Big-City-Detox: Trekking to la Ciudad Perdida

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For some peope two months are just two months and every day life makes them seem as if nothing much ever happens. For others, however two months are a time of new adventures – and perhaps a time of big changes that they start to realize only slowly when returning back to an every day life routine.

I am writing this on my third day back home, after two adventurous and inspiring months in the beautiful, still misjugdegd, but truely worth-visiting because lovely and surely lovable country called Colombia. Many stories from my trip will follow, but before starting this one – the story of my number one experience – let me say: Colombia is safe. Colombians are genuine and friendly and chatty people. Travelling to and trough Colombia was the best way to start the new year.

And here we go: This is the story of my number one experience in Colombia, when I trekked to the historic Lost City – la Ciudad Perdida.

I am the sort of traveller (person) who may seem organized on the outside, but actually is just chaos on two feet. I don’t make travel plans and most of the time I don’t know what I’ll be doing the next day. So, despite owning the travellers‘ bible, also known as the Lonely Planet – an oldschool printed edition by the way – I had not planned anything before coming to Colombia. All I had was my flight ticket and a reservation for my first nights in Bogota (which may seem a lot for other types of travellers, I assume). At that time the Lost City was only something I had read about. And since I never trek nor ever hike, it never crossed my mind to go there or actually bring anything essential for a trek, like…let’s say trekking shoes or even a little backpack. I was backpacking yes, but I didn’t bring a small backpack, can you imagine?

But…here comes the big „but“:
after meeting countless travellers who had done the trek (some even in very simple sneakers) or were about to do it and spoke so highly about the „Machu Picchu of Colombia“, I began considering it as well. Especially after spending some time in Tayrona Park that combines some sort of jungle and beach fun. The beaches here are picture perfect, but I really enjoyed the walking part through the lush, green landscape. And because I cannot just lay in hammocks all day, drink Aguila or alternatively jugo naturales, eat empañadas or other fried food and become this awesomely lazy, dull and inactive ex-runner, I imagined the trek to be a good keep-in-shape-activity.

So I went to one of the many agencies in Santa Marta that sell the 4-, 5- or 6-day tour, all for the same price (regulated by government): 600.000 Pesos (about 215 Euros). The price includes transport from Santa Marta to the base camp (and back), meals (yes, also vegetarian) accomodation (with mosquito nets) and of course a guide. After all you cannot visit the Lost City on your own for it is one of the largest pre-Colombian towns in the Americas (that used to be full of guerillas as well) and is still home to hundreds if not thousands of indigenous people. If you ask me, I think this is a very fair price – maybe even too low – for what is provided and considering the increasing masses of tourists streaming in and out of the Sierra Nevada every year.

At the tour agency I also learned about tours with indigenous guides. The guides are of the Kogi people who still live in the Sierra Nevada, the mountain range near the Carribean coast. The Kogis live a very – as we industrialized westerners would say – simple life. A life without electricity, a traditional life in harmony with nature.

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Now I don’t want to bore you with more organizational details.

What’s important is:

I did the hike.
And I did it in my old running shoes that had already developed some sort of air conditioning (holes on both sides) after being dragged around for half-/full marathons and bootcamp training in all seasons. They survived the trek – so did I.
I found a small hiking backpack with a camel bag inside at the nearest grocery store.
I did the hike with Fermin, an indigenous guide and:
I did the hike in a verrrry small group of only three people. And these people were: Fermin – the guide, the chef – Fabio, and – drum roll – myself. Not exactly what I hoped to experience, since I was already travelling alone and honestly was looking forward to meeting other fellow travellers. When I was told that groups with indigenous guides are generally smaller than the „commercial“ groups (that can get as big as 20 people) I of course didn’t expect my group to be this small. What had happened? Well, in the morning of day one other people had cancelled due to sickness, but luckily the tour wasn’t. So this is how I got to enjoy a trek in…solitude:
My big-city-detox, my five days of almost only Spanish and my first real encounter with trekking, an activity I would like to pursue more in the future (ideally with proper shoes).

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Here are some facts about the trek:
I think I could have managed the hike in four days, but since I had all the time in travellers‘ universe, I chose the five day tour which meant walking between 2-5 hours every day – up and down rocky, sandy, foresty, wet, steep slopes and at times thigh-high river Buritaka, climbing over rocks and giant roots and covering a little over 40km roundtrip. A distance I can (easily…hahahaha) run in 4 hours as you may know. But that’s of course on flat land and under different circumstances. Three of four nights you sleep in a hammock, wich I like but others complain about back pain the next day. Donkeys carry all sorts of goods into and out of the Sierra Nevada, after the base camp no car or motorbike is allowed to enter.

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To make this long story not too long to read, I will sum up here and leave you with some last remarks and the pictures to imagine what it must have been like. If I keep raving about this in the future, I can probably not help it, because it was truely memorable and in a way blessing – and fyi: I don’t even go to church on Christmas Eve.

Fermin was a wonderful guide who made me feel welcomed in his home and who made it seem not as work to him. Fabio was a very caring, friendly chef and his meals were all mucho delicioso.

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La Ciudad Perdida was a beautiful place to finally reach after climbing the last 1.200 steps.

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I wish I will never forget the feeling I had up there, the endless view over the mountains, the moment when a pelican flew from one tree to the other, us just sitting at the edge of the city with our feet tangling down…

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…the litres of sweat pouring down my face every day, the swims in brisk Buritaka river (no cold shower is ever as cold as Rio Buritaka)…

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…the Kogi family, who showed us coca plants and made coca tea one night (tastes like green tea), showed us the process of extracting fibres from a giant aloe vera leaf, their kids (between 2-8 years) in the second camp with their play-wheel and just-for-the-heck-of-it-bondfire…

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…the encounters with those strictly scheduled and huge commercial groups whose guides would shout around at the third camp (the last one before the lost city, where every group stops), but the actually very entertaining conversations with the other tourists who I would envy for their group dynamic, looking up to the stars on night four until my neck was stiff, being overwhelmed every day by such rich nature hoping it will remain this lush forever, being overwhelmed every day by how much I actually understood Fermin’s explanations in Spanish – at least I thought I understood…

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…sleeping early and dozing of in sightly rocking hammocks, the masses of mosquitos up in the city, which thanks to the awesome repellent Nopikex, didn’t bother too much…

…the feeling of endless gratitude for five perfect days that I never planned to have.

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