La Ciudad Perdida or the Lost City definitely deserves a write-up all on its own. It’s essentially an ancient settlement which was home to the Tayrona (or Teyuna) people back in 800AD and is nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range about 44km from Santa Marta. The Tayronas abandoned the settlement when the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Our guides told us that the Tayronas left because the Spanish brought influenza with them, which was transported up to the mountains by the Tayronas themselves. The Chief of the Tayronas then made the decision to abandon the settlement (the Spanish never actually made it up there). Nowadays, the Kogi people (descendants of the Tayronas) live in and protect the area. The Kogis definitely like to keep themselves to themselves – they all have long, dark hair (they believe it’s a sign of strength and health) and wear white clothes – a bit like Greek togas. The women wear colourful beaded necklaces, which apparently are in celebration of Pachamama or Mother Nature. The men carry this pipe-like instrument called a ‘poporo’, which is filled with crushed shells and lime – they chew coca leaves and wipe the saliva coated result on the outside of the popora, obviously then the older the man the bigger the popora.
La Ciudad Perdida was rediscovered in 1972 (by tomb-raiders), opened to tourists in 1984, closed in 2003 because a group of tourists were kidnapped (and later released), and reopened in 2005. It’s perfectly safe to visit now as the Colombian military patrol the area – they even have their own camp at the very top.
So, you’d think that 44km wouldn’t be much of a trip, but the only way you can reach the Lost City is on a pretty strenuous 4-6 day return hike through the jungle. There are a number of companies you can do this hike with; we chose Magic Tour as our accommodation in Santa Marta told us that they treated their guides best. It costs $600,000COP (approx. $300) per person to do the hike (no matter how many days you choose to do it in) and this covers all your food, filtered water and your guide (although there are no English speaking guides out there – no matter what the tour companies tell you!). Tours leave every day; we booked 2 days beforehand.
Met up at the Magic Tour office in Santa Marta at 9am. Just us and a lovely Australian girl. We left the office about 10.15am…that’s Colombian time for you. Hopped in a jeep for the hour and a half long trip to our first pit-stop; a little shop if you need some sweeties or a toilet break (behind a curtain). Back into the jeep for a very, very bumpy trip for another hour an a half or so to the little village of Machete (yep!) which is the starting point of all treks. We had lunch here and since there was only three of us (all without Spanish), we joined up with a group of four people (one Argentinian and three English) from ExpoTour so we had one native Spanish speaker and an English girl with fantastic Spanish to translate – result! We met our guides here, Ali from Magic Tour and Jhon from ExpoTour. Off we went for about five hours of trekking through the jungle. Day 1 wasn’t too bad to be honest, lots of ascending and descending, river-crossings (but only stone-hopping so no wet shoes), some amazing views and enough watermelon breaks to keep us happy. The first camp we reached was absolutely beautiful – a couple of hammocks, actual beds, a TV (!), beautiful flowers and a little river running through it…and then we kept walking. Aw. About 15 minutes further on we arrived at our camp, rows of hammocks and an outdoor kitchen with some showers and toilet cubicles. Fancy. Our guides made us a rice and beans dinner here with Oreos for dessert. We chatted for a while and went to hammock (I can’t say bed!) really early. I probably slept about 3 hours; constantly waking up freaking out that I was going to be eaten by a panther. Doesn’t matter that they wouldn’t come near humans – I had THE FEAR!!
We were awoken by our guides about 5.30am and it was FREEZING! Breakfast in our PJs in the jungle. Our clothes from day 1 were still wet (what gets wet in the jungle, stays wet. Oh the humidity!) so we all waited until after breakfast to put those on. Breakfast was eggs, arepa (bloody rancid corn pancake looking things which taste like rubber topped off with cheesestrings) and hot chocolate (which was very tasty – but only available at breakfast each day). It is pretty amazing what the guides can knock up considering the facilities they have to work with. John had to share his eggs with a cheeky parrot. Haha. Our hiking started about 6.30am and I have to be honest – day 2 was a *****. The scenery was spectacular so absolutely worth the effort. You definitely need to concentrate on every footstep here – it rained a lot on day 2 so it got pretty muddy. Lunchtime brought us to the camp we’d be staying in on night 3 and a bit of a cool-down in the river – even in the rain you need to cool down…and clean up. We passed by a Kogi village with about ten or so huts. There’s one larger hut, which we later learned was the temple – and only the men are allowed to enter here. The men actually live in separate huts to the women and children too. A little girl, who was only about 3 came out to fetch a huge bucket of water from the nearby river; she seemed a little scared of us all just standing there, poor pet.
Jeepers I have to be honest – I have never been happier to see a campsite (and I’ve seen like 2 others in my lifetime!) – think it was about 4.30pm when we arrived. No electricity here but the guides still managed to cook a fish dinner for everyone with their headlamps. They made popcorn too! This camp had actual beds too – treat!
Another early rise, hot chocolate breakfast and wet-clothes session and we were off. Camp 2 is only 1km from the Lost City so it’s a short little ‘walk’. You have to traverse a waist-level river and clamber up 1200 steep, slippery steps to get to the bottom level of the Lost City. We spent about 2 hours wandering around the City before the trip back down. We also had a 30 minute history lesson from our guides. We were pretty slow walking back down the steps and chatting; I think the guides needed to hurry us girls on so they held our hands all the way down! Back through the river and a trek back to day 2’s lunchtime spot. We passed a little Kogi girl on the way back and she grabbed at my raincoat around my waist – I ‘m thinking I bloody need that but I feel really bad – should I just give it to her? Then John’s like, ya – she’s seen the Oreos in your pocket! 4 Oreos later and we’re a little lighter and she’s a lot happier! Amazingly, that evening our guides got us a bit of a Q&A session with a Spanish speaking Kogi man who gave us a real insight into life as a Kogi. He was one of the few chosen (essentially by their chief priest) to travel to Santa Marta to learn Spanish at a young age. This chap didn’t know his current age – he did think that the Kogis lived for about 80 lunar years though (about 78) – but I’d put him about 45.
‘Anchiga’ in Kogi means ‘hello’ – if you say this to the kids skipping past you them they always say it back – happy little feckers.
We also asked about the incident a few weeks ago where 11 WIWA people (another indigenous group descending from the Tayronas) were struck by lightening and killed during a ceremony – he told us they believe it was divine intervention.
Whilst we had originally decided to do the 5 day trek, we felt we may as well continue with a full days hiking and we trekked all the way back to Machete on day 4. It rained a good bit but everyone (5 out of 7 of us returned on day 4) was in great spirits – I think we were all excited about a shower and a meal which didn’t consist of rice…