“The Lost City”
June 23-26, 2019 La Ciudád Perdida, Colombia
After a few days of recuperation in Medellín from my whirlwind tour of Santiago, Valparaiso, Viña del Mar & the Atacama Desert (Chile), Uyuni Salt Flats & Death Road (Bolivia) and Arequipa & Colca Canyon (Peru), I was to tackle the Lost City hike all over again – I had done this trek two years ago. When it comes to pain and suffering I have a very short term memory. I cannot explain it. Perhaps I am programmed to remember just the good parts? Perhaps I enjoy the challenge? Who knows 🙂
My friend Bastien would join me for this four day endeavor through the jungles of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. We happened to be in Colombia at the same time and the dates just worked perfectly. This trek was not on his radar, but as soon as I mentioned I had done it before, he was sold. As for me, I am a sucker for such things 🙂
The morning of the 23rd, we were picked up from my hotel Casa de Leda in Santa Marta and taken to the Expotur office. I had used this outfit in 2017 and they had proved to be excellent. It’s not possible to hike to the Lost City without a guide. There are many reasons for this and I would cite safety and protection from the exposed nature of the trek as the number one reason. There could be torrential rain, river crossings, extreme heat and lots of biting critters to avoid. This trek is not for the faint of heart.
After a two hour drive from Santa Marta we were at El Mamey where we would start our hike. Lunch at El Mamey was fantastic – I had the fried chicken. I needed sustenance on this trek. I would be burning a lot of calories – no need to feel guilty about eating fried stuff! We had a pretty strong group of hikers on this trip and we made very good time into Campamiento Adan (Camp 1). Two years ago when I did this stretch, it was a nightmare. It had just rained heavily and the mud was just insane. I would take two steps forward and one step back. This time it was a breeze and made for some very pleasant hiking. Hills are hills though and I sweated profusely and my legs were begging “Why?”.
The terrain quickly changed from sandy yellow to reddish clay. So beautiful, but so treacherous when wet.
At Camp 1 there is a natural pool that is only accessible by jumping into. I was so looking forward to this and it was just as refreshing as last time! I climbed up the ladder and took a second leap!
After our swim we lounged around a bit and then had a nice dinner of fried fish with rice. The pineapple juice was refreshing and we had a chocolate bar for desert.
After dinner our guide Gabriel Jose would give us a thorough lecture about the history of the region and the role that coca leaf cultivation played. He went over the process of drying out the leaves by placing them in a bag sewn from other plants along with a hot rock. One moves the bag around a bit and repeats the process until the moisture is gone and then the leaves can maintain their crisp form for much longer. Coca leaves have many legal uses – for fiber, for prevention against illness (such as altitude sickness, stomach issues), etc… But nowadays tourism has taken over as the main industry in the region. La Ciudád Perdida was discovered in 1972 and the first tours started 1982.
After dinner I stretched a little and Hannah, who happens to be a yoga teacher from San Francisco followed suite and before we knew it we had a following wanting some yoga! Hannah and I took turns doing some basic yoga/stretch poses to release the low back, stretch out those hamstrings and relax the mind and the body. I was very tired earlier, but the yoga actually energized me and I stayed up for some journaling and went to bed at about 8:00 pm.
Day 2 of the trek would entail getting to Camp 2 (Campamento Mumake) and having lunch there and then moving on to Camp 3 (Campamento Paraíso) for the night. Camp 2 would be where we would stay the next day (our last night), after having visited La Ciudád Perdida. Because we had such a long day ahead, we got up at 5:00 am in time for breakfast at 5:30 am and a 6:00 am start.
I had a great day of hiking this second day. It was quite overcast and it kept things cool, unlike the previous day.
We even had a river crossing. It was fun but drama-free (knee deep water). I was so glad that I had brought my closed-toe Tevas. The extra weight was a burden but it made moments like this so much more tolerable, and actually fun.
We made great time reaching Camp 2 by 10:30am. The river was right by the camp so we had another fun swim in the river. We had an early lunch of chicken with rice around 11:00 am. At about noon we started for Camp 3 and arrived at about 3:00 pm. There were a few indigenous Kogi in the area. They are noticeable by their very white garb and are usually very shy. The word Kogi means jaguar in the Kogi language. The Kogi are decedents of the Tairona who were a pre-Colombian people who flourished here in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta way before the Spanish conquistadors arrived.
Kogi prefer to wear white and most travel barefoot
We had coffee and popcorn at Camp 3. It was nice to chat with everyone and get to know each other. Dinner was beef with rice. We played some more cards after dinner. This was becoming a “thing”. 🙂
Day 3 was another early riser. We started our walk towards La Ciudád Perdida at about 6:15 am after breakfast. We crossed the river (again, incident free) with the help of a guideline, mainly to help us stay stable as we navigated boulders and rocks.
Soon began the ascent of 1200 steps cut into the mountain side. The pre-Inca Tairona had really small feet 🙂 I had a hard time getting my feet on the steps and had to step sideways! But it was so peaceful climbing up. I was walking at a leisurely pace and I was really enjoying the serenity of the forest. The ruins here are mainly comprised of circular terraces and it’s a great sight to see these terraces cut into the hillside. Walking around and on the terraces gives you a sense of being somewhere significant – the space all around, with the back drop of the jungle feels profound.
We were the first ones to the Lost City this morning and having the place to ourselves was priceless. It was getting warmer and warmer but it was quite nice under the canopy. The main terraces however were quite exposed. But the heat did not bother me. Somehow, I felt very much at home here – nothing seemed to bother me. I felt as if I was in a meditative state. There is a positive energy that the place exudes. As with two years ago, I would give my group a yoga session. The main terrace seemed made for it. Almost everyone partook even the guide and the translator. Teaching a yoga class in the Lost City is a privilege for me and I felt lucky to be able to do it twice!
I wonder if I will go back to the Lost City and to be honest I think I will. It is one of those places where I feel a special energy. It may be because of the history of the place, it could be that the Pre-Inca Tairona had selected this site for the same reasons or it could just plain be that the sights, sounds and setting of the place inspire me. Whatever the reason, I regard the Lost City as one of the most special places I’ve ever visited.
You will often hear that the hike is the main draw and that once you get to the ruins, they are ok, but not as grand as Machu Pichu. To me the hike is of course amazing, but the ruins have their own form and are beautiful in their own way. The hike is definitely more rugged than the Inca Trail and the being in the Colombian Forest/Jungle is an experience all in itself. But to me there is something ethereal about the terraces and they are not to be compared to Machu Pichu. They are just different, plus 650 years older!
We hiked back to Camp 3 for lunch and to gather our packs and then we started for Camp 2 where we would spend the night. On the way, were caught in a downpour and the trails had turned to clay. It was mainly downhill during the downpour so Bastien and I started skipping down really fast. We were slipping and sliding! It was a truly thrilling experience! Our packs were covered with waterproof covers and we had rain jackets so we were comfortable. But that is not say we did not get wet! In these downpours it’s hard to stay dry, no matter what equipment you have.
Getting ready to brave the rain and the ensuing mud/clay
Bastien and I were going down really fast and we had some slips, but the landings were soft! We were the first to Camp 2 and we took showers and hung our wet cloths on clotheslines. After the others came into camp, we had some coffee and hot chocolate. Dinner was chicken with lots of large potatoes. We had the usual “Gol” chocolate bar for desert. And we played some more cards afterwards.
Day 4 of the trek would be the hike out from Camp 2 all the way to El Mamey. It was another early morning. We stopped at Camp 1 just for a snack and then onward, with the idea of being able to have lunch at the end of the trek at El Mamey.
It was a long hike back and it was getting hot! But I kept moving. My right knee had been bothering me a bit and now I could feel it with every step. However I was able to keep going even though I was a little slower than the rest. Bastien waited for me like a true brother for the last stretch into El Mamey. It was a great feeling to have successfully hiked to the Ciudád Perdida, to have taught yoga there once again and to have appreciated the energy and serenity that this ancient ruins provide.