Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ciudad Perdida-Lost City Tour--6/13--16

I arrived at the bus terminal just south of central Santa Marta after a 13 hour night bus from San Gil. I got on a colectivo where the conductor said he would be going to el Centro. After 15 minutes I figured he was going a round about way so I got off and caught a cab that went in the other direction to el Centro--cab cost just 5,000 COP and I had given the colectivo conductor 2,000 COP for just getting off.
I am looking down at he Central area where most of the political and religious activities took place and where the shaman and other leaders lived.
Instead of spending the night in the area like I had planned to do, I decided to go right away on the 5 day tour of Ciudad Perdida--Lost City with Magic Tours. They offer either 4 or 5 day tours and the price is the same---700,000 COP---about $300USD. I figured that if the hike was especially hard, I would benefit from taking the extra day.
After a group of 8 of us paid for the tour, we took off in a red Toyota land cruiser. After about an hour ride, we stopped for a lunch consisting of soup, chicken, plantains, rice, and mixed vegetables with sweet tea. Another 10 minutes and we turned off the paved road and began climbing up on a twisty gravel and dirt road for about an hour until we came to the start of our hike at the village of Machete.
Here is a picture of the group I was with. From left to right--Alex-Swiss, Fernando-Spain, Jamie-UK, Kaitlyn-Canada, Carolina-Chile, me and in front Paul and Felipe--France. Jamie and the two women are the volunteers with Empowering Voices charity in Cartagena who invited me to meet them in Cartagena to visit some of the places they work at.

We walked up a dirt road for about an hour before reaching a parking area for mules and motor bikes. After that it was strictly an uphill trail where only mules and people could navigate. After another hour we were pleasantly surprised to see that our guides had sliced watermelon for us plus a fellow was selling big glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice. It was the best tasting watermelon since some trail angels on the Pacific Crest trail treated us to some watermelon under a bridge along Cottonwood Creek in the Mojave Desert. So welcomed and refreshing. Too busy eating to take pictures.
This was by far the toughest hike I have ever done. With the heat and humidity my clothes were so soaked, my sweat dripped down into my shoes and got my socks and feet wet by the end of each day. On the second day, I tried walking in my swim suit, but that got too uncomfortable with lots of chaffing so it was back to the sweaty pants.

We lucked out with no rain during the time we hiked or this section would have been very slippery and mucky.

Just as we got to Cabana 1, the thunder and lightening intensified and we got a big downpour as we located our mosquito shrouded beds---luckily no hammocks for us. After we got sorted out, the rain stopped and we found the local swimming hole with a waterfall that provided us with a great back and head massage along with a 10 foot cliff to jump off.
Afterwards we had a great chicken dinner with plantains, bananas, and salad. We also had this colorful camp robber who moved from hiker to hiker angling for some bread crumbs.
My pedometer showed that we had hiked that day about 8.9 miles--but the guides claimed it was half that far. I must have been taking very short steps going up hill to explain the differences. In fact the trip one way is 14.5 miles where my pedometer ended up logging in a whopping 48.3 miles.

The following day we would go from Cabana 1 to Cabana 3 and spend the night. Cabana 3 is just 1 km from Ciudad Perdida where we would spend half a day before returning for the third night to Cabana 2 where we had stopped for lunch on the second day.
Jamie is crossing one of the better suspension bridges we came across. We also waded across the rivers and even took a trolly across by pulling a set of ropes to get from one side to the other.
This is one of the Wiwa villages who are the current indigenous tribes that occupy this area. There are about 500 members. They are semi-nomads who occassionally move after their swiden agriculture runs its course. They bury their dead underneath the hut which is not reoccupied for at least two years. The children attend local schools and some walk to the schools for up to two hours each way to attend. We did not see very many old people nor teen age boys--just teenage mothers.
We decided to leave Cabana 3 early in the morning because much to the dismay of the guides of our various groups, we found 60 middle school boys whooping and hollering at the swimming hole at Cabana 3. Our plan was to leave by 6am to beat the hordes of boys to Ciudad Perdida. Our plan worked, but going up these hundreds of stairs and doing a couple of river crossings really exhausted all of us.

When all of the boys arrived, their guides had arranged for a Wiwa shaman to provide them with a spiritual healing. Lots of quiet concentration by some normally boisterous middle school boys from Bogota.
The shaman is holding his container consisting of a mixture of cocoa leaves and crushed seashells--alkaline---which becomes a powerful narcotic enabling these folks to long distances or endure difficult tasks.
These two rocks called "Piedras" are maps the Tayrona civilization made that showed the layout of their city including their irrigation systems. This civilization began around 700AD and lasted until shortly after the Spaniards arrived with their diseases primarily of smallpox and syphillis and cut off their trading routes with the seaside communities. They estimate that about 3500 people lived here.
Some of the hundreds of structures found here and are now being marked out by the park service.
Throughout our hike we found groups of military guarding the tourists. Apparently several years ago the FARC---terrorists group---snuck into one of the camp sites and captured about 8 young and fit tourists for ransom. I guess age does have some benefits. Anyway this occurrance was later made into a movie. Some captives were let go right away and others were held for a few years.
After a few hours exploring the Ciudad Perdida it was time to return to Cabana 2 for the night. The journey up the stairs to Ciudad Perdida were most difficult, but going down was the most dangerous part of our journey because it was so steep and slippery from last night's rain shower.
Here are Kaitlyn, Carolina and Jamie navigating their way down these stairs with a few slips and slids along the way.
We were exhausted when we pulled into Cabana 2 and several folks slept a bit before desert was served.
Here is a young Wiwa mother with child outside our dining room.
Our guide, Saul, told me those that were doing just 4 days would be getting up around 5 am for the long walk out and those of us that were doing 5 days could sleep in another couple of hours.
When I woke up I decided to begin hiking early thinking I would get to Cabana 1 and relax there to do some more swimming in that fabulous swimming hole. But when I got down to Cabana 1 at 9:30am, the three volunteers---Kaitlyn, Carolina and Jamie encouraged me to do just 4 days instead of 5. There is no difference in price. The only difference in the 5 day tour is that we would spend another day at cabana 1 which is where we spent our first night. To get back to the SUV and trailhead it only took another 2 hour hike and just 20 minutes of it was up hill----but quite a hill. I had mostly hiked with these three who were doing it in 4 days so I joined up with them. They volunteered in Cartagena with a charity called Emerging Voices doing activities with young children and have invited me to join them this Friday when I am in Cartagena. Should be fun.
The next twenty minutes was another brutal hike up which got my shirt and pants completely soaked with sweat. Here is what part of the climb up looked like.
The orange juicer was still selling his OJ for just 3000 COP, so I enjoyed a glass and continued my trek back to the trailhead at Machete and our lunch. As the path broadened and was a steady downhill, I found it easier to slowly jog down those sections. Somehow I even passed Jamie without seeing him and had finished my first beer by the time he showed up at our lunch spot in Machete.
Here I am with a victory salute by the Park map at the entrance.

When I headed to the toilet at the lunch spot, I saw that there was a shower inside the toilet. I just turned it on and ended up wearing dry clean swimsuit and my Hawaiian shirt.
On the way back to our hotels, the left brake began to smoke since it had seized up. After a few phone calls, the driver slowly drove to a tire shop where he borrowed some pliers to unlock the left front brake. For the rest of our 20 km journey, he only used the emergency brakes and only when absolutely necessary like at toll booths, red lights, topes, and stupid drivers. He dropped me off at the Casa de Felipe. I was so glad to get out of the SUV and into the hostel.

When I got to this hostel, and got a private room for two nights at 50,000 COP---$20 USD--- per night I took all my clothes, man bag and backpack next door to the laundry---they were stinky nasty. I am sitting here in my swimsuit and Hawaiian shirt just relaxing and catching up on my emails as the sun sets over this horseshoe bay. Tommorrow I get everything back fresh and clean for just 11,000 COP---$4.50 USD.
I am now in Taganga and am staying at the Casa de Filipe. Right now I am on the roof top balcony enjoying a beautiful view of the horseshoe shaped bay and the warm breezes.

I am now a few days ahead of my itinerary and will probably stay that way through Colombia and Ecuador.

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