La Ciudad Perdida: Setting Out

The Ciudad Perdida, or Lost City, refers to the ruins of an ancient city called Teyuna, which was inhabited by the Tayrona around 800 AD. The ruins were “discovered” in the 1970s, although they’ve probably been known to the descendents of the Tayrona (Kogi, Wiwa, Cancuamo and Arhuacos) this whole time. After archaeologists excavated and restored the site, it was opened to tourism. The only way to get to the site is to hike through the jungle, and you are only allowed to do this with a handful of tour companies, not by yourself.

On the morning of January 2nd, Bianca and I headed to the Magic Tours office to set out on our adventure. We got lost. Luckily they were running on Colombian time, so it wasn’t a big deal, and we even had some extra time once we got there to run to Exito and grab some last minute necessities for the trip. Then we met our guide and the other people who would be joining us on the tour, and proceeded to be crammed into the back of a hot truck with them for a very bumpy ride to the starting point of the Ciudad Perdida trek.

The starting point was a little restaurant in a village called Machete. As we waited for our food to come, we glanced over at the other table, which was filled with a group who was eating their final meal together after just having finished the trek. We watched them as they reapplied bandaids to their blistered feet and laid their sunburnt heads on their sunburnt arms and fell asleep next to the several empty beer bottles that had accumulated on the table. We were the fresh, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and they were dirty, smelly, and exhausted. This would be us in 4 days’ time.

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Melkis and the map

After a lunch of sandwiches and Coca-Cola (we didn’t get beer), we headed out. Our guide Melkis (it took us all about 3.5 of the 4 days to learn his name) stopped at a map painted on the wall of a nearby house that depicted the path to the Ciudad Perdida. He pointed out  roughly how much walking we would be doing each day and the different villages where we would be spending the night.

The first day’s hike was rough. It was only a 4 hour day, but it seemed to be a never-ending uphill climb. I didn’t know how I was going to do 7 hours of that on Day 2 without keeling over. Then I looked over at another woman from a different tour group who was carrying her 4 year old daughter on a special backpack along with all of her stuff, and climbing all these hills like it was no big thing. The only reason I would ever do that is so that I could hold it over my child’s head for the rest of their life, like Not only did I birth you, but I carried you on my back through the jungle for 4 days, and all you got me for Mother’s Day was a carnation?? 


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After only an hour or so, someone on our tour started to feel sick due to a bad reaction to a vaccine he’d gotten, so Melkis had to leave us with another guide and take the guy back to Santa Marta. We got to our first camp after dark. The first order of business was to take a refreshing dip in the river. Then we bought some beers, and sat at the picnic tables while our wonderful cooks prepared us supper. We met some other hikers who were on their way back after having seen the Lost City. They reassured us that even though the first day is a short one, it’s the hardest day because of all the hills. We listened to their tour guide telling some ghost stories about the region, and then we settled into our hammocks for the night. DSC_1067

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That night, I realized how hammocks are really great for naps, but sleeping in one for an entire night makes every joint in my body ache.

Melkis woke us up before sunrise the next morning and we got started on Day 2. We walked a few hours in the morning, then stopped at one of the camps for lunch and a swim in the river. Up to that point I had been super careful hiking through the jungle with my DSLR, holding it like it was my baby and making sure to clean off any jungle debris that found it’s way onto it. Then, at the camp, I was standing on the sidewalk. Just standing there. And I decided to step down off the sidewalk. A small step, maybe 6 inches of elevation change. This was no crazy acrobatic feat, just a simple step from a point to a slightly lower point. But somehow I managed to fuck it up. I slipped on some moss and fell right on my ass. And my camera, my baby, which was strapped around my neck, went down with me. The lens hit the cement. It didn’t shatter, but it got jammed sideways and was unable to focus. Meaning I could take pictures, but they were all super blurry. Which was a huge bummer later, when we had our Bigfoot encounter.

Next, it was onward to the main camp, El Paraiso. This was the closest camp to the Lost City, and the biggest camp, due to the fact that everyone stopped there, regardless of what tour company they were with or whether they were doing the 4-, 5-. or 6-day tour. The camp was bustling with people.

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Electricity is in short supply in the middle of the jungle, so after dark, we sat at our picnic table by candlelight while our cooks prepared our dinner with headlamps and propane camp stoves. Not to mention the fact that the trail had become impassable to mules about an hour down the path, so they had carried our food supplies in themselves. I believe props are in order. Melkis briefed us about the next day, saying we should get a super early start to beat the other groups to the ruins and have a more peaceful visit.

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The camps may not always have electricity, but they always have beer!

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Just like summer camp.

Because the Christmas/New Year holidays are extremely busy, and because we got there later than a lot of other groups, we again missed out on the bunk beds, and instead got some hammocks. This turned out to be even worse than the first night’s sleep. There were so many people that they had to hang the hammock’s extremely close. I was literally shoulder to shoulder with another girl on my tour and every time one of us moved, we bumped the other one. On top of that, it got really, really cold. And you don’t realize the amount of insulation from cold air that a mattress can provide until the only thing between you and a cold breeze is a thin layer of canvas. The next morning at breakfast, the only people who were bright and chipper were the Canadian-German couple who had been genius enough to bring sleeping bags.

Day 3 – the ruins. The epic continues in my next post.

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