The Lost City Day 4 – Alojamiento Wiwa to El Mamay – 12km

We woke up to rain. It normally rains from midday till about 4 or 5 in the afternoon but last night we listened to the loud spatters on our bunk house roof all night. The group was incredibly sullen, which was fair. I out on my wet clothes from yesterday and asked for a third cup on hot chocolate. Please get us the hell out of here!! 
We waited till 7 to leave because of the rain. Which meant waiting around for an hour in wet clothes under shelter. I was in a bad impatient mood, which soon wore off when the rain stopped and we started hiking. 

The first hill was red clay and pretty slippery but not too much wet sloppy mud. I had convinced myself that I had bed bugs last night, which I immediately googled when I got back to town, however I think the itching was from an accumulation of dirt and some bites from midges. Over the last hill the scenery grew increasingly agricultural again. The mud formed large, unknown in depth puddles that Quiz and I tried to skirt around but got up to our knees. We washed our legs and shoes in every stream, hoping it might be the last puddle, but alas. 

We made it back to El Mamay round 11:30am. 12km later. We were all so happy to have showers and be bundled into a van heading for town. The tour, the the rain and in the inescapable crowds had begun to feel a little like a high school excursion gone wrong. I hope to reflect better on this trip, maybe some decompression time will hopefully do the trick. The Lost City was amazing in it frozen time transporting ways, however I think we are ready to have a break from outdoor elements for now. 


The Lost City Day 3 – Alojamiento El Paraiso to Alojamiento Wiwa + The Lost City (!), 13kms

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.

The Tayrona couldn’t write but they made a lot of maps

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. 

Pedro talking about grinding stones

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). 

The Lost City Day 2 – Alojamiento de Adan to Alojamiento El Paraiso – 14km

I didn’t sleep last night. The thick soft foam mattress dipped in the middle touching the hard boards below creating a bowl in which sweat is absorbed into the mattress. I think about all the other tourists sweating into their mattresses, combined with the feeling of never quite being dry made for a sleepless uncomfortable night. 

Views of our first camp

Breakfast was salty scrambled eggs, sweet white toast with pineapple and papaya. We all ate around a big picnic table and left camp by 6am. The mornings walk began through more agricultural land, mostly cattle farming. The path remained wide enough to be a jeep track however the mud got so bad in parts, we were scrambling up the side of banks, holding onto barbed wire fences to prevent slipping into puddles of what could be knee deep mud. At parts the path had been concreted in, however these were now raised islands, showing the height of the old road with chaotic slushy messes on either side. We passed many small streams and cute cascading waterfalls amongst lush jungle foliage and interesting parasitic plants. 

Parasitic plants

Waterfalls and jungle views

We ascended up and over a ridge eating watermelon on the way, provided by our guides. The trail was bustling with what seemed like at least 50 other tourists. Mostly Europeans, we counted many Germans, Dutch and Belgian. After our decent into a valley we stopped at an encampment called Alojamiento Wiwa for lunch. We were earlier than anticipated (there are many British fitness freaks in our group, including a vegan investment banker who is into ‘Tough Mudder’, lol great) so our guides took us to a waterfall for a swim. It was quiet amazing, falling about 20m down a cliff and crashing dramatically on a rock right next to a deep swimming. The spray and wind generated by the falls is astounding has created a hyper-humid micro-climate, even chilly in temperature. 

We swim for 20 minutes and head back to the camp for lunch, vegetable soup and rice. I look at my phone and realise it’s only 9:30am and I am starving. The PCT has conditioned me to eat little and often, cramming in as many calories as possible. The local food on this trip is large in portion size but incredibly low in calories, causing a bloated and stodgy feeling whilst walking. I think about the documentary/book called Guns Germs and Steel and how jungle environments make for difficult food cultivation in terms of high calorie and high protein ingredients. 

After lunch we walk up a spectacular river valley. In the middle of our group, Quiz and I manage to get a few kilometres of solitary walking in. We cross a bridge over the blue grey torrent and begin a steep long climb up a mountain ridge. The afternoon rain begins at 12:30pm today, earlier than yesterday. We get in a hiker traffic jam of individual dodging slippery mud and puffing their ways up the hill. No sleep and crowdedness make for gruelling times for me, and I am beginning to dislike my time out here. It never gets truely cold out here but the constant wet feeling is grinding my gears. Also on a side note quite a few of the ‘ultra-fit’ meaning skinny hikers make condescending comments of surprise at how fast Quiz and I are considering our builds. After the PCT I don’t have a competitive bone in my body for hiking and truely feel at ease with my capabilities and body and feel totally confused by these comments. 

Footbridge, max 3 ppl at a time

The last 3 kilometres are gentle and scenic, through mountain meadows covered in mist and light rain. As the valley narrows we cross a river than goes above my waist! Pedro our local guide gives me a helping hand and I am grateful for it. We get into Alojamiento El Paraiso by 3:30pm and hustle for a shower. I am a hermit nerd so I hung out in my mosquito net and read the Philip K Dick book Quiz bought me and passed out. Only 1km to Lost City! 

Inside the bunk house

Misty mountains

The Lost City Day 1 – Machete Pelao to Alojamiento de Adan, 7.4kms

Today was a baptism of mud! We were picked up from our hostel at 9am but getting out of Santa Marta took some time. We collected the other 6 people in our group slowly filling up the back of a 4WD. It was hot and muggy this morning but little did we know that it was nothing on what we were about to do.
After lots of faffing we finally set off 12 of us in one 4WD; two indigenous guides, a translator, a cook, our driver, and 8 tourists. Obviously this is a very very different operation to the PCT. You must travel with a guide, we will be walking max 15km in one day, it rains all afternoon and it’s hot and muggy and overcast most of the time, it’s just approaching monsoon season. But the crown of this hike is the lost city we will reach on day 3, thousands of years old ruins lost in the jungle (to colonialists/non indigenous folks) till the 1970s but more on that later.
After 1 hour driving on a nice sealed road we pulled off and drove for 45min along a very pot holed, steep drop off jungle track. My butt was numb from bumping around when we finally arrived in Machete Pelao a tiny town in the middle of the jungle, and had a very traditional Colombian lunch of meat (this time fried chicken), rice, salad and plantain fritta. 

After 1 we set off on the trek. While eating we saw heaps of people returning covered in mud. This is a popular crowded trail. After crossing a stream we started climbing and climbed for the next 5kms. This meant that views came quickly as the trail was steep and the higher we climbed we left the cleared farmland behind and the jungle started to grow denser. The trail was a jeep track that zig zagged up the side of the steep mountains, the only style of mountains in this area. The clouds we’re hanging low and we were climbing to meet them. It was so hot and muggy that after only half an hour sweat was dripping from us and our tee shirts were stuck to us.

We stopped to eat some excellent watermelon after 1.5hours of climbing and the thunder started. It was so loud and the clouds were so close! Then came the lightening which felt next door and filled my head with sound and light. It was exciting being so close to a storm. But as usual the show precedes the downpour that happens every day between 3-4pm. I put on my raincoat and thankfully all my clothes are in dry sacks but the rain was so hard and the air so muggy that only the clothes in my bag remained dry.

Climbing in the rain was fine. After only a few minutes the track had become a stream of mud. When we hit the steep downhill I got out my walking pole and slipped and slid my way down the final 2.5kms. Once I realised it was impossible to stay clean and dry it was fun getting stuck in thick mud, slipping and nearly but not quite falling on my butt. Turkey D fell but saved her butt instead deciding to sacrifice her legs to the thick mustard mud. It was pretty incredible how the trail transformed. 
At the bottom of the hill, out of the rain haze a beautiful flower garden emerged full of huge tropical flowers in orange white and red. Basic open shelters full of bunks under fly nets greeted us. Unfortunately we put our phones away in dry bags and immediately got out of our muddy clothes when we got to camp so we have no photos of our mud caked shoes and calves, sorry! We tried to shower but they didn’t work but we were so wet I really didn’t feel I needed to. I washed my shoes by literally dunking them in a bucked and hung up all my clothes to dry knowing my chances were pretty slim. Our excellent cook made us a traditional Colombian meal with fish and we could buy beer from a small canteen. Perfecto! 

After dinner one of our many guides explained many customs from his local indigenous group the Wiwa. Everyone walks barefoot to connect with the earth, wear white which symbolise purity, sleep in round huts to commemorate the sun, never cut your hair as it will cause the river to stop flowing. We have seen many Wiwa already and as they are the local group will see many more tomorrow. He also explained Poporo to us as pictured with Turkey D. They are gourds boys are given when they become men. Men sit around chewing cocoa leaves, which they mix with sea shells they grind in the gourd producing a glue which they rub on the white top part of the gourd into shapes of their own design. I think there must be more to this ritual than that but it is a good excuse to chew cocoa leaves!

Some Reflections from Quiz

Arrrrg! Returning to the city is hard, really hard. I have read about the difficult post trail adjustments but you can’t really prepare yourself when you have no idea how it’s gonna feel. Well it feels lonely, crowded and purposeless. 
It’s been nearly 2 weeks since I finished and I have been meaning to write about the experience but I have been pretty unmotivated. The shock of finishing something I have been dreaming of for over 4 years was bittersweet. I still can’t really fathom how far I walked and i am really glad we kept the blog to remind me of all the small details I have forgotten. I really needed a break mentally and physically by the end, but as soon as I spent a few days in Seattle there was nothing that I wanted more than to hop back on trial and head south. I miss the simplicity of trail life, the community and my family (Turkey D and Mushy) and sincerity of hikers, sleeping under the stars and the exercise and endorphins (I regularly perve on my leg muscles, very proud of them, but they are deflating).

The end – happysad

I tried to help myself out by going to the Olympic Peninsula and hitching/busing around the beautiful beaches and rainforest. I camped on La Push beach and went for dayhikes in the Hoh Rainforest and still did not feel satisfied. It was an exciting adventure but hiking without an end destination and getting close to the towering Olympic Mountains but never going into them bugged me and I spent most of my time them yearning to go deeper into the forest. 

2nd Beach La Push

Hoh Rainforest

I’m now in Portland and have been catching up with many PCT friends, it’s been lovely and many of them feel similarly to me. It’s getting easier, I’m starting to get this tourist business and not awkwardly make small everyday mistakes in how to order coffee or make small talk, but I’m still missing how powerful I felt while hiking. There are some nice residual trail traits that I am enjoying, like going with the flow and trusting that whatever you are doing will work out, self-confidence enabling hitching and yogi-ing rides from strangers, being able to walk all around town without breaking a sweat. One thing i am going crazy for is music, i really missed music on trial and now I find I am less picky and am very happy to listen to anything that is catchy and has good hook or beat. I’m sure my old pickiness will return but for now I’m bopping my head at every available opportunity.

Cheers civilisation

Day 155 – Hopkins Lake to Canada! 10km

The day we’ve been walkin for. Well not really but an important one in the saga. We hit the road at 6:30am and begin descending into the final valley. We are slack packing because we left our tent at Hopkins lake. After visiting the monument we have to hike 30 miles back to Harts Pass to get a ride into the big smoke. 
Walking this morning was not comfortable. I began to notice yesterday that we were pushing ourselves to the very end like some strange personal pilgrimage. It was tainting my appreciation of the landscape, not being able to stop and take it in. Also it was excruciating to be this close but still be walking, then all of a sudden it is a if the forest ejected you into a strange linear meadow, there is the monument. 

There is a cleared stripe of trees to denote the border along the 49th parallel. I just stared at it for a while, grinning from ear to ear, it was 8:30am. Then all of a sudden Quiz emerges from the forest and starts to tear up. We have a big hug and proceed to make whisky coffee and get photos with the monument. No Show arrives and shows us where the log book is. The 78th marker is the second statue but in by the US Government along the border, when you remove the top there is the ultimate pct log book. I write Turkey D’s first official Female Wresting advertisement! 

No Show hits the road back to Harts Pass and we have some alone time at the border. All emotions on the spectrum are felt; disbelief, euphoria, sorrow, hysteria and this feeling of epic time, in terms of how much older and wiser we all feel. It also feels as though a huge weight has been lifted, we walked from Mexico to Canada and we were so dedicated to that for so long, now our tasks were small in comparison. For a second I felt invincible, even though we are far from it. It’s amazing what you can build on day by day and how that can accumulate into something ginormous. 

While our path has not been continuous or in any way linear, we have had a completely different experience of the pct than compared to other years. Personal goals have been abandoned and questioned when things have never been easy or predictable. To keep hiking with the knowledge that nothing is technically ‘finished’ and making your own journey out of that was a huge challenge and humbled us to the natural environment which was at times totally inhospitable. Still finishing feels like an acceptance of our limitations and a celebration of the skills we have gained. Be kind/gentle to yourself, love your body and bask in these feelings while you can I say. 

Day 154 – Harts Pass to Hopkins Lake, 39kms

This is my last day writing the blog, Quiz is signing off. Today was hard emotionally and physically. I though that 2200 miles would have prepared me for a day like today (not my longest or hardest) but I feel like I’m pushing to the end now while my body and mind are waiting to finish. I’m sure I will write something after we have finished the trail and have reflected on the whole mammoth trip.

This morning was beautiful! We hiked along a ridge for miles going though beautiful high passes and meadows, looking at the jagged northern Cascades all around us. The mountains here are truely amazing and I kept saying to Turkey D that she should apply for jobs in Seattle so she can come here more often. We also saw 3 seperate plumes of smoke from the fires threatening the trail and the monument, one only 10 miles away. Luckily the wind is still blowing in the other direction.

So many spikes

Mountains for miles

After being spoilt for the first 8 miles of grandiose easy terrain the trail plunged into the trees and we descended to a wooded saddle before starting our climb. We stopped for lunch by a little stream and talked with Io and the UN Crew (formally the Kidney Stone Crew) and washed our some clothes so we look nice in our monument photos (jokes). We had done 14 miles and only had 10 left but we knew they involved a lot of climbing. 
We didn’t stop for long and soon hit the slopes climbing out of the wood and into high rolling meadows and huge exposed rock faces. I’ll let the photos do most of the talking but it was pretty excellent walking. We passed a few hikers coming the other way many of whom seemed quite emotional. I was semi keeping my feelings in check and TD told me she had a lil cry with Box a hiker she passed on the trail and had never before met. It’s just a nice community like that.

There are fires only a few miles away threatening to shut the trail

Looking towards Rocky Pass

We also got to see Teflon again on our final climb! She was so excited for us and openly admitted to balling her eyes out in this very spot the day before. At the top of our final climb we were sure we were looking at Canada! But by this stage I was too tired to feel emotions I just wanted to get to camp. The trail started to descend steeply down a rocky well eroded slope which scared me in my fatigue and finally made me start crying. I realised I am just tired of pushing myself everyday, 12 hours of walking, confronting my fear of heights, sore feet sore legs, back rub, butt chafe, I’m over it. I know I’m bitching and most of the time I love it, it’s just so hard mentally to struggle on your second last day out here.

TD at Woody Pass

We finally made it to camp (wahoo). Eagle eye TD spotted an owl which was cool. After a stretch and a quick wash in the lake I felt better and we joined UN crew and Io got dinner. We all had really nice reminiscent chats about our favourite moments on trail and the UN Crew gave us a party hat each to go with our whiskey at the monument. What a crazy time, I can’t quite believe that tomorrow we finish, touching that monument is something I have dreamt of doing for so many years and tomorrow it will happen!

Looking down toward Hopkins Lake