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 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!