On Day 3 we got up early and then ended up waiting around for a couple hours before actually leaving. This had become routine, and was starting to bother some of the people on our tour who were used to gringo time, but I liked the extra time to wake up and let my coffee kick in before setting out. We didn’t have to hike far before we reached the first of the 1,200 steps that you climb to reach the Lost City. The steps weren’t too bad, and when we got to the top, we found a cleared field with a large circular foundation in the middle. Melkis explained that many of these round terraces were once family homes, while others served as storage areas or ceremonial centers.
The whole Lost City was too big to see everything, but we walked through parts, and then headed to the main ceremonial center, which is the place you see if you google image La Ciudad Perdida. It’s like a mini Machu Picchu, but without the millions of tourists swarming it. Atop the hill, looking over the ceremonial center, were some soldiers, kindly doing their part to prevent guerrillas from kidnapping tourists, which was a thing back in 2003. There was a lodge on the hill where they were able to make phone calls, work out, and even use the internet.
After leaving the ceremonial center, Melkis took us to an area where there were shelters built that looked like what those in the Lost City would have looked like back in the day. It was here that the tribal leaders still met to have conferences. We then walked back to the beginning and back down the steps. We stopped in El Paraiso for lunch and then walked back to the place we had had lunch on Day 2. Melkis had reserved us some beds this time, so even though we arrived late, we still got a little bit of comfort and a lot more sleep than we had been getting.
On our final morning, I powered through with one goal in mind. A hostel with a shower and mattress. The height of luxury. We were also all looking forward to the pancakes that Melkis had promised us on Day 4. About that….
The previous night, Melkis, in broken English (Bianca and I ended up translating most of the tour information for the others, because Melkis’s English was pretty basic) had told us that the next day, when we reached the camp where we had spent the first night, we would have “poncays.” That was greeted with unbridled excitement from everyone on the tour, and the pancakes were the topic of much conversation as we were walking up steep, muddy hills the next morning. Every time someone would mention the pancakes to Melkis, he would smile, say “yes, poncay!” and give a thumbs up. When we got to the camp, we couldn’t wait for this whole pancake business to get started. Meanwhile they served us fresh juice and “Little Debbie”-esque individually wrapped cakes. We thought it was odd that no one was starting to make the pancakes. And then it hit me, and I had to be the bearer of bad news. “Hey guys….so in Colombia there’s this thing called ponque….like the Spanish version of the word poundcake. I think that’s what Melkis was talking about…”
On the previous day, Bianca had hurt her leg while playing soccer with some local kids during one of our breaks, so after the ponque break, she rented a mule to take her back the rest of the way. The rest of us had all split the price of a mule to carry our backpacks back, so it felt amazing not to have that weighing me down all day (though, Bianca and I both packed our stuff into one bag, so we had been switching back and forth the whole time and getting breaks from carrying it). The last few hours was pretty nice. Mostly downhill with beautiful weather. I could even see the ocean in the distance from one of the higher paths.
Finally we all straggled in to the restaurant where we had set off on Day 1. The Irish got there first. They plowed through the last leg of the trek. Next was me and the Brits. Then the rest came in not far behind. The mules took a while to arrive, so we got a little nervous thinking we may never see Bianca or our backpacks again. After a filling lunch and a few cold beers, we headed back to Santa Marta, where we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
All in all, I would highly recommend this trip if you have the chance!