Lost in the Lost City
Trip Start Jan 10, 2007
12Trip End Mar 09, 2007
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Once we have done the deal with the guide and booked ourselves into the hostel we went to the room and prepared for the journey. We were told by the guide that we should only take the essential clothing and items, in summary as little as possible.
We decided to take one small bag and one backpack and left the other with money credit cards and passports in the hostel.
It was a warm and sunny morning in Santa Marta and Maciek and I decided to have some breakfast before our trip. Afterwords as agreed with the guide we met him and the rest of the group outside our hostel where the jeep was waiting for us. We knew that the trip will take 6 days in total and that it would be wise to take some drinking water, so instead whatever space has been created by removed clothing it was filled in with bottles of drinking water.
We all got into the jeep and eagerly awaited the departure. As the jeep wasnīt very comfortable and after a while of being inside the thing, I was painfully reminded of my back problems. The time inside the jeep waiting for it to move seemed forever and I guess I was getting impatient and increasingly eager to set off on our way. Looking back, if I could predict the future I could probably spent a little more time seating there...
Once we have sorted out our hostel payment, which we have conveniently forgotten to make, we were on our way. Twenty minutes into the journey we were reminded that we are in Columbia. Our driver has forgotten to fill up the car with petrol and our trip has granted to a hold on the main road outside of Santa Marta. Luckily there was a plan "B" and as it turns out the car was also powered by propane gas and theoretically it would be great if it worked. Instead the driver has manged to solve the problem by sourcing some petrol and placing it in a plastic container on the top of the jeeps roof. This sophisticated mechanism was connected via plastic hose directly to the cars engine, as "fuel feeding pump" ceased to work as well.
We had to stop periodically as the plastic bottle with hose lost its suction and as a result the engine could not be fed with petrol. Thinking back the driver probably enjoyed drinking it and it didnīt go down to well with the police as our jeep stunk of petrol and was deemed by the Colombian police as dangerous to drive. This reminds me that it was not a very good idea to have all the cigarette breaks every time we stopped to get the petrol going,
After a couple of hours we arrived in a small village, from where we set off on foot for the next six days of our journey through mountains and the jungle of northern Colombia.
As we went along we were slowly leaving behind the civilization as we know it and entering the new world, completely unknown to us. Throughout the journey we were passing paramilitaries armed to their teeth with AK47īs and hand held grenade launchers guarding Coca fields and factories. They seemed friendly to us and initial fear of seeing armed men very quickly disappeared. Although I never felt relaxed`passing by one of their patrols.
The journey continued through endless creeks, with occasional stop over to cool off by water basins.
At this stage of the trip we still did not really know our traveling companions although everybody has made initial introductions I could not remember their names. All I knew is that our guide and his two children were Colombian and the rest of the group consisted of the two Germans, three Czechs and us who were very quickly branded as Bolek and Lolek, well known in Europe cartoon characters who traveled the World. We were branded these names as the cartoon was made in Poland and I think we resembled the characters.
Soon into the journey we could each make individual assessment of our physical fitness or in my case luck of it.
Half way through our first climb both Maciek and I were running out of steam whilst the rest of the group seemed to be doing fine.
The Germans continued in disciplined and uninterrupted fashion marching through the tropical mountains, The Czechs effortlessly seemed to be enjoying their leisurely walk chatting and laughing all the way to the top of the first mountain followed by yet another mountain . Our guide Castro and the kids tried to keep steady pace ensuring that the group sticks together.
Looking back it was a good idea to take the drinking water, however the down site was the additional weight we had to carry. At one point our guide realized that I was struggling with the climb, came back for me and in addition to his own backpack started carrying mine. I have to say that initially this stepped on my pride, however as we continued into 3rd hour of tracking I appreciated every help I could get.
Towards the end of the first day we gladly reached our first camp where we settled for the night.
Meet the Snake
Once we arrived at the camp we were told that there is a place where we can go for a swim and cool off. This sounded marvelous and we quickly went down to the creek for a quick swim. The place was beautiful, fallen rocks blocked the water flow creating a natural swimming pool with lovely cool water, just what doctor ordered.
By the time I arrived Maciek was already there making a deal "Jerzy I jump if you jump in first". I hesitated as this was at least two meter high and I was not sure at the time how deep was the pool. As Maciek was trying to get me jumping first into the pool, someone has spotted a snake in the bushes to the site of the pool and called for help. Within minutes a guide turned up and has made up a long stick with a string attached at the end and went after the snake.
Shortly after the snake was caught and the guide proudly displayed the poisonous beast to the rest of the group. I was really glad I did not jump for the swim and could not do so for the rest of the night as I was to scared. My worst nightmare came true...
After taking a few pictures of the snake I returned back to the camp site and eagerly awaited food, which was being prepared by Castro and a new addition to our group Victor, the porter. After the meal all of the members of the group sat down by the long wooden table and got a chance to get to know each other a little better. This was our first opportunity to talk since we left earlier that morning. The Germans were a father and a daughter traveling through Colombia and their names were Carina and Peter. Peter works as a consultant for a Crystler and Carina has just recently graduated in Economics. The three Czechs turned up to be Sylva, Karel (Karlos) and Stepan. Sylva and Karlos are a Hippie couple traveling through Columbia still studying in the Czech republic and Stepan is a well traveled IT engineer from the Czech republic who is on a three month sabbatical leave. The group has integrated and worked together very well throughout the trip and I found it amazing how quickly people from many different backgrounds could work so well. I guess we all had one thing in common: reaching the Lost City and it did not matter what we all did, where we came from and whether you are a man or a woman. The communication between different individuals was mainly in English, however if things got really complicated weīd communicate in Spanish, German, Czech and Polish followed by the body language.
After the dinner it was a time to relax and go to sleep in hammocks prepared by our guide. Although I was really very tired I had problems sleeping the first night as it was dark - very, very dark. We also had mosquito nets protecting us from these vampires and for some reason my net was resting right on my face. This has made me feel really claustrophobic and I panicked. I could not really sleep so I got up and sat by the table waiting for the morning and entertaining myself with the candle wax and insects attracted by the light. I hoped that someone else would have the same problem and we could keep each others company, but this did not happen.
I have never slept in a hammock before but can now proudly say I mastered the skill and throughout the trip have even been able to invent new sleeping positions, namely: Frog and Buddha. Perhaps not the most comfortable way of sleeping but it worked for me and I will leave it to your imagination to work out what it looked like.
When the day light started breaking through the darkness I decided to go back to my hammock and get some more sleep. Within the next couple of hours the camp became alive and everyone was getting ready for breakfast and the next part of our journey.
We all new that the second day will be hard but I guess did not expect certain problems. which we will have to overcome. It became apparent on the day two that Maciekīs and mine water supplies were running dangerously low and that soon we will run out of water.
Each group of nationalities had different tactics and strategy of getting through the hardship of walking through the jungle. Things like water and cigarettes were scares commodities and became even more important at a later stage of the trip. Out of 7 people only two did not smoke cigarettes however they still had to drink water. It was really frustrating to be surrounded by water and yet not being able to drink it. The Czechs carried with them "water purification compound" and sourced water from the mumerous springs, shown to us by Castro, which apparently were safe to drink. Stepan offered us water purifier however we did not use it as Stepan got really sick on the day two of our trip and we suspected the water. If one gets sick in the jungle it is impossible to see the doctor and is dependent on the medicine you carry or recovery without any help. I gave Stepan some of the tablets for diarrhea we bought in Bogota and it seemed to work.
As we went along most of the group started to suffer and we even invented numbering system from 1 to 10, where 10 meant normal stool and 1 water. People coming back from the toilets would proudly display their number and I suppose this became a new form of communication, expressing our well being. Both Carina and Peter didnīt mind drinking water from the creeks and springs pointed by our guide but I think after a while they have suffered too. The danger of drinking untreated water is that it can take up to two months for the worm to develop in your guts and you may not even be aware of it happening.
Day two of our trip was probably even more painful than the first day. In desperation Maciek and I were looking to reduce the weight we carried and effectively the only way we could achieve this was by drinking all the water we had. We have also been told that we will be able to buy some drinks at the next camp, which encouraged us to drink whatever water we had.
Our group was also in direct competition with another group of around thirty backpackers who were following the same trail as us. The supplies in the jungle are limited in numbers and it was important to secure each day good places to sleep in the camps ahead, as well as get there first to buy new provisions of Coca Cola to drink.
On the second day we set of from our camp before the other group in hope that we will get to the next camp before them. We also had the time advantage as most of the members of the other group decided to visit a Cocaine factory.
As we set off from the camp with high spirits and knowing that with every step we are getting closer to our final goal our moods have improved. This did not last for two long though as the members of the opposing camp started to catch up with us. We were amazed and tried to understand how this was possible? It was particularly painfully for Maciek and I when we saw few lads passing us by with big smiles on their faces and greeting us with the thumbs up. I think that at this stage we were at the lowest point of the journey. My manhood was under threat and I felt really weak. It is worth pointing out that by that time our guide, his 10 year old sun and a donkey were carrying our belongings. Maciek has managed to bribe little Castro with Coca Cola to carry his little bag which probably weighted more than the little lad himself and he carried it with pride.
We sat down with Maciek and tried to work out how it was possible that the people from the other group could be so fast? Than we remembered, that earlier they have visited the cocaine factory and perhaps tested their produce. Well if you put the two together it all starts making sense. I have never in my life seen anybody overtaking me at such a speed in the jungle running up the mountain with big smile and the thumbs up. This has certainly made us feel better about the whole thing and we continued with our journey, occasionally stopping over to enjoy legal stimulants such as pineapples provided by our guide.
We have finally managed to reach our second camp where we set up for the night. By this time the group was very much together as we had the same goal and in addition the same enemy - "the cocaine group". This was a war for survival, by the time we reached our second camp members of the "cocaine group" have managed too drink most of the coca cola and have taken up places at our table continuing to snort cocaine.
Somehow this has managed to mobilize my energy levels and to boost the moral and our spirit levels we decided to play games and were watched by the competition smoking Marijuana and snorting cocaine. One of the games we played was pantomime. Each member of our group had to pretend to be an animal and the rest had to guess the animal. We had lots of laughs playing the game and I think this must have looked really strange to the spaced out and stoned competition, probably encouraging them to smoke even more of the stuff.
Once our dinner was prepared by Castro and Victor we reclaimed our table and thoroughly enjoyed the dinner. After the dinner Castro started telling us stories about the Tyarona Indians that once inhabited this land and about paramilitaries that we continually passed by on our journey this far. He explained that the government understood the importance of tourism in this area and have made a deal with the paramilitaries who guide the Coca fields and factories dispersed on the surrounding mountains. Castro has to give parts of his profits to paramilitaries to keep them happy.
We continued with our conversations late into the night. It would seem that we all were keen to share our experiences of the day and talked about things that mattered to us at the time i.e. water shortages, food... We also new that tomorrow we will arrive at Ciudad Perididad and were excited about the prospect. I guess we were all very tired and this time there was no problems with going to sleep in the hammocks. Apparently I snored, which is a good indication of a deep sleep.
The following morning we got up with the first light and were anxious about the day ahead. Castro told us that this time there will be no donkey to carry our backpacks and the trip will take approximately 6 hours. As you can imagine this was a disappointing start specially for Jerzy and Maciek.
All members of the group set off in usual fashion marching together. On the way we walked by some first indigenous Indians who greeted us, like you do when you go to see the monkeys in the zoo.
We took some pictures of their homes and continued with our journey. At one point the group stopped and Castro started giving out pineapples and chocolates, which throughout the journey so far, indicated a massive climb. We were right!
The backpack I carried seemed to weight a ton and very quickly Mciek and I have fallen behind the group and decidd to rest on the slope of the mountain waiting for miracle and Maciek who needed a toilet. We probably stayed there for about 20 minutes and stoped hearing Czechs chatting, which meant we were far behind everybody else. As Maciek got down for the toilet we heard someone shouting: "amigos!". We were pleased to see Castro leisurely jogging down to give us a hand. Castro took my backpack and Maciek` bag and continued the climb. After about 20 - 30 minutes we caught up with the rest of the group and where given even more pineapples, chocolates and continued with numerous river crossings and climbing.
We also got to meet one of the "super humans" from the Cocaine group. He was completely naked and could not continue with the onward journey. Castro has kindly given him some pineapples and water to boost his energy levels. I remembered seeing this guy snorting cocaine the night before and he probably had no idea how tired he was jogging up and down the mountains. Once he stopped taking the white powder he became one of us - exhausted. At this stage we also realized how lucky we were to be looked after by Castro who would not loose a member of his team in the jungle like that.
After around 7 hours of going through the mountains, crossing rivers we arrived at the foot of the mountain with an ancient staircase. We were all very happy to be there and knew that the final price is withing the reach, well about 1200 steps and 1 hour of further climb to be exact. By this time even the porters carrying our supplies, which weight about 80kg (easily), were catching up with us.PHOTO_ID_L=jerzy1_137.jpg]
As we reached the top the first structures started appearing from the density of the jungle in the shape of platforms on which at some point wooden hats stood. At this point Jerzy and Maciek had only about two and a half hours of daylight left to take some pictures and look around the site. Rather than going into our camp site we decided to stay and take some pictures.
The Lost City
At first the site reveals only a few platforms, however to realize how big this place really is, it is necessary to walk further into the jungle, following numerous paths originally build by the Indians. The City in its heyday was populated by around 5000 inhabitants and must have covered the hills of the surrounding valley. The site also contains 3 maps: one of the surrounding region and two stone monuments, which are exact replicas of the mountains opposite, (like in Machiu Pichiu).
According to Castro this was a cultural center for the Tyaronas and they were all killed by the Spaniards. I found it very hard to believe as Spaniards have never got to the place and surely women and children would have stayed behind in the City, whilst men went to fight. Perhaps the survivors left the site and went further to the mountains. Given more time and excavation work on this place more facts and treasures will be uncovered, which will reveal more about the place and its inhabitants.
Thwe lost city was discovered in 1975 and only a small part of the site has been uncovered. It will take some finance and time before the rest of the city is showed in full glory to average, picture hungry American tourist.
Lost City Camp
After taking pictures we decided to go down to our camp. The Camp was a hat positioned on one of the ancient platforms build by the Indians. By the time we arrived Castro family and Victor were busy preparing a meal and all of the group was seating on the first floor too tired to explore. We all enjoyed the conversation of what life here must have been like and eagerly awaited the meal. In preperation for the night looked into my back pack and found that Castro and Maciek have inserted a large sleeping back into my backpack which I carried all the way - bastards!
The cocaine group` camp was positioned further away from us and as such no longer bothered us.
Soon after the meal we all went to sleep, with most of the group sleeping in the hammocks on the 2nd floor and Maciek and I on the first. This was the coldest night of our trip and I think we all felt it...
Aafter breakfast Castro called up a group and showed us around the site showing various maps and monuments. Maciek and I have also realized that we have no more water left and asked Castro to boil the water for us. We each got a bottle of water boiled the night before. There were no real conditions to boil the water and quietly I suspected that the water we drunk was from one of the creeks deemed safe by Castro.
After around 3 - 4 hours of further exploration we all set of to walk back to one of the camps where we will spent the night. The journey was much easier as majority of the time we were going down the mountain. Maciek being Maciek managed again to bribe one of the little Castro's to carry his bag. By this time everything came with an effort, it was even painful to walk back down. We all kept our spirits up by telling each other funny stories.
Castro suggested that slower members of the group (Bole and Lolek) should set off earlier to ensure we reach our next camp before the dark. Maciek and I left earlier and as we were going down we came to a cross roads. Obviously we took the wrong path and to this day we are debating on who made the wrong decision. Anyway, the result was that we no longer were in front of the group, but as usual doing the catch up.
Half way through the return journey most of the water given to us by Castro earlier in the day was drunk and we only kept going as we new that the next camp has large supplies of Coca Cola. Once we arrived a the new camp, which turned out to be a family home of the local coca growers we all relaxed and played frisbee outside the house.PHOTO_ID_L=jerzy1_187.jpg]
After the meal Carina Peter and I silently gathered around our table and watched the unusual sight of chickens gearing up to sleep on one of the trees near by. Shortly after everyone went to sleep.
The following morning we all got up and were ready for the final part of our journey back to civilization. Before we went however we decided to visit one of the cocaine factories. Being in Colombia and not seeing one of those, would be like going to Roma and not visiting the Vatican.
The Cocaine factory turned up to be a tent with various chemicals used to speed up the process of fermentation and later clear the chemicals used in the process. I think that all junkies should be taken to this places and hopefully if they saw how many chemicals are used that would put them of the stuff.
The mountains hide a vast number of the so called Cocaine factories which specialize in producing "paste" from plants collected from near by fields. All of the mountains are controlled by paramilitary groups who protect the fields from the police or Colombian Army. They used to grow Marijuana there but Marijuana plant can be cultivated only for three months in the year, whereas Coca for nine months making it more cost productive. The coca paste is produced depending on the market demand. There are distribution centers where the paste is sold and later used to produce heroin or cocaine depending on demand. I assume that the distribution centers are controlled by mafia, but they did not want to tell us. Having such a system means that it is near impossible to destroy this production. They may film destroying one of the fields for the camera, but I am sure there are plenty more growing in other parts of the same mountain. If one factory is destroyed by the government troops there are 100 others which could be used instead.
After the visit to the cocaine factory we continued on with our journey passing by various paramilitary groups. As usual every time there was a mountain Maciek and I (Bolek and Lolek) would fall behind. On one occasion we caught up with the rest of the group who were taking pictures of well camouflaged paramilitaries. As we approached the group we also wanted to have the picture taken, the difference is though that we did not ask the permission and picked up their guns. At first they were not to happy about this but we were holding the AK47īand I guess they had to agree and proudly put on their sunglasses and posed to the camera.
When we finished the Photo shoot we moved on to the final stage of our journey. On the way down we spotted yet another swimming pool and could not resist the temptation to jump for a swim. The water was crystal clear with plenty of fish and once Maciek caught up with us we bet Carina that we will be able to catch a fish, which we did. I took my shirt of and with Maciek used it as a net. The fish we caught was the smallest I have ever seen, 1 cm in length. Carina agreed to carry our bags if we caught one and she did.
Karlos the King
One of the key entertainers on our trip was Karlos. Karlos with child like qualities was very much interested in the wild life and admittedly when he looked at some of the insects I had a feeling they could become his lunch, and may be they did, who knows?. Although Karlos did not speak any English or Spanish I could easily communicate with him in Polish. In reality he didnīt have to say much as his facial expressions and mannerism could do the talking anyway.
Karlos wore one pair of pants by which we could measure the difficulty level of our journey. When we first set off there was a very small hole in his pants, which gradually expanded providing good air conditioning to his private parts. I just had to take the picture...
After the swim in the pool we knew we were very close to the civilization where the driver with the jeep was waiting.
The trip back to Casa Familiar wasnīt easy as yet again the driver did not repair the car and we ended up going in the back of different pick up truck, which Castro organized.
Once we arrived in the Casa Familiar we all changed into new ropa and went out to dinner where we planned to continue the journey together to Park Tyarona rather than drift apart. All members of the group had different plans but we enjoyed each others company so much that we decided to join forces.
On arrival to Park Tyarona and sfter hour of tracking through the coast line we arrived at a camp site recommended in the Lonely Planet. It seemed that every backpacker carried the same book. The place we arrived to was busier than the Victoria station during the rush hour and we suspected that majority of people were shopping for clothes in the same place as Karlos. If we left Karlos there for two years and come back with a visit, he would be worshiped by people in the camp as almost certainly people followed his lead in fashion.
We stayed in the Park Tyarona for another three days where we enjoyed sun, sea and each others company. Bolek i Lolek as usual got burned and ended up suffering in the hammocks at night. Sleeping wasnīt easy also to some of my fellow travelers as the hammocks were so close we practically slept on the top of each other.
After the third day it was time for Carina and Pater to head back to Santa Marta to catch an early flight to Bogota and later to Germany. Stepan decided to stay on the beach and enjoy the sunshine. Sylva and "King Karlos" have made it back to Santa Marta and later continued on with their journey to Cartagena.
This trip definitely was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life and thanks to our Guide Castro, porter Victor and amazing group of people we have made it through. Would I do it again - YES. I knew before the trip that my key objective of the trip was to reach the Lost City, however what I didnīt know is that I will learn so much about myself and meet such a good bunch of people in the process.
Where I stayed
Casa Familiar Hostel