The Lost City Trek: 26th to 29th August 2014
I actually wanted to do the trek the following week but when I enquired at the MagicTours office I was told that the indigenous tribes close off the area for 2 weeks for their yearly something or other…lucky I asked! Once again, no one at the hostel had bothered to mention this closure even when I said I was thinking about doing the trek next week.
I tried to be more prepared than normal and started packing for the hike the night before. I’m glad I did because I realised that I had left my only bikini hanging on a tree to dry at the hostel before last. Thankfully, it was only the next town across and they had it in lost property. So in the morning, rather than get picked up by the tour group at my current hostel, I had to taxi to the previous hostel then taxi back to the tour office. We were meant to all meet at the office at 9am but I found myself hanging out there until about 10 because everything moves so slowly here. When we eventually were herded to the bus, I had to run back to get the water bottle I’d somehow forgotten. Not sure how I keep forgetting things.
To get to the start of the trek we had a one hour bus ride along the main road then another hour on a dirt road before stopping for lunch. Lunch was a make-your-own salad roll. I skipped on the ham though – didn’t want to start with stomach problems.
At the beginning of the walk, we stopped at a map and given the option of doing 2 days up and 3 days down (for the people doing the 5 day hike) or visa versa. We opted for the 2 days up so that we’d spend more time with the majority of the group that was doing the trek in 4 days. We actually had quite a big group: there were about 20 of us all up. The groups from other companies (Wiwa and Ecotours) only had a handful of people each.
The first proper stop was only 30 mins in where we could go for a swim in the river. I was already tired from that small walk and was wondering how I’d be able to do this for 5 whole days. Couldn’t be bothered changing to swim even though it was perfect swimming weather. After the swim stop it was a gruelling one hour climb uphill. I’m glad that they’d always warn us about upcoming ups and downs but it doesn’t make it any easier. I’d still come around every corner wondering if the hour’s up and I’m at the top yet. I did a lot of lying to myself throughout the walk; I’m nearly there; it’s not far now etc.
We were almost at the top of the up part when it started pouring. I knew it was going to be wet but wasn’t prepared for this much rain! For those who hadn’t brought a backpack cover (me included) we were given large black garbage bags to somehow arrange in such a way that would minimise how wet our bags got. It almost didn’t matter; it rained so hard my bag was soaking at the end of the day regardless. I’ve never been outside when it’s been raining this heavily before. Usually rain comes and you take cover, not continue walking for hours on end. Surely the hardest part of the day was that uphill climb. It wasn’t. After that was another hour plus of going down hill. But after an hour or so of heavy rain the red clay path turning into a muddy slippery slope. It would have been super fun just to slide down if there hadn’t been rocks all through it and if we didn’t have backpacks on. I didn’t fall into the mud but that’s probably because I was so hopeless I had the guides hold my hand and lead me down most of the really slippery sections. I still ended up with disgusting shoes and muddy legs.
I don’t think I had ever been so happy to reach my accommodation for a night. It was a large cabana type building that had a dried leaf roof, no walls and 2 rows of hammocks hanging from the beams. We were each allocated a hammock (blanket included – don’t think about the fact that they’re never washed) and set about getting into dry clothes. It was still raining a little when we got there so even though we hung our wet stuff out to dry, it wasn’t going to make much difference. Dinner took FOREVER. I was about to go into the kitchen and help them it took so long. When it finally came it was a nice basic fried chicken with rice and salad meal. My first night sleeping in a hammock was pretty good. I was very comfortable – had been told to sleep on a diagonal to get a flat as possible, or maybe I was just exhausted. Either way, I slept well.
I put on dry socks this morning but soon realised it’s a complete waste of time because my shoes hadn’t dried from yesterday and very soon after breakfast we had to cross a river and they were soaking wet again anyways. To be honest, I can’t really remember what the morning walk was like; I must have blocked it out. I do remember we walked past an indigenous village though. The guides stopped to explain a little about them: girls get married when the get their first period, boys when the turn 17/18. The Sharman chooses the match and once married they are expected to have about one baby a year. So usually they have 10-12 kids but there’s a very high child mortality rate so the family ends up with around 6 children. They all wear white sack-like robes and walk around with bare feet or gumboots. Their gods are ‘Father Sky’ and ‘Mother Earth’ and they don’t have a calendar.
For lunch we stopped at another campsite and had ajiaco soup (the really filling soup I’d tried it Bogota). We got to swim in the river for a while before lunch as, like dinner, it took ages to prepare and serve. The walk after lunch was hilly for the first part but then got more into a jungle-ish atmosphere and was an easier walk. But late afternoon I was a fair way behind the main group (one of the good things about this trek is that you don’t feel rushed to keep up and you can go at your own pace – there’s always a guide up front and a guide at the back). I guess I was walking a little slower as the day went on as 2 others from the group caught up to me somewhere in the rainy jungle. The rain had started again around 2 or 3pm so most of the afternoon is trekking through mud. As it had been raining a while, by the time we got to a wide part of the river, it was too strong to cross. We got to take the dodgiest looking flying fox across. It was like a cage without the ‘cage’, attached to a rope that was pulled in each direction by some of the assistant guides of the tours. Just get in, hang on, and hope you don’t fall out.
It was very lucky that the Italian guy and French girl had caught up to me because on the other side of the flying fox they were shouted instructions for the next part of the walk. I could barely hear anything as it was raining so heavily and usually when I get directions I only understand 70% of them….directions are pretty useless unless you understand the whole thing. Anyways, the next section required us to walk alongside the river for a bit then, when the path ends, climb up a waterfall. There was water coming from all directions and flowing down all sides of the mountain so if I wasn’t with the others there’s a chance I may have gotten lost. So we climbed up one waterfall and down the other side (its actually scarier going down in wet weather cos everything is super slippery). Then we had to cross another river, not so wide but with very strong water flowing across it. We made it across and found an English guy stranded in between that river and a wider, stronger one on the other side. In the 5 minutes it took us to understand why we were stuck, the river we had just crossed had become so strong we couldn’t go back either. We were stuck in a 2 meter bit of cliff for around 30 mins while the guides behind us caught up. Had to do a bit of dancing to keep warm. I can look back now and laugh at the situation but at the time it was quite miserable and very, very wet. They even told us not to stand on the wooden stairs cos there was a chance they’d be swept away.
When the guides finally turned up, they made a line in the river and we basically got passed between each of the. The river was so strong there’s no way we would have made it without them to grab on to. Even just lifting your legs to take a step was difficult! What made even funnier was that we were only 15 mins away from the campsite where we got stranded. So we were imagining everyone getting dried off and being warm while we slowly froze in the middle of nowhere.
That night for dinner that gave us popcorn to munch on while we waited. Such a great idea! Popcorn is amazing – salty deliciousness and you can eat as much as you want cos it’s just air, really. Apart from the very first accommodation site, all others don’t have electricity so all food is made by guides and assistant guides walking around the kitchen in the dark with only head torches on, cooking things on fire stoves. Dinner by candlelight. Played some card games after dinner then was asleep by 9.30. Tonight we got beds, but with thin blankets so it was quite cold that night. Feet already had blisters.
The campsite is right on the edge of the river so it felt like there was water everywhere, all the time. It didn’t really stop raining overnight so nothing was even remotely dry in the morning. Having to put on wet socks and wet shoes at 5.30am is simply awful. Breakfast was also by candlelight because the sun hadn’t risen yet.
Today was by far the easiest day of walking. It was a one hour walk along the river to get to the base of the Lost City, then a 1,200 step climb to get up to the city. First thing you notice when you get up there is how many mosquitoes there are! I don’t really understand how there are so many and they are so big. Tourists are only around for a few hours each morning, how can they possibly get so fat?? The girl that brought the ‘no pique’ soap was very popular that morning. Oh, yes, on this trek no one was taking malaria tablets as apparently there isn’t malaria in Colombia. Instead a lot of us were using this soap that they recommend. It’s just a small white bar of soap that you wet and lather onto your skin (and can wash your clothes with) that dries clear and does an excellent job of keeping the insects away. The only problem we faced was that we seemed to sweat it off.
We wondered around the city for about 3 hours learning about its history and cultural relevance. There, we got to chat with the Sharman. He was wearing a cute acorn shaped hat that represented the local mountain, was chewing coco leaves and had a pumpkin time device in his hand. We had learnt that men always walk around with a small hollowed out pumpkin. They mix coco leaves inside the pumpkin and spend all day chewing on it. Every so often they spit it out onto the mixing stick and wipe it on the cylinder above the pumpkin – by the size of the spit cylinder is how they mark time passing. The Sharman had a ‘9 month’ time pumpkin in his hand when he spoke to us.
The city is made up of stone circles in the ground. Each of these were once a hut that families lived in. The city was found by treasure hunters who only told the government about their find because of a disagreement between them over who got what treasure. There is a strong presence of military at the site so of course we got our pictures with them; #inappropriateselfies!
That day’s lunch was the worst meal of the trek; overcooked spaghetti with ketchup and tasteless cheese. Cheese in Colombia is so bad; it’s just so bland. I’m really missing good cheese. Other than this lunch, food has been surprisingly good. Officially half way through the trek!! Everything from now on is just what we’ve already done, but in reverse….how many downhills did we have again??
After lunch we got to do the walk back through the pretty, super green rainforest areas. It’s so strange to see the rivers we got stuck at yesterday being so low and non-threatening. They only went up to our ankles rather than being at chest height. Tonight’s accommodation was at yesterday’s lunch stop. Although it wasn’t a hard day of walking, I felt we walked further. At dinner the people that were originally doing the 5 day trek all changed to do it in 4 days (including me). As we had walked all this way with the 4 day itinerary, it didn’t really make sense to break the last day in half and only do 4 hours each day of walking. If you really wanted to do the 5 day hike, it should be spilt up so each day’s walking is pretty similar, and not 7 hours each day then 4 on the last 2 days.
As it was our last night together we stayed up playing a cool hand game and words-in-a-hat. When I went to sleep I found that someone had taken my blanket! Everyone else was already asleep and I had no idea where/if there were any spare blankets in the hammock area. So instead I had to put on all my dry clothes – so thankful I still had enough to stay warm! Also was very happy to have my sleeping bag liner with me. Don’t do this trek without it – the blankets are a bit yuk.
Didn’t sleep too badly considering I had no blanket. We had to wake up at 5am today as it was going to be a long day of walking back. First part of the walk was nice, little ups and downs through lush forest. We stopped for a small break at the first night’s accommodation – lunch would be back at the start of the walk. At one point a French lady took it upon her self to ask if I had a problem with my leg. My blisters were hurting so much I was now visibly walking with a limp.
After this small break we hiked up a hill that seemed to go on forever! I seriously thought I was going to pass out! I do not remember having so much of a downhill on the way in. It was awful. Part of it was the slippery muddy slopes we did in the rain, but still, I swear there wasn’t that much of it! I was pretty sure I was the last person by an hour though I had no idea where the guide was. And it was so hot and humid and gross. The path had ditches and holes everywhere and the incline was just ridiculous! Eventually I made it to the top of the hill that we stopped at on the first day when it had just started raining. The rest of the group had already left so I must have been ages behind them.
After a short rest and a much needed Gatorade, I continued on; the next section was a 45min downhill path. Honestly, if I hadn’t already done the walk up the hill, after having to struggle down it, I probably wouldn’t have to able to go back up knowing how long and steep it would be. I think it took me over an hour to go down it. My feet, legs and ankles were killing me by the time I reached the swimming area. I couldn’t bring myself to even stop there, I just wanted to get to the end and take off my runners. Did not want to be in them a second longer than necessary.
Even the 30 mins between the swimming spot and lunch area seemly took hours. I was this close to just sitting on the side of the path and waiting for a passing donkey to pick me up. But I didn’t. I suffered through it all and made it to the end. Finally! Being able to sit and relaxing knowing that after lunch I did not have to walk any further than to the minibus.
I’m really glad I did the trek, but if someone paid me to do it again I wouldn’t. No way. Once was definitely enough. I just wasn’t prepared for the weather; super hot and humid in the mornings and extreme rain in the afternoons. Happy to be back.