive with hundreds of different birds. I wonder exactly how many there are and try to differentiate each individual call, too no avail. Breakfast is served and we again hit the trail. It is 7am, the weather is cool and damp. The humidity is incredible. My legs burn, the rain from the previous night has ensured our work today will require double the effort. Mud is not my friend right now. During the hike we cross through villages of the "indigenous" people of the area. Many in the group opt for photos with the Indians at a cost of sweets given to the kids and Pesos for the adults. I do not participate. These natives must really hate groups of tourists coming daily through their village treating them like sideshows. The whole spectacle makes me uncomfortable. I push onto the river and await the group for the crossing. We arrive at camp after a hard 4 hour hike. It is 11am. We were to push onto camp 3, but the rain on the mountain ahead will not allow for a river crossing we need to make. The guides suggest we stay at camp 2. The rest of the day is sitting around, swimming in the river. The scenery is gorgeous, but I can only sit for so long. I am restless. Tomorrow we will have a big day, push onto camp 3 and then onto Ciudad Perdida. I can't wait. All of my clothes and gear are soaked. Nothing dries. I still think we are fortunate the sun has been shrouded in clouds. So far it has been extremely hot and humid even without it. God help us when the sun comes out.

Day 3 - The sun has come out. Brutal intense heat that adds to the strait uphill hike to start the day at 7am. As the day goes on, it is sure to only get more and more hot. The mountains are so overgrown with massive amounts of green foliage. We are deep in the jungle now. We've been climbing and climbing mountains for days. Thoughts creep into my head of the descent on the way back. My knee is not yet strong enough to fight gravity. Going up is tough work, but not bad. Going down is a different story. Can't think that way now. In the jungle I focus on the sights and sounds of nature that surround me. I feel in tune with the Earth and the energy around me. The ecosystem is palpable. I drift into harmony with the moment and have such a serene feeling about me it is incredible. I can sense a new powerful emotion of spirituality around me, something no amount of money can buy. This is what it is about! This jungle has a magic about it. Hours pass (4 hours in fact, of physically demanding hiking) and we arrive into camp for lunch, then it is onto the Lost City.

Day 3; Part 2 - After lunch we set out for a 2 hour hike to Ciudad Perdida - The Lost City. The trail took us on a cliff side perch some 400 feet above the raging river below. Do not slip now. One more descent, a river crossing, and we had arrived. Looking strait up in front of me were 1,200 ancient, tiny, mossy, and slick granite steps carving up the mountainside to the historical site. Going up these steps is brutal. As luck would have it (or not have it) a drizzle started and each individual step was a mental and physical effort. One slip and I'm sure to break a leg, wrist, or worse. I've never sweat like this in my life. A gallon of water down, two gallons out. I think that I may actually faint from dehydration or heat stroke. I push on and make it to the top. My shorts no longer fit around my waist.

The reward for the climb was awesome. The ruins were full of enchantment. I put my hands upon the ancient bricks and walkways and harness the history. I imagine myself as a warrior, or a shaman of the Tairona. The feeling is indescribable. I have a real sense of accomplishment within me and it is contagious with the group. Hugs and high fives all around. No one is here but us. It is silent and incredibly eerie. The light rain falls and it adds to the mystery of the City. All of the hardship has been worth it.

The hike back down the mountain is both painful and tough. The rain has again made sure my descent will not be easy. Each step down the stairway must be cautious. Once again mentally it is straining trying to feel out the best and most secure footing and pathway. My legs and knees hurt. For the first time on this trek I am last to finish a leg of the trip - something the Euro's made sure to let me know. Better safe than sorry. My leg is just not strong enough due to the atrophy suffered in my quads. Back at base camp 3 I get little to no sleep. The facilities are lacking an attribute called quality. I do not expect much this far away from society, but this is pretty bad.

Day 4 - Last night 8 out of 11 succumbed to food poisoning. Some people are really sick. One opts to take a horse down the mountain and others cannot carry their bags any longer. Myself and the Irish couple are the only ones to not suffer this fate. Something I do not rub into the Euros. I take the higher road. The hike is mostly downhill now to base camp 2. Fatigue has severely set in for me now. My legs and knees are on fire due to the staircase from hell and the culmination of the past 3 days. I must be mentally and physically sharp to avoid calamity. The scenes of the jungle help me draw strength. 4 hours later we arrive at base camp 2. We have lunch knowing we will push onto base camp 1 in an hour and ascend the steepest, most difficult point of the entire journey.

The next leg consists of a 3 hour hike straight up the side of the mountain in searing heat and 200% humidity. The path is a muddy clay like consistency that acts as a suction cup on my boots with each individual step. I never knew I could sweat this much. Easily this is the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. I push on knowing that once at base camp 1 there is electricity and therefore cold drinks, i.e. Gatorade. I need replenishment. Once we arrive at camp a quick dinner and I'm in my hammock fast asleep on a Friday night at 7pm. My body has little left.

Day 5 - The last day went by a lot easier than I expected. We were to have a massive descent which throughout the trip has been my nemesis. However the path at this lower altitude was a soft dirt as opposed to a muddy clay. The dirt gave way as I fought gravity and it took a lot of impact off of my knee. We hiked for 2.5 hours and we had arrived from where we started. I felt pride, relief, and most importantly I felt how fortunate I am to be where I'm at. I'm only here because of all of my colleagues, friends, and family that have supported me and made me who I am today.

4 Nights, 5 Days, surprisingly only 15 or so bites, and probably 8lbs. lighter.

Recap - Overall this was the most physically and mentally grueling challenge (recurring theme on this entry) I've ever done in my life. I knew what I signed up for, but this had an intensity that I did not expect. It was an intensity that I'm happy to have had. I am proud of myself for completing this journey. I pushed myself hard, carried my bag the entire time, I walked up each individual step to the City and came out better for it. I learned alot about myself. I learned what I'm made of, what type of conditions I can put up with and what type of environment my body can withstand. I had no complaints and I fought all the adversity the jungle threw my way. For me it was never about the ruins really, but about the journey to reach them. It sounds cliche, but I can honestly say I am a better and different person than I was 5 days ago and this is what life is all about.

Additional photos below
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4 Nights, 5 Days, surprisingly only 15 or so bites, and probably 8lbs. lighter.

Tot: 1.061s; Tpl: 0.065s; cc: 33; qc: 112; dbt: 0.0629s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 2; ; mem: 1.6mb