June 27th- 30th
A slightly delayed blog, but a blog nonetheless! Rob and I did the Ciudad Perdida trek through the Colombian jungle, up into the Sierra Nevada mountains.
If you’re short on time or just not into reading my ramblings, here’s the link to my photo album.
Keep reading for words and some photos!
We did the trek over 4 days, 3 nights. Most people take 5 days to do the trek. The ‘express’ option involves:
Day 1 – half day of walking (around 3.5 hours
Day 2 – full day of walking – around 8 hours. This day combines days 2 and 3 of the 5-day trek.
Day 3 – full day – lost city in the morning, then return to the final camp, around 8 hours
Day 4 – full day – around 7 hours and back to civilisation!
As it turned out, I was happy we chose the express version – it wasn’t easy but 3 nights in the jungle was just right… Any more would have felt a bit much. Also those who did the 5 day trek said they had a LOT of down time on days 2-3.
Anyway – the trek! It’s very hard to describe in a few words. So I’ll go with a couple of lists
• Amazing ever-changing scenery to walk through. From wet rainforest, red clay hills, rocky paths through and above rivers, grassy cleared land often with cows, local indigenous Kogui villages with traditional huts, etc etc. Lots of colours (although predominantly green)
• Being surrounded by steep and high mountains, and then realising you’ve just walked up and down a couple of them. Also, the views that you get from looking across valleys, the rushing river… All incredible.
• The wildlife! Lots of butterflies, some massive (bigger than 2 fists put together – Rob was the champ at finding the massive ones), plenty of surprise cows sitting in the middle of the path, pigs and piglets hanging out in small groups (most have owners, and return to their homes at night apparently), lots of small colourful birds, some large frogs, large freshwater crabs (cangrejos!), small fish that nibble at your knees when you jump into the natural pool…
• Getting the smallest bit of insight into the indigenous people who live in the region. The main group we saw were the Kogui people – some of their houses are along the route, and we passed many Koguis on the path. They were often in family groups, sometimes with a pig or two, or a dog. Generally they have preserved their traditional way of living, e.g. Housing, clothing etc, although many wear gumboots (Wellington boots) with their traditional white tunic. The children love asking trekkers for ‘dulces’ (sweets). We didn’t have any to give, and while I love to make kids happy I’m not too keen on contributing to dental problems… One hill climb I shared most of the way with 2 Kogui kids (my guess at their ages, around 3 and 6) and their little brown dog. The kids were walking to school, a building near the top of one of the mountains. Possibly a 1+ hour walk for them each way. I breathlessly asked the older one if walking up the hill was easy for him, to which he casually replied ‘si’ (yes).
• Learning a bit about the mochilas (sling bags) made by the indigenous people of Colombia. Many groups have their own patterns and traditional materials (wool, cotton, other fibers). The bags are crocheted by women, and we passed a family walking on the path, and the mother was crocheting a bag as she walked. Time efficient! I ended up buying a mochila in Salento (further south) made by Wayuu people, a group to the east (spanning Colombia and Venezuela on the Guajira peninsula). I didn’t realise in time, but the local Kogui bags were sold at our final camp – had I known this I would have bought one from them! Darn!
• The group we trekked with, and our guides. Day 1 we started off with a group of 11, a main guide Juan and 2 cooks. On the morning of Day 2, the ‘express’ customers separated off, and one of the cooks, Pacheko, became our guide and cook for the rest of the trip. We were then a group of 5, two lovely British lasses, a lovely American guy and us. Really friendly peeps, a pleasure to spend those days with. Pacheko was friendly, hardworking (up at 4:30 to make out breakfast!) and often presented us with surprise snacks during the trek.
• The facilities and food! We didn’t expect such fancy living conditions at night. The first night we slept in tents in a big covered area (outdoors still but with a large tin roof covering the eating and sleeping areas). Flushing toilets, and showers! Cold showers, out of a pipe, but that’s the norm in the north of Colombia in cities! (Not always out of a pipe, but we did see that in a hostel!). The hammocks had mosquito nets and blankets were provided. The 2nd and 3rd nights were in bunk beds, also with mosquito nets. Each camp had a similar tin roof, a large kitchen, and bench tables and seats. The first camp actually had power! Lights and power points. Totally unexpected. The food that was cooked for us was about equal or better than some of the restaurants we’ve eaten at, and the aforementioned surprise snacks were great. Plenty of fruit stops and cookie stops along the way.
• La Ciudad Perdida! The ‘goal’ of the trip! On day 3, we woke up, walked about 1km to the lost city, which was one of the hardest kms I’ve ever done – it started OK with a slippery rocky path by the river, then a thigh-high river crossing barefoot, holding on the a rope, then climbing the approx 1200 steps to the Lost City – the steps were often tiny, very slippery, and highly irregular. Tricky and steep and the consequences of falling would have been pretty not-good. We finally arrived at the lost city and spent about 1hr walking around the sites, and a guide from another group (who we’d joined up with that morning) talked about the history of the sites. 2 guys in the group with the best Spanish shared translations with the rest of us. There is a fairly large military presence at the Ciudad – a whole unit is based there for 5-6 months at a time. The iconic photo looking down towards the grassy round platforms was peppered with soldiers. They told our guide that they’d be happy to hide out of site if we wanted to take photos without people. So we gave our orders, and they scurried into the shadows. They were fairly relaxed and happy to have photos taken, happy to say ‘hola’ or ‘buenas dias’. The history of the lost city itself was really interesting, and the 4 local indigenous groups still use the site for important meetings and ceremonies.
What was hard about the trip:
• Mosquitoes! I am particularly mozzie prone, and despite using lots of DEET spray often, I still got devoured by those bastards! They bit through clothing too – I ended up with about 50 bites on my butt alone! (Too much information? Important facts to note however!). Our insect repellent was only 25% DEET, so maybe not strong enough
• Some of the mountains are HARD! Some unrelenting vertical climbs for 1 hour or so. Challenging but totally worth it. the following is a VERY approximate elevation map of the trek:
That’s it! The trip was overwhelmingly amazing. I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone with a decent level of fitness and a love for adventure. We booked with Magic Tours about 2 days before taking the tour, which was no problem at all. Others have said that there is essentially no difference between each of the tour groups and this seemed to be the case – groups come together a bit and all tours cost the same (600,000 COP, about $300AUD). That said, I’d happily recommend Magic Tours!