La Ciudad Perdida: The second Machu Picchu?

IMG_9347

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.

IMG_0643

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!

map

This map shows the steep climbs of the trek.

 

Volcan de Lodo El Totumo: Clear as Mud

anthill

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.

volcan totumo

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.

mud volcano

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 🙂

I Survived the Inca Trail

I was so proud of myself.  It wasn’t as difficult as the crater lake
that I had done in Ecuador.  But it was long and it was hard work, but
it was amazing.  Four days of trekking with day 2 being the hardest
with 5 hours of uphill climbing to summit at 4100m above sea level. 
Maude and I were at the top of the pack, not that it was a race,
finishing third and fourth on the toughest day.  It was such an
accomplishment.  We were so lucky with the weather, being rainy
season.  But on day 4, we woke up to heavy rains, the day we were
supposed to reach Machu Picchu.  After 2.5 hours of trekking, the rains
cleared up and the sun was fighting to get through and we arrived.   I
have to say that doing the trek made Machu Picchu special.  No offense
to anyone who has taken the train up, but I felt that trekking as the
Inca’s did to Machu Picchu made the experience so much more worthwhile.

For
those who remember my African waxing experience…I had another
interesting one.  I think I got waxed by a he-she.  (s)he was dressed
as a woman, but definitely had man hands.

We said goodbye to
Peru shortly after the trek and headed into Bolivia.  Suddenly, our
trip took a turn for the worse. We reached this town known for its
silver mines. We got in and there was a festival going on.  I’m never
usually in a town during a festival, so we went to check it out.  Only
to find out that in this city, known as the highest town in the world,
which is cool in summer due to the altitude, kids and adults whip water
balloons at each other.  If they see a foreigner, then they take 1000
times more pleasure in attacking these unsuspecting people.  Maude I
were drenched from the attacks.  One guy broke a window trying to
Maude.  I got so mad at this one guy who was soaking me with his water
gun, I started chasing after him.  Thankfully for him, Maude stopped
me, b/c if I had gotten him, I would have grabbed his gun, soaked him
and then hit him on the head with it. 

Then we went the next
day to visit the silver mines.  We had the worse tour guide ever who
spent his time in the mines talking about sex.  Talking about guys
thinkin with the cocks and that woman are just pussies, and we are
supposed to cook and clean for men.  We are in a mine, why are we not
talking about mines!

Our next place we headed off to was Uyuni
where the salt flats are.  This is the highlight of a Bolivian trip. 
The scenery was spectacular, but the tour not so much.  I came here
knowing that there had been deaths from car accidents that occured last
summer on these tours.  We booked a tour and we got picked up in a
windshield cracked, fly infested land rover.  There was another land
rover that was driving from the same company and it was shiny and
newish looking.  I said "I wish we were in that car."  Words that I
would later eat.  At the end of that day as we were heading to our
accomodations, that shiny car had an accident, it flipped over 2 or 3
times.  Fortunately, everyone walked out of it with only cuts and
bruises.  God knew what he was doing when he put me in the fly infested
car.  So for the next couple of days, there was just this air of
uncertainity over our own safety. 

After that Bolivia started
getting better.  Although, for Maude it may have taken her longer to
feel that way as she had a biking accident which she walked away from
with only a small cut on her chin.   For all the negative things we
heard about La Paz, we loved La Paz.  We amazingly made it through
without any thefts.  We did meet people along the way who had
experienced thefts.

Pictures are to be posted soon.

I Ate An Ant

And it tasted lemony.  It was a small bugger and I had to swallow it quickly so that I wouldn´t feel it moving around the inside of my mouth.  Hard to believe that I did this when every other bug freaked me out.  The tarantulas, scorpians, cockroaches, locusts and beetles the size of President´s Choice Decadent chocolate chip cookies.  I liked the amazon..that is during the day.  At night, I took comfort in my mosquito net around my bed keeping me safe.  I did get so some animals as well- caiman (alligator), monkeys, sloths, dolphins and anacondas.  We went on some interesting walks through the jungle- a night walk which was very stressful as we worried what dangerous being awaited us in the dark; and we went walking through quicksand.  We were wearing rain boots and you had to move quickly as the mud didn´t want to release your foot.  My friend, Maude (pronounced Mode and in spanish pronounced Mowday), had a hole in her boot and the quicksand started to gush into her boot.  She developed trench foot as a result.  We also got a chance to fish for pirhanas.  I was horrible at this-i caught zilch while Maude caught 3!

We are now in Peru making our way over to Cusco for the Inca Trail.   So far we went up in small tiny planes that sit 6 people to see the Nazca lines in the air.  The pilot flies in tight circles so that you can see the lines and then turns in the other direction.  By the end of the fight, i wasn´t feeling too well and all too happy to have my feet back on the ground.  Maude was in another plane and when we met up, she told me that even though we hadn´t eaten that morning, she still managed to throw up…twice!  Poor Maude, trench foot and now this.

Also, got to see some Condors up close and personal and got to sleep in a worse place than the Andean village in my last message.  If that was even possible.

Andean Villages in Quito

Hola Amigos

Well i’ve been in south america for a week now.  I actually almost didn’t make it here.  Last week Sat when I was at Pearson, American Airlines couldn’t read my eticket on their computers.  They said that there was a problem with the way the agent wrote up the eticket.  When i went to call the agency, they were closed!  I ended up missing my flight.  Without going into details…I was able to get the home number of the owner of the agency and the mess got sorted out in time for me to get a later flight.

I’ve been in Quito now for a week.  Since I’ve been here I’ve visited the old and new towns, pretended i was the hunchback of notre dame as I climbed up rickety ladders in bell towers of gothic churches, went to the equator for the second time in my life (how many people can say that!) and balanced an egg on a nail. Apparently that can only be done at the equator.  Actually the monument is 240 km off the mark- but it worked anyways.

This past weekend I went to visit an Andean village.  I think I may have had a bout of altitude sickness (it 3800m above sea level).  I had this massive headache and loss of appetite.  Well the headache could have been due to the fact I had breathed in stall air on buses for hours, then there were the odors of the village- stinky animals, pungent food odors and smoke fumes from burning of garbage.  As far as the loss of appetite…well i was forwarned in the guide book that food and accomodations were basic…that could easily have been a result of the overwhelming enticing food being cooked in the village.  As for the accomodation…well the owner told me that the hot water would be available later that day.  Later that day…with the sink…what was what i presumed the cold water tap didn’t work.  the hot water tap did work, but the water wasn’t hot.  the next day… there was no water at all.  So I had to use my drinking water to freshen up.

 Why was I in this Andean village?  I was there to see this volcanic crater lake, Quilotoa.  It was worth the village stay.  You could climb down from the rim to the water’s edge.  In order to get back to the ridge you could be lazy and rent a mule or you could climb out.  I opted to climb out.  OMG.  I was not prepared for this.  It was step step step step step step step pant pant pant heart beat beat beat rest drink water.  repeat.  I blame the altitude.  Hey I"m used to exercising at sea level.  i kept thinking, i have to do 4 days of this on the inca trail.  i don’t know if i can do it!  I wonder if the trail can be done in reverse… ride the train up and walk down. 

 

Language Barrier

The experience of living in Argentina was quite an interesting one.  It gave me a new perspective for all of the immigrants that come to Canada and don’t speak english well.  I never realized how much daily interaction I would lose out on by not understanding spanish well.  Of course, I was probably in one of the worse countries for learning spanish as the Argentine accent is very difficult and they speak very quickly.  It was quite isolating.  I couldn’t understand conversations being said around me, or if people approached me in the street to ask questions.  At times, I felt as though I was a prisoner inside of my head.

It was interesting to be in this culture and to see possibly how the fundamentals of their language could possibly mold their culture.  Spanish like french has the idea of objects being masculin and feminine.  I couldn’t help but wonder in a language that is sort of patriarchial, maybe that explained why as you walked down the streets past the newspaper/magazine kiosks,  you would be forced to stare at the covers of girlie magazines as they would be placed at the front in the kiosks.  It was degrading, asses and breasts in face everyday!

What an experience!

Pick Pockets Beware

When in Buenos Aires, the portenos (natives of Buenos Aires) will warn you about how peligroso (dangerous) their city is.  You have to be careful about everything.  About three months into my stay, I became careless.  I was walking along this busy street after seeing one of my clients; a 10 year old girl who had behaved horribly.  I had bought her some chocolate, rocklets, which are similar to smarties, but didn’t give it to her.  So now I was walking to another clients house.  As I was walking down the street, I felt a tug at my bag.  I looked at a window to see the reflection of who was behind me, a middle aged woman.  I should have at that time pulled my bag forward, but I had become complacent.  So 10 minutes later I went into a store to make a phone call and when I sat in the phone booth and put my bag on my lap, I saw that my bag was partially opened!  OH NO!  In my bag that day, I had US dollars on me, my passport, my mobile, my digital camera, and I had just changed USD into Pesos.  Fortunately, I wasn’t using a wallet. So the only thing that was missing was the Rocklets.  I was very lucky that all they got was my chocolate!

Previous Older Entries