#AllinModerationTravels – Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City)

The real reason for this trip to Colombia was to spend some time having a little adventure before I set off in the life of a 30 year old. My sister and I figured that going to Colombia wasn’t enough of an adventure on it’s own, so we decided that throwing a 5-day trek through the rural jungle in the middle of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, might be just the right amount. And we were right….

The Ciudad Perdida (or Lost City) has a history that stretches some 650 years before Machu Picchu. Only discovered in the 1970’s due to grave robbers, the site is still under excavation. The Tayrona people built the city and called it Teyuna – it is still frequented from their descendants the Kogi’s, Arhuaco, and Wiwas – some of whom we met along the way in their own distinct villages in the middle of the jungle. Teyuna, or Ciudad Perdida, was believed to be the heart or “business centre” of a network of 250 villages in the surrounding area. Most of which of yet to be uncovered. 

In 2003, 8 tourists were kidnapped from the Ciudad Perdida and held for 3 months by the ELN. All were released but the trek was closed to tourists for some 2 years before reopening in 2005. The area has been free of incidents since, but still holds an aura of vulnerability that may never be lost. 

This trek is not for the faint of heart. Some 44 km and 900 metres of elevation through muddy, uneven terrain requires a good level of fitness, and a great prerequisite for adventure. 🙂 

Day 1: We were picked up by our guide, Javier, from our beautiful hotel in Santa Marta. Luxury as we knew it was over for the next 5 days… 

We were driven to the offices of Turcol Tours where we met with the rest of our group, and a rickety old door-less jalopy. A drive that is slotted for 2 hours took closer to 4, as the jalopy had a few hiccups along the way. 

We arrived at our jumping off point in El Mamey (Machete), and finally set out around 2pm for our first 3 hour leg of the journey. 

What seemed to begin as a relatively easy hike along what reminded me of a logging road, turned into an 18 switchback steep incline to our first summit. In 40 degree Celsius heat and almost 100% humidity, this was not an easy thing to do. BUT – we made it, finally, and were met with an incredible view, overly welcome watermelon, and the knowledge that the rest of the afternoon would be relatively downhill. 

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{ Our first summit! }

We arrived at our first sleeping site, La Casa Adán, just in time for the sun to set. We enjoyed a swim in the natural pool a couple feet from where we slept, and a delicious meal prepared by our cook, Jonathan – who turned out to be the complete rock-star of the trek – but more on that later. We crushed a few cervezas, broke down the barriers with the rest of our group, brushed up on our “dangerous animals in the area” knowledge, and hit the hay early. 

My sleep was terrible on the first night. The jungle is not a quiet place to be, and even with earplugs, I could’ve sworn there was a jaguar hovering over my bunk the entire night. But that’s okay, 5am came very quickly . 🙂

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{ Our lap of luxury }

Day 2: We woke up, chugged some coffee, filled our camel backs, noshed on some delicious breakfast, and started out just as the sun came up. This was going to be our longest, toughest, and most grueling day. We were going to be met with river-crossings, rock climbing, and incredible downhills that made the uphills seems like a walk in the park. But first things first… 🙂 

The area we traveled through this day was littered with farms. Once the location for overly abundant Coca factories, the Colombian government went in a handful of years ago and eradicated all Coca production, subsidizing the growth of Cacao and Coffee. We stopped about 15 minutes from La Cabana Adán for a quick crash course on Coca. The growth of this plant is still allowed solely for use by the indigenous people (the Indianas). They use it as a stimulant and connector to Mother Nature, constantly chewing it; morning, noon, and night. We continued our 8.1 KM trek through small native villages, stopping to learn a bit about the Indianas culture, to find ourselves at Casa Gabriel Sánchez, where we enjoyed a lovely Colombian stew for lunch, and welcome cool off in a beautiful river. 

We set out in the early afternoon for our final 6.6 KM hike to our destination at Casa Rumualdo. This was by far the most difficult part of our journey. We were met with afternoon rain and thunder, had to scour rock faces over mini waterfalls, and test our fears of heights traveling over rapidly rushing rivers. There were many occasions of frustration, almost verging on tears, but when we saw that faint glow of candlelight and smelled that tell-tale campfire smell, our fears turned into utter joy and excitement of arriving at our destination, and living to see another day. Dramatic? Maybe…but you try not being dramatic when you’re in the middle of nowhere with pumas, jaguars, scorpions, and poisonous snakes watching your every move. 🙂

We threw down our packs, scurried to the showers to wash off our sweat, and made our way to the “bar” to scoop up a bottle of Aguardiente to share with the group. Our dinner was incredible; whole fried fish, rice, salad – all washed down with a few icy cold cervezas. Bedtime. No Joke. 7:30pm. Soundly sleeping to the rushing river lullaby. 

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{ Lunchtime swimming in a nearby river }

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{ Local indigenous people from Pueblo Indigena – at 5’5″, I felt incredibly tall…}

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{ Always watching your flank – it’s a teamwork trail }

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{ That’s a happy face at the end of the day. Cerveza in hand, whole fried fish to eat, and bottle of Aguardiente not too far away }

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{ More happy faces enjoying the candlelight }

Day 3: We awoke swiftly – knowing today was the day we would meet Ciudad Perdida. We had coffee, breakfast, and hung up our clothes on the line to dry….

…One thing I haven’t mentioned until now, is the factor of dry clothes. You are in the jungle here people. You are guaranteed to sweat, and sweat A LOT, whilst climbing your way through the humidity. And what does humidity and afternoon rain not allow for?…. any sort of time for drying off. Therefore, remember to bring extra dry socks – we saw a guy who wore the same socks the entire time, and his feet were mangled! Please do not do that to yourselves. And every time you have a spare moment to hang your clothes in the direct sunlight – take it. You’ll thank me later. 🙂 

Our day started by crossing the river at mid-thigh level. We were then greeted with the infamous 1,200 steps to the Ciudad Perdida. Talk about your stair-master. Small, narrow stones, piled one on top of the other, leading up to a final destination unlike any other. And then finally, you’re there. The magnitude, more than you could’ve imagined. The serenity, out of this world. The ability to believe you’re actually seeing what you’re seeing, difficult. A definite out of body experience. Nothing short of amazing. 

We spent an hour discovering everything we could. A hole in the ground – for example, used as a “jail” of sorts – although the Tayrona people do not have negative words in their language, so instead of it being called a “jail” it was called a “thinking hole”. If you disobeyed a rule, you would be put there to “think about what you did”. And when Mother Nature decided you were done thinking, you were re-introduced to the community. Yes. I’m not making this up. The 60 + Colombian army personnel – as another example – that are stationed here now, as a result of what may / could still be brewing in a country of previous unsettling political climate. And a lovely man, the Shaman, still inhabiting the city with his family. Understanding the Earth, being one with Mother Nature, and having the only connection to surrounding world that many of his people will never know. 

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{ The first of the 1,200 steps }

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{ My fear of heights, sinking in }

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{ The central staircase leading to main part of the city }

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{ Looking out over the main part of the city }

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{ The panoramic view }

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{ Our troop sublimely happy to have made it! }

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{ Those are some happy trekkers! }

We descended from the Ciudad to find ourselves back at Casa Rumualdo, greeted with DRY clothes, and lunch. The rest of our day would be retracing our steps back to the where we ate lunch and swam in the river, the previous day. Neither my sister, nor I, were aware at this point that this would be our most difficult day. And it wasn’t until the sun set and we were still a couple kilometres from camp that we realized we were experiencing it. 

Rain. Pain. Exhaustion. The PERFECT combination for a difficult time. But we made it. And we ingested copious amounts of pain medication. And that’s all that needs to be said about that. 

Day 4: The first day we were allowed to “sleep-in”. Our day was relatively short. My sister and I departed a bit earlier than the rest of the group, to get a good head start on the grueling hills we knew we were up against. We crossed the streams, we traversed the farms, and we enjoyed the jungle for all the beauty as it is – one thing that was difficult to do the previous days, as we were in the unknown. We now had a vague idea of where we were and were able to recognize things we had seen a few days before.  

We arrived in the early afternoon to the location of our first night, La Casa Adán, and proceeded to swim in our natural piscina, drink cervezas, laze about in hammocks, and play cribbage (a mild spectacle for our Colombian friends) for the remainder of the day. 

Day 5: The culmination began similarly as it did the day before, with my sister and I departing a little earlier than the rest. We found it quite calming to talk, just the two of us, while hiking. We found our stride – and before we knew it we were guzzling icy cold cervezas and waiting for the rest of the crew to join us. 

Elation. Sheer joy. The incredible and amazing adventure had come to an end, and we were uninjured, and feeling more alive than ever before. 

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{ Elated people experiencing a complete natural high! }

Should you do this trek? 

Abso-freaking-lutely – no doubt about it. It was incredible. But it is an adventure. You try to ignore it when you immersed in the middle of it, but the dangers are just that and they are present in quite a few places along the way. But if you’re a thrill seeker, like all of us were, you’ll love it. 

You’ll complain about aches and pains, but you’re in good company. Each person is having their own issue, but each person is in the same boat as the rest. You just have to do it. And the reward is more than you could ask for. 

Side note: A shout out is a must to our incredible cook, who prepared delicious meals, cleaned up after us, and then scurried past us hours later on the trail to reach our destination before us and prepare our next delicious meal. The indurence of Jonathan was something of amazement. And the skills! Kudos Jonathan! Kudos! 

But in final though, and in all seriousness, I learned quite a bit about myself – specifically that I’m a heck of a lot more tough than I lead myself to believe. My almost sheltered existence doesn’t have to be that. I can do these things the same, if not better, than quite a few people out there – and I am mighty mighty proud of myself for that. Do I like showers, and air-conditioning, and plush duvet comforters? You bet I do. But for a few days to experience something so pure as that, I can, without a doubt, rough it with the best of them. And I have 100% realized that it’s the experiences that matter. Superficial crap is a dime a dozen – the memories are what counts. 

My only question is….Where to next? 

Stay tuned for our final destination on our Colombian adventure – Parque Tayrona. 

XO

Ally

{Thank you to Erik for a few photos from the trek }

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