The Lost City Trek in Colombia: An unforgetable adventure
After breaking in my new hiking shoes, buying ten bottles of mosquito repellent, charging my camera, I took my mini backpack, and I traveled with my friends to Santa Marta where our 5 day jungle adventure to the Lost City began (July 2011). The Lost City is an archaeological site discovered in 1972, and belongs to the indigenous people of Tairona located high in the Sierra Nevada (1200m/3937ft). The Sierra Nevada was named a Human Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1986, and a national park by the Colombian Government in 1977. When the Spaniards arrived 500 years ago, the Kogi fled high into these coastal mountains. They believed the Sierra Nevada to be the "Mother" and the "Heart” of the world. Years ago this region was the site of the Colombian armed conflict, but for the past 5 years it has been safe for tourists traveling with organized tour companies.
On the first day we left Santa Marta by jeep at 8:40am and drove in the direction of Palomino. In the small town of Mamey we ate lunch and at noon we started our trek. The physical demands of the trail: vertical climb, high humidity, thin mountain air, and rappelling proved to be taxing on my body, and was clearly evident by my gasps for air and pale skin turning beet red. However, having been forewarned by my Belgian friends of the rigours of the first day, I powered on knowing that my hard work would be justly rewarded by the sights yet to come. After reaching our day 1 destination, I was greeted by a refreshing shower in the river. That evening I fell down exhausted in my hammock (with mosquito net) in the Alfredo cabin with the thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” (Hike 1st day = 3 hours).
Thankfully, day two’s hike was quite a bit easier, and I was rewarded with stunning views of the highest peak, Pico Simon Bolivar (5775m/18946ft), an overwelming vastness of green, pure and natural. Each day we crossed 3 to 4 rivers. For deeper rivers, there were wires stretched from one side to the other to help guide you safely to the other river bank.
It was really funny to see how everyone, including myself, at first was very careful with taking off his/her shoes, crossing the river, drying their feet and putting their shoes back on. However after 2 days of river crossings, the careful threatment was over, and the dirtier and wetter you were, the better. The second camp was very close to a river where we took a shower (hike 2nd day = 3 hours).
Occasionally, we met a couple of Kogi’s (translation jaguar).
They were very shy but friendly, and very unique among the world’s indigenous people because the Spaniards never conquered them. The Kogi are a very spiritual and strong people. They can spend 9 days without sleep during their ceremonial rituals. Of course, the coca helps with that, as it supresses the feeling of hunger and provides energy. They do not allow anyone onto their land, however, they grant access to five tour organizations, which have strong personal relationhips with the Kogi and respect for their culture. Every organization pays 20.000 cop per tourist. This money is collected by their foundation and used for when someone needs medical attention. The female Kogi we encountered were often surrounded by numerous children and babies bound to their backs at the rivers where they washed their clothes. It was incredible to see how the Kogi moved without shoes so quickly. We, as gringos, would often slip and fall into the rich moutain mud. However, our spirits couldn’t be dampened as everyone would yell “Champagne” in unison as someone fell to celebrate their muddy bath.
Day 3 was a very special day because my friend turned 30, and this IN the Sierra Nevada! Incredible and almost unbelievable, everyone received a glass of champagne, and our guide even baked a cake. All the candles were blown out and becoming "30" will not soon be forgotten. Before our celebration the Shaman, called a “Mamas,” captured a snake near our camp. Thank you Shaman!
A tribe’s Shaman is chosen at birth, and spends the first 9 years of his childhood in a cave in total darkness learning the ancient secrets of the spiritual world or Aluna.* The Shaman we met was a quick-witted and humerous fellow.
When we asked him about his age, without any hesitation, he told us “60.” Our guide then quickly added: "That is not right. You're 80 damn years old!" The Shaman burst out laughing and showed all of his brown and yellow teeth. A wonderful moment! All of the Kogi have bad teeth because of the coca leaves they are constantly chewing and store in their cheeks. You will never see a Kogi without his poporo.** The thickness of the poporo is the mark the Kogi use to show a man’s manhood and status. Day 3 ended at the trek’s biggest camp site very close to the Lost City. (Hike on 3rd day = 4 hours).
On day 4, exhausted after 1200 stone steps, we arrived at the Lost City!!! After three and half days of hiking we were rewarded with spectacular views of the city and surrounding mountains. Our guide then explained to us in detail the history of the city. It once had 2.000 to 8.000 inhabitants, and it was a bustling political and economic center. The city adapted to the mountaineous region with carved out platforms (where even the military had an outpost to keep the region safe), stone steps and circular terraces filled with light green grass. The hike to the lost city was aprox. 1,5 hours. We spent 2 hours at the lost city, returned, had lunch and kept on hiking to the next camp. (Hike total 4th day = 5 – 6 hours).
After aprox. 44 km of hiking in the spectacular rain & cloud forest of Santa Marta’s Sierra Nevada with views ranging from lush jungle flora and fauna to snow-capped peaks, our trip reached an end. What an experience!
Back in Santa Marta we were happy to get out of our dirty clothes, get cleaned up, eat a tasty meal and enjoy some well deserved cervezas. Unfortuntely, our dirty clothes were not as lucky to be cleaned as the hostel decided not to offer their laundry services that day. Perhaps they were too dirty and smelly for them??? We will never know, nor did we care. Our bellies were full, our thirst quenched and our adventerous spirit satiated. An adventure I will never forget!
1: Take two bikinis or bathing suits: one for hiking, one (dry) for sleeping.
2: Put your clothes in plastic bags to protect them from the rain.
3: Mosquito repellent, Nopikex. It comes as a soap or spray and costs 8.000 cop. You can find it at any Colombian pharmacy or supermarket. Here you can find more tips about Mosquitoes in Colombia.
4: Soap to wash your clothes which can reduce your luggage to only 2 t-shirts (1 for daytime and 1 for nighttime). At every camp you can do a small amount of laundry by hand.
5: Traveling with friends, each with a camera? Use only 1 camera at a time until it’s battery life has been exhausted. That way you will always have a camera, and be able to take photos for the entire trip.
6: Bring a headlamp and plasters.
7: Water purification tablets are integrated in the buckets of water, so you always have clean water at the camps. Fill your water bottle before each hike, and take tablets with you, so you can refill your bottle at the various rivers.
8: The price of the trek = 660.000 cop/pp for 5-6 days. The trip is all-inclusive: transport, food, accommodation, guides, security, drinks, snacks, etc. Recommendation of Colombia Fácil 'Where to book your trip' you can find here!
NOTE: Indigenous people who live in the “heart” of the world (Sierra Nevada) are called "Older Brothers.” Those who are not living in the “heart” of the world are called "Younger Brothers."
*Aluna: An inner world of thought and potential. From birth the Kogi attune their priests, called Mamas, to the mystic world called Aluna. It is in this "spirit-realm" that the Mamas operate to help the Great Mother sustain the Earth.
How does it works? The powder is kept in gourds and extracted with a stick, which is used to wipe the lime onto the wad of coca leaves in the cheek. The lime is made by burning sea-shells. The ring of calc, which builds up around the rim is saliva (the fresh water of the body) mixed with shell-dust (the seed of Serankua, dua, the seed of all life). Created during contemplation, by thoughtfully licking the stick and rubbing it on the neck of the gourd, this calc is also described as a book: “We write our thoughts in it.” (Ereira 1990: 209).
Why? The Kogi themselves explain that they chew coca in order to obtain the state needed to communicate more easily with their ancestors. (Marshall Cavendish Encyclopaedia). The powder of burned sea-shells inside is the essence of fertility, and for a boy to grow to manhood he must learn to feed on that. Eating from it reminds a man of what he is, and keeps him in harmony with the Great Mother. (Ereira 1990).
When a boy gets his first poporo from the Mamas, it is a momentous occsassion signifying that he is turning into an adult. For girls, it’s when they first begin menstruation.