Over the next days, we found a pace that suited us and did not rush to keep up with the fastest in the pack. Though we were a group, there were certainly some much fitter than others and the reality was, the trek was easy to follow and there was no chance of not meeting back up in the afternoon. Besides, the days were pretty short and we had the whole afternoon to recover from the day's expenditures, generally swimming in cold jungle ponds. It became much more enjoyable, knowing we could do it at our own pace and once at the top camp before the ruins, I came down with my first bug of the entire Colombian trip and wound up sleeping through the only rainy day of the trek. It was as if my body could finally relax, knowing the strains I was putting on it were finally over.
The next morning on our way to visit the ruins is when my wife slipped. Once she recovered from the initial shock, she was her normal trouper self, never complaining. Later, when descending the long set of stone steps to the river from the ruins, one of our comrades took a major tumble and was lucky not to seriously hurt himself. At the river, Doreen gave up the compression bandage the guide had given her earlier that morning. He needed it more and on seeing his wounds, she only passingly ever mentioned hers again. She would wear her badge proudly on the beaches of Tayrona National Park, not marring her bikini figure in any way. Two treks planned, two treks down. The rest of Colombia had to be a breeze but we never said such a thing again. Eating your thoughts is always easier than your words, with no one to notice if you bit off more than you thought you could easily chew.
Fondest memory: So, we set out dressed in the same “desert whites” we had done El Cocuy in. On that trek, we wore long sleeved shirts and pants to protect ourselves from the high altitude sun. We had worn the same clothes when we spent a few months in the deserts of the United States Southwest earlier that year too. This time around, we were wearing them as much for mosquito protection as anything but that point turned out to be moot in this dry time of year. Mosquitoes were not a factor and as we found out, the uniform of choice of our group mates, shorts and a tank tops, were more appropriate for the temperatures we were hiking in. In the first hour, we were both drenched in sweat and thankfully, my wife at least could hike in her sport bra once bites were ruled out. We had expected the heat but had somehow forgotten to factor in the humidity despite our being from muggy South Florida. It was zapping us and oddly enough it seemed more than anyone else in the group who mostly hailed from Europe. To be fair, many of them had been living in or traveling around the more tropical areas of South America for many months. They were also a young group and while not dramatically so compared to my wife, many a decade so than me. The hills seemed to be at 90 degree inclines and though my pack was small, it felt awfully heavy. I had offered to carry everything for my wife as well as myself, figuring it would still be very light compared to the El Cocuy monstrosity I had to lug around. I also wanted my wife to have an easy time as she had done so well on the big trek, and this one was not high on her list of things to do. Still, it wasn't the pack. I had to face the fact I was getting older and maybe could no longer keep up with people half my age. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Fondest memory: It's always interesting when you meet up with a group you're about to spend the next week with, especially when you'll be sleeping in close quarters, in hammocks no less. Backpackers love to *** and much of what is said is generally about what everyone has done so far. Since I'm generally about 20-30 years older than everyone I tend to keep my stories confined to the last decade. I've obviously done a lot but I've had a lot more time to do it in so no need to talk about things that happened before most people were born. El Cocuy had been very important to me. It was my real reason for wanting to come to Colombia in the first place and while most people we met had never even heard of it, most were intrigued when I began my passionate description of its many attributes. There were a couple of Austrian climbers in the group and they were particularly interested so my fire was fueled and I went on not so much in a boastful way as an ode to an area I had been blown away by. But the facts of the trek hung there like banner and of course many couldn't help but say that we wouldn't have any problems with this trek after that monumental one. Though we might not have been as entirely convinced, it did seem logical enough even to us that we should have a fairly easy time. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
While the ruins of La Ciudad Perdida were very interesting and the trek to them was stunning, perhaps the favorite part of the entire experience were the various swimming holes we swam in. Not only did they provide a great way to cool down and clean up, but they were also very scenic and were some of the nicest photography opportunities as well.
Fondest memory: And this was supposed to be easy is all I could think when looking down at the massive swelling black and blue contusion on my now calm wife's leg. Just an hour earlier when slippery rocks made her fall, she had been nearly in tears but much like a child who is unsure how to react, it was as much from embarrassment as it was from the actual pain inflicted. No, the pain would come later and her “badge” of La Ciudad Perdida would take even longer to totally fade physically. Fading from memory is still a process it is under.
And this was supposed to be easy. Well, relatively so. As a matter of fact, this was really a bit of an afterthought trek for us. A month earlier we had completed a longer and much more arduous trek in El Cocuy National Park, one that had us above the 4000 meter plateau for over seven days. That one was supposed to be and was very hard. It was actually even harder than we had ever imagined, finding us most days hiking the entire day to reach our camp each night. We had done it alone with no guide or even comrades, having to carry all our gear and food the whole way. So, we could be excused for assuming the Ciudad trek would be comparatively easy. It was after all a guided trek. We would only have to carry our personal gear. All of the sleeping gear and food would be transported by our very able guides and porters. The trek would take place at altitudes between 1000 and 2000 meters, and its total length of 30 kilometers was less than half as long as El Cocuy circuit. Oh, and we couldn't get lost. We had a guide whereas we were never quite sure we'd make it around El Cocuy until second to the last day. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
To visit Ciudad Perdida you must go on an organised tour; it is very dangerous to attempt the trek on your own, as both paramilitaries and guerrilla rebels are active in the area. Turcol is a company in Santa Marta that was set up by the paramilitaries who control the region, and it is the only company that is allowed to organise treks to Ciudad Perdida. Treks usually leave every day or every other day, and they last for six days, or five if you're in a hurry, but in that case you will have to do alot of walking on the fifth day.
There are several guides who work for Turcol; Edwin Rey is one who is highly recommended. We were initially assigned to a guide named Omar, but the owners of our hotel told us he had been suspected of stealing from previous trekkers. We also caught him in a couple of lies before we set out, and so we insisted that we wanted to go with Edwin instead. Because of our demands, Edwin and Omar agreed to combine their two groups, so we all went together and Edwin essentially did all of the guiding while Omar just tagged along. Edwin is a great guide, and we had some wonderful porters/cooks as well. The cost of the tour was 400,000 pesos each, which is about US$150. The same price applies whether you do the trek in five or six days.
Turcol is on the main street in Santa Marta facing the ocean, address Carrera 1C No 20-15 Santa Marta.
Favorite thing: The trek is a good workout. Although much of the trail is in bush or under shelter, make sure you take plenty of good suncream and a hat. Insect repellant is useful up at the ruins as the little buggers can be ferocious at night before you take refuge in your mosquito net.
Fortunately La Ciudad Perdida doesn't get too many visitors per year and this has meant that the local indiginous tribes have been unaffected by outside influences. Please respect their privacy and culture. They do not expect anything from us but are always grateful for extra food.
I found them to be friendly and accomodating in front of the camera. But always ask first!
From Santa Marta you will be picked up from your hotel and transported by 4 wheel drive up into the Sierra Nevadas. After the hour and half trip you will be given something to eat and then it's 'shanks's pony' from there on. The trek is up and down, hot and dry and five or six days. You will need a good water bottle but fortunately there are a couple of water stations and swimming holes along the way.
There are several interesting sites along the way including indiginous huts and coca plantations!
Favorite thing: You will need to be in reasonable shape as there are a few hills to negotiate on the trail. This is the last uphill before reaching the ruins. It is an ancient stairway through the jungle which rises from the river below to finish at the ruins after about 45 mins steady climbing.
Fondest memory: My fondest memory was meeting all the kewl people on the trek. You spend 6 days with these people so make sure you have a good time and enjoy the company. I lucked out and met four kewl travellers on the trek. We laughed, shared stories, played cards, and all in all had a great time doing one of the best treks in South America.