Today was the day, we finally made it to Ciudad Perdida aka The Lost City! This has been a hard hike but what we saw today was totally worth it. We got up at 4.50 but moving in groups is so slow and I (Quiz) was ready aeons before the rest of our group. I also woke up with the runs which means the others in our group have no excuse. I won’t mention it again save that the jungle is full of very useful large leaf plants, thanks jungle. We finally got going after breakfast and hiked upstream along the river our camp was on. It was morning so the water was clear and raging but not crazy and silty as it was the afternoon before. After about 15 mins and a bit of rock scrambling along the banks we cut straight across the river, again unlike yesterday afternoon the water was only up to our mid thigh but still quite strong. Pedro one of the guides who is lovely and if I could choose my Colombia dad, stood in the middle of the river for at least 10 min helping everyone across.
On the other bank the notorious 1000 steps/400m elevation gain in 0.5kms started. It was these steps that bounty hunters discovered in the 1970s which led to the ‘discovery’ of the Lost City by the west/colonisers. The steps are old steep and made of piled rocks, some huge and some so narrow and small that your shoe cannot fit on the step. They each had a thick layer of green moss or slime and were quite slippery. Our group was behind another group and progress up the steps was slow, but one thing I have noticed about today is that that jungle is really thick and untamed on the steep mountain slopes, so much to look at. The flowers are bright and sometimes flash out at you from the green foliage or sometimes slowly change from green to bright orange and you have to look carefully to see them.
We made it to the top of the steps everyone covered in sweat by 7am. Pedro translated by Sergio stopped and gave us the first of many history lessons about the site. I can’t remember or type it all but I will put in some of the best bits. Site 1, lowest on the steep mountain slopes was mainly houses, built on elevated circles to honour the sun. Under each circle is where the dead of each family house were buried, along with all of their belongings. The Tayrona (indigenous people of the Lost City) were expert goldsmiths and elaborate gold jewellery was buried with them which is what the bounty hunters were seeking.
Another long flight of stairs led to the second tier of the city which was where the Sharman lived and included an alter and a huge raised rectangular platform where ceremonies were performed as well as the towns general meeting place. At its largest the Lost City had a population of 3000 and was one of the largest and most advanced permanent settlements in Colombia. The Spanish arrival brought with it a hord of diseases which killed many inhabitants and drove the rest out as they believed the city was cursed. When the city was first ‘discovered’ it was part of the thick jungle and not visible by air. Since the late 80s the government has slowly been restoring the site for tourists. I felt a bit compromised when I found out that the city is closed every September as the Shamen and leaders of the local indigenous groups and direct descendants of the Tayrona preform ceremonies to clear the site of negativity from the hords of tourists who come here.
The third site is slightly lower and to the west of the first two sites and was tiered for farming crops like cocoa leaves, corn, yams and tobacco. Indigenous people still live on this site and farm it today. After spending 3 hours walking around this mysterious place, looking at the cloud hanging in the surrounding valleys, spotting the subtle changes in the jungle which is less tame here further from farm land and counting the number of waterfalls we could see at one time (four), we started our descent.
After 2 intense days and so much time with strangers I was happy to walk alone for the afternoon. We had lunch back at camp and then set off asap but only just made it back across the river before the rain started. Today I overheard enough conversations to make me lose respect for about half our group, even the friendly ones – male talk of how weak their gfs were (this has been a hard hike), surprise over PC and my speed at hiking because we are fat (and proud), and derogatory talk about picking up women and what to say to get them to bang you – you get the picture. My tolerance of this has decreased since doing the PCT and I actually said something to one guy in the bus on the way home to shut him up. But this also made me miss my PCT pals who were caring sorts and very open minded and a fucking pleasure to hike with!
Turkey D/Harriet and I did manage to walk mostly on our own for the rest of the afternoon. We saw some cool bugs, a bright yellow bird, and a gang of parrots screeching through the forest. The jungle minus people was lovely and wet and now that we are used to being wet it’s not such a big deal. The path this afternoon was also not particularly muddy which made things easier too. Just before camp we had to cross a river swollen with monsoon rains. Yesterday it was knee deep but today it was well up to our waists. Our Colombia dad Pedro was once again in the middle of the river, unphased and surefooted in the torrent, tying up a rope to help our crossing. In typical Pedro fashion he was grinning ear to ear and saying Bueno the whole time while everyone tentatively crossed. On the other side was shelter, showers, and dry clothes (thank you dry bags, far more useful on this trip than the PCT).