La Ciudad Perdida: The second Machu Picchu?

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As my Colombian adventure continued, my friend and I headed into jungles of the Sierra Nevada.  We opted to not spend our full time on the Caribbean coast moving from turquoise beach to turquoise beach thinking we’d actually get bored.  Instead, we decided we wanted variety and that we would head into the mosquito and tick infested, humid jungle for a 4 day trek to La Ciudad Perdida: The Lost City.

Brief History: It was once an ancient city inhabited by the Tairona people believed to be founded in 800CE.  When the Spanish came to the area, the city was abandoned as the natives pushed higher into the Sierra Nevada.  It was discovered in 1972 when looters discovered its hidden treasures.

Bit of Info:  This trek can be done in 4, 5, or 6 days all for the same price of 700 000 Colombian Pesos (approx 230USD).  The route is the exact same for all the days just that you will spend less time walking per day on the longer tours.  From the start point until La Ciudad Perdida, it’s approximately 23km and 1200m above sea level and then you have to return the same way you came in.  You carry all what you need for 4 days and water can be replenished at each camp site.  Sleeping arrangements can either consist of hammocks or beds. Blankets were provided as it does cool off in the night.  Nothing dries in the jungle especially over night (even sweaty clothes).  We were lucky to have no rain, but water proof gear would be essential.

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Night one Camp Adan: all of us in hammocks

Day 1: We set off from Santa Marta with Magic Tours.  We were a group of 15 with people from a collection of different countries.  The majority of us were doing the trek in 4 days and only a few in 5.  (But I’ll tell we all end up doing it in 4 days- we just wanted out).  We drove to our starting point, had a big lunch, doused ourselves in insect repellent and started our way into the trek.  This day all we had to walk was roughly 7km for 3 hours.  Easy day. What they don’t tell you is that the first 2.5 hours are up a steep hill that is a road on the side of a mountain so there are no tree roots and rocks to use as steps.  It was never ending.  Thank goodness for the entrepreneur who decided to squeeze fresh oranges at the side of the road- truly an oasis.  Then further up the steep climb, a watermelon materialized out of nowhere and we had another much needed break.  With the breaks come an opportunity to really soak in the scenery.  Finally, we reached the point where we started a descent.  After 30 minutes or so we had reached our first stop for the night.  Each camp site was situated near a river, so there was an opportunity to jump into “refreshing” water (refreshing=cold).  I went into this pool of water, it was the first and the last time on the trip as I can’t do cold water.  For our first night, we slept in hammocks.  Our hammocks were side by side and it would have been nice if our guide had told us that it might be best to sleep head to toe.  Most of us had our heads on the same side and with any little movement you were constantly bumping shoulders all night.  I had to get up in the middle of the night (and brave the possibility of snakes).  Everything was fine until I came back to the hammock.  Because we were all so close to each other, I was trying not to bump into anyone so I didn’t open my hammock wide enough and when i sat down, I ended up with my back on the ground with my feet hanging from the hammock.  Thankfully, no one saw or got bumped.

Day 2: 5:30am wake up call.  We were due to walk 8km to lunch and then another 8km to our next camp.  On this day, we were now in the jungle and we would find ourselves walking past some indigenous tribes like the Wiwas and the Kogis. We started with another steep uphill that was extremely muddy.  I didn’t even want to imagine how slippery that would be when we’d return.  We hit a watermelon/fresh orange juice stop and met up with groups making their way out and we were told of what awaited us.  We would have a downhill to recuperate.  Then our lunch stop near a refreshing river.  After a two hour rest and lunch, off we’d go for about 20min on relatively flat land, hit a bridge that we almost broke because none of the guides around us informed us that only 9 people were supposed to be on it and about double the number were on it.  AND THEN…. it came, the worst part of the trek… 1.5 hours up hill.  In all fairness, probably the climb the day before was worse, but we’d already been walking 8+km and now had to face this climb.  It was unending!  I don’t know how I did it.  By this point, you don’t notice anything, you don’t notice any scenery.  You just want it to end.  The climb came to an end and we had a descent until a pineapple stop.  This rest stop was a bit surreal.   Colombian army men were having a rest break as well.  Out of nowhere, a group of trekkers not only started posing with them for photos, but holding their guns!  After the break, we continued on.  This bit of the trek wasn’t so grueling.  It oscillated from uphill to downhill.  We eventually found ourselves at a river and we were able to cross it quite easily barefoot with the water at knee height.  Shortly after, we hit our camp for night 2.  Because it was Semana Santa (Easter Week) and so many people were doing the trek, the camp which can accommodate 150 people had 240 people staying that night.  Half of our group was in hammocks and the other half were sharing a two to a twin mattress.

 

Day 3: 5am rise.  This is the day we saw the city.  We had a short walk from the camp to another river crossing.  There was a plank to allow for an easy crossing. Then we were at the entrance.  1200 steps to enter. Uneven steps sometime shallow sometime not.  We slogged it up.  Our bodies surprisingly not giving up on us.  We found ourselves in the city.  The city was much bigger than we all had imagined.  The structure of the buildings themselves have been lost, but the foundation of the homes and buildings are still there in circular stone formations.  We learned that the Tairona people had a death ritual in that family members would initially be buried for 4 years and then be reburied under their home with the gold and treasures.  Hence what brought the looters to the area.  What is thought to have been their temple was at the highest point of the city with beautiful vistas of the surrounding area.  We spent 3 hours exploring the city before we had to return to our camp for lunch.  There are no hidden exits out of the city (as we were all hoping), it was back to the 1200 steps.   Once down the steps and across the river, we had our lunch at camp and then continued.  The rest of trek that day wasn’t that bad.  Our second river crossing we didn’t bother taking shoes off and just ever so carefully on slippery wet rocks got across the river.  There was only one 40-50 minute uphill. The whole time I was thinking, I don’t remember this downhill  being so long when we came.  That turned into the downhill (reverse of the 1.5hr uphill).  Then we found ourselves at yesterday’s lunch stop which became our last night.  Best night because we all had a bed to ourselves.

Day 4: It was just the reverse of what we had done before lunch on Day 2 and Day 1.  But we were tired.  Our legs were amazingly still working, but having to carry our bags was taking its toll.  With La Ciudad Perdida behind us, no main attraction to look forward to, this day was surprisingly deadly.  There were uphills to contend with.  I was over it.  Thankfully, no rain meant drier ground so the downhills weren’t slippery.  Then there was the big down hill from day one.  I thought this was going to be a piece of cake, but surprisingly it was so difficult.  We were out of the jungle and the sun was hot on us with no shade.  The road just never ended (or so it seemed).  I found myself on my own for this whole stretch.   If it wasn’t for my ipod, I think I would’ve given up.  But alas, I made it out.

The trek was probably the hardest trek I’ve done.   With the steep climbs and the humidity and no porters to carry your stuff, it was hard work.  I did it during the dry season, I can’t imagine the next level up of difficulty during the rainy season with muddy trails and deep river crossings.  But it was worth it.  I would definitely recommend it.  The nice thing is that there is no easy alternate way to get to the city, only the trekkers make it in, so this is kind of hidden gem right now.  One of the guys on the trek has made a little video.  I’m not in much of it because the guys were fast but sometimes you can see my curl puff.  Enjoy!

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This map shows the steep climbs of the trek.

 

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Volcan de Lodo El Totumo: Clear as Mud

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After 7 years, I felt that it was time to return to South America.  Now that Colombia is safe to travel, that was my next destination.  I opted for the sun and warmth of the Caribbean cost as opposed to the chill and potential rain of the mountains.

I’d been told about this volcano that was nearby Cartagena that I must visit.  Instead of spewing hot lava, its crater is filled with warm mud.  Well, considering how much mud treatments are in my country, it was a no brainer to do this for 45000 pesos (~15USD).  Off to the mud volcano we went.  Volcan de Lodo El Totumo is just 50km north of Cartagena.  There are easy tours to jump on to get you out there.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting but as we approached the volcano, it looked nothing like a volcano but more like an overgrown anthill protruding from the ground.  We were quickly rushed to change into our bathing suits and then sent up these rickety wooden steps.  The locals from the area work for tips there providing such services as photo taking, massages, and washing the mud off your body.  The tips are fixed at 4000 pesos and are optional except for the washing.  After climbing the rickety stairs, I was facing a deep pit that was filled with a viscous mud.

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The rickety stairs.

One by one we were instructed to enter the pit via a wooden ladder.  Basically, when the local boys were finished rubbing someone, they would call the next person in to rub, I mean massage.  Once you get in the pit, if you opt for the massage, they will instruct you to lie backwards as they rub mud all over you.  But let me talk about the mud.  The buoyancy factor is much more than the dead sea.  Even if you could reach the bottom of the pit, you can’t.  No matter how much you try, when you are vertical, you can’t get your shoulders below the surface.  You really have to work your abs while in it because if not you will suddenly find your body turning or losing control of a limb.  I got kicked a few times by others.  Then when they tell you your time is up and you have to leave, good luck moving across the pit to the exit ladder!  It’s so thick that you exert so much energy moving but go nowhere.  Then exiting, oh my!  Of course, since the notion of health and safety has not quite hit this tourist attraction, the rungs of the ladder are slanted and your feet are slippery with mud and the steps are slippery from the accumulation of mud from the others, that climbing out of the volcano is akin to rock climbing.  The only downside of the experience is that it is too short.

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But wait! The experience isn’t finished yet!  Getting this mud off of you is an experience in of itself.  We were there 3 months after the last rain, so the level of the volcano was low and the fresh/salt water lagoon that we are supposed to wash in was completely dry.  So locals had buckets of murky (trying to make it sound nice) water that they used bowls to dump onto of us.  This mud is persistent and doesn’t want to come off easily.  So ladies be warned, some people may see things that you don’t intend them to see.  When it came to cleaning off the top of the bikini, they just grab the material and flap it around.  You may very well  find yourself completely exposed.  With the bottoms, if you are lucky like me, she’ll just flap it around while throwing water at you.  But if you are unlucky like my friend, a hand might end up in there to clean the mud out.  Of course, while enjoying the mud you’ve got it in your hair and on your face.  So they dump water over your head without warning, and you can’t breath out of your nose or mouth, but you haven’t taken a breath in.  You are desperately  trying to hold your breath and praying that the water stops but the waterfall in front of your face is longer than your ability to hold your breath.  I had to turn my head to get a breath without swallowing water.  As I did then next deluge of water started. Who would have thought washing could be so dangerous.

Although a very rushed experience, it’s one that is worth it.  It’s these little gems that you find hidden in the corners of the world, that make traveling worth it 🙂