You would think three days in a hammock doing nothing would be the perfect recuperation for a sick person about to embark on a five day trek in the jungle..............you would think.
Alas, no! As we began our trek to Ciudad Perdida, I don’t think I have ever felt worse. Snot the colour of the trees (its important I paint the visual for you – no matter how gross it is), coughing up stuff the size of small creatures, and my body acting as a direct funnel for anything that went into it. Awesome.
As it turns out we were really lucky in that we had the perfect group. The eight of us consisted of Joy & Patrick (an English/American couple who Lee and I voted the second best couple in the group - there was only us and them but they were really cool),Thierry (a French/Mexican/Australian guy), Colm (a cute little Irish man), and the world’s best Norwegians – Bjornar and Christian. All of whom were brilliant, and really supportive of the sick Aussie bird at the back of the group.
The first day was supposed to be a light day to ease you into things. After a two and a half hour ride out to the jungle in the worst sweat box I’ve ever experienced, we began our two and half hour warm up walk to our first nights camp. Oh my god! Entering the jungle we hit a wall of incredibly wet oppressive heat, I knew I had entered hell. Which coincidentally is another of the local names for the city – “Inferno verde” – the green hell. Informative fact – tick! So we walked, and stopped for some pineapple, and then walked some more, and stopped for some oranges and bananas, and then walked some more. As we were walking I thought I would die, but after enduring the two and half hours it seemed fine – especially when we got to our camp to find showers! Ahhh, the luxury. Even the fact that they were ice cold couldn’t put us off (well I should say me – Lee was in heaven) and we went to bed after an awesome tea feeling much better than imagined.
Sunlight was our alarm clock the next morning and we woke pretty early to the best breakfast ever. Fruit salad, granola, yoghurt and cocaine. Kidding about the cocaine bit, but it was kind of part of breakfast, as we visited a local coke finca where they show you how to make it. I guess I should have been more interested, the chemist in our group was in her element, but I was just a little bored. You add some coca leaves to chemicals, then distil with petrol, add more bad stuff which would burn out your septum and then purify. Not enough purification could ever get me to touch the stuff but then again I guess it was pretty informative. It wasn’t a real coke den, it was pretty much a makeshift tent set in the middle of the jungle solely for tourist education. Oooohh, and I forgot, if the chemicals aren’t enough to put you off, then note it takes 4 square meters of rainforest to make a gram of coke – bad bad bad!!!! So after our informative drug making morning we headed back to camp, ate some more, and started the days walk. This was only a two hour walk, one hour up, one hour down, and through shaded rainforest, so actually a pretty nice walk. I should have remembered this feeling as it was to be the only day where I felt remotely human and turned out to be the part that killed me later on. When we arrived at our camp we strung up some hammocks and bunked down under the mosquito nets to avoid the worst barrage of bugs I have ever seen. I kept thinking of Sam at this point and finally succumbed to putting my headphones in my ears just in case bugs decided to crawl in for explorative surgery. Wise advice young Guymer.
Day three and the longest day (supposedly) of our trek. We woke up (me still feeling rubbish, the group still being lovely) and headed off early in the morning. Our first rest break was lacking in the freshly cut fruit that I had become accustomed to, but did involve us checking out the locals. There are only two indigenous groups still left in the national park surrounding the lost city, the most famous and common of which are the Kogi tribe. They are the direct descendants of the Tayrona natives and one of the few indigenous tribes to survive the Spanish invasion. They’re fascinating people, and one of the few indigenous groups we have met which really shun western culture. The men wear their hair long and wear white dress style things (like oversized t-shirts), and the woman, belted dresses with no shoes. They aren’t allowed to wear any western clothing and if they ever leave the tribe they aren’t permitted to return. They also have strong cultural laws on sickness and if someone is sick or mained then they are to be killed. Very surprised that they can get away with this in modern times, but at least their culture isn’t being interfered with. After this we began our walk, which turned out to be quite pleasant, and after five hours and five river crossings we arrived in camp in time for lunch - and the deluge of the heavens. We had been thinking, that as we’d been making such good time, (despite my constant stopping for bushman blows – I’ll explain through demonstration when we get the English contingent to visit) that we might be able to visit the city (only two hours and 1300 steps further on) that afternoon, but the rain was horrific. Within minutes of the heavens opening, most of the camp had turned into a mudbath and we had to be content with beer, cards and some ingenious McGuyver antics under the relatively dry patio area.
But it turned out well. When we awoke the next morning (at 5am though – booooo) the sky was clear and the day was looking up. I was even feeling like I might be on the mend (obviously spoke too soon on that one!). The stepped walk up to the ruins was tough, but gorgeous. Reminiscent of the Incan steps of Machu Picchu with small rocks, capable of only fitting midget feet on them (you’d have been fine Kevo), covered with moss and leaves, to climb up. And reaching the top.................incredible. There are some incredible things we have seen so far, and that (unfortunately) leads to a lot of comparisons and some lacking enthusiasm on what others might view as incredible. Not here. Ciudad Perdida is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. A ruined city, perched on a high point in the middle of the valley, looking over incredibly dense, stunning jungle. And, like so many things in Colombia, it is so non touristy. It might overtake Machu Picchu in my estimations for that sole fact. We rocked up to these incredible ruins, in one of the most beautiful places in the world and there was not a soul there. Just our group. Oh, and the army, but they’re in camouflage, so you can hardly see them anyway! So we just had the chance to wander around this magical place, standing on the pebbled ruins of an ancient village, and taking in the scenery with no one to spoil it. So when we returned to the camp for lunch we were on a massive high.
Shame my high couldn’t last. After we finished our early lunch (11am), we set off with our packs and headed to our next night’s sleep. This is where we have issues. The plan had been to sleep at the same camp as we had the previous night (night two), which meant a five hour walk (give or take). But a lot of the group, if not all of them, wanted to sleep at the camp the night before that, which meant adding another two hours on top and taking the days walking to eleven hours (after a 5am start). As you probably can guess I wasn’t happy. There was little chance I would be able to up my walkage by that much, even if I was feeling better, and to make matters worse, the weather reflected my mood and the heavens opened. So we walked the first two hours in pouring rain, the tropical variety which isn’t cold, but so heavy you can’t see for the water pouring down your face.
The race was on though. Our fearless leader of a guide (Juan) had said that we couldn’t walk in the dark, so we would have to make the seven hour walk in five and a half hours or stay at the original camp (camp two). I was secretly (and not so subtley) hoping for this option, but pushed on hard in order not to slow the group down. When the rain finally stopped we found ourselves confronted with the next challenge of the day - which was reminiscent of a skiing holiday. Red clay from the previous days had been changed to mud slides, and what should have been an easy descent took on a whole new dimension. But we carried on, and made it to camp two in four hours (one hour under schedule) – crap. That meant that we had one and a half hours to do the final two hour stretch before dark, and no surprise the group wanted to push on. This was pretty much my breaking point. I headed off in front of the group so that I would slow them down less and was dying from exhaustion. It wasn’t long before they caught up, and as soon as they passed I freaked out. With pretty much the whole stretch to go I started hyperventilating and had an anxiety attack. New one for Leethal, he thought he had seen every freaky thing I could throw at him, but he hadn’t witnessed this one yet (mind you neither had I for a good fifteen years). I couldn’t breathe for the tears and exhaustion but he managed to calm me down – such a beautiful boy. And from that point on he was a godsend. He sang very bad songs to me and made me forget how much I was dying. I knew there were reasons I loved him! So at five thirty – just before dark – we arrived into camp as a group. They had significantly slowed down to allow me to catch up, told you, couldn’t have hoped for a better group to walk with. But that was it for me. An incredible day, where I felt like I had achieved something massive, but not even a cold coke was enough to keep me up and out of my hammock. Bed by 6.30pm – bliss.
Thanks to the mammoth effort of the previous day the final day was only a repeat of the first day and the two and half hour uphill walk became a downhill one and a half hour stroll which had to have been the easiest day by far. We arrived back at the starting point by lunchtime, looking a little more tired, a lot more dirty and stinking a lot worse than five days previously, but so much happier. I’m still not a convert to trekking (and Lee has promised me no more trekking on this trip) but I must admit, once I have done it, it is a massive thrill. If we had missed Ciudad Perdida it would have been a travesty, and will stick with me forever (for both good and bad reasons). The only thing left to do was to make it back to the hotel and shower and change clothes. One outfit for five days of trekking in tropical heat isn’t pleasant and I think a ritual clothes burning might be in order.
Love to you all (glad to still be alive)
Em & Lee