In Santa Marta we booked a 4 days tour to the Cuidad Perdida and then drove to Tayrona National Park. One of Colombia`s most popular national parks, Tayrona lies along the Caribbean coast with beautiful beaches and jungle at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is home to 56 endangered species such as the tiger cat, armadillo, primates, boa constrictor, rattle snake etc! It also has 27 species of flora and fauna that are only found in this region.
We had a lovely time and wild camped here for 3 nights in the car park entering through El Zaino gate. Well what an experience for our first wild camping of the trip. This was the jungle and with it came the creatures and noises of the jungle! It went dark about 6pm and just before that, the bats came out to play! They were so low flying that I thought they were going to land on my head! We went to bed shortly afterwards and slept surprisingly well for all 3 nights although waking sometimes in the night could be a little exciting and there was no way I was getting out of the roof tent if I needed a wee! It was incredibly humid-so we opened the side doors on the roof tent whilst keeping the mosquito nets firmly zipped up. We had also bought 2 small fans in Cartagena which provided an adequate breeze.
We walked through the rainforest to Arrecifes, a beautiful beach where the rainforest meets the sand. It took us about 2 hours in the hot and very humid conditions but was most certainly worth it for the variety of trees and plants and insects we saw.
So after 3 nights camping in Tayrona, it was time for our trek to the Ciudad Perdida (Lost city) for 3 nights and 4 days. We met the other 7 on the trip and our guide, Nicolas, on the road outside Tayrona and we followed them to the start of the trek. Part of it was off road so Ruby went into 4 wheel drive and headed up the mountain with big drops off the side of the road! Our guide then negotiated with a farmer so that we could park Ruby up for 4 days and she ended up in his yard being admired by the farmer, his family and friends!
The trek was spectacular, taking us through some of Colombia`s best tropical scenery. We walked for about 4 hours on day 1 and Gav and I quickly realised we were the slowest by far and also the oldest! Once we got used to this fact, we were happy to go at our own pace and come in last! Our guide gave us a talk on evening 1 about the recent history of people living in the mountains, in relation to the Coca plant which is part of the indigenous peoples` culture.Coca is also grown by non-Indian settlers as the raw material for cocaine. Colombia has long been dubbed the cocaine capital of the world, and its production has had devastating consequences for the indigenous population.
The lower slopes of the Sierra have been occupied by colonists growing coca for the drug trade that funded much of the armed conflict between guerrilla groups and paramilitaries in the country’s long-running civil war. Despite the Indians’ peaceful nature, they have frequently been caught in the crossfire between the army and illegal armed groups, and many have been killed or forced to flee from the quasi-civil war raging on their land.
However, the government and military have now taken back control of the area and are trying to help former coca farmers develop legal businesses. On the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, people who once grew coca are now selling coffee, honey and cocoa, and running eco-lodges.
We also met some of the indigenous people who live in the mountains, the Kogis and saw their houses. The Kogi have clung to their traditional way of life in these mountains since the Spanish conquest 500 years ago. In recent decades, they have been caught in the crossfire between guerillas, paramilitaries and cocaine traffickers. As a result of this violent contact with outsiders, the Kogi call the rest of the world "little brothers"—children who are ruining the earth with their greed for its resources.
Their shamans, or "big brothers," believe they are the guardians of the earth, and make offerings at sacred sites throughout the mountains to restore a natural order ruined by our mistakes.
They have maintained a traditional way of life.Boys and girls look very similar both having long hair and wearing similar clothes. One way of distinguishing them is that the boys carry a bag and the girls wear 2 necklaces to the boy`s 1.
Nicolas also made it very clear that we had entered natures territory and should respect it. He explained that there were poisonous snakes and scorpions and that we should always use a torch at night and shine it around to scare off snakes! You should have seen my torch shining around madly! We also had to check our shoes in the morning for scorpions and snakes. We slept in bunk beds lined up next to each other, covered in mosquito nets, outside! What a brilliant experience and we were so tired from hiking that we slept like logs. Nicolas woke us daily at 5am for breakfast and we would be trekking by 6am to beat the heat a little.
On day 3 we climbed 1200 stone steep steps to reach the Cuidad Perdida. It was worth every minute of the trek, set in spectacular scenery and containing such history. Ciudad Perdida (Spanish for "Lost City") is the archaeological site of an ancient city in Colombia's Sierra Nevada. It is believed to have been founded about 800 CE, some 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu.
Ciudad Perdida was "found" in 1972, when a group of local treasure looters found a series of stone steps rising up the mountainside and followed them to an abandoned city which they named "Green Hell" or "Wide Set". When gold figurines and ceramic urns from this city began to appear in the local black market, archaeologists headed by the director of the Instituto Colombiano de Antropologia reached the site in 1976 and completed reconstruction between 1976-1982.
Members of local tribes—the Arhuaco, the Koguis and the Wiwas—have stated that they visited the site regularly before it was widely discovered, but had kept quiet about it. They call the city Teyuna and believe it was the heart of a network of villages inhabited by their forebears, the Tairona. Ciudad Perdida was probably the region's political and manufacturing center on the Buritaca River and may have housed 2,000 to 8,000 people. It was apparently abandoned during the Spanish conquest.
We also met the shamen who gave me a blessing and a bracelet.
On the last day Gav and I set off first as we were the slowest. This meant we were first on the trail at 5.45am and no-one had trodden the path before us and disturbed any wild life. I walked past a bush and suddenly spotted a large, fairly thick black snake curled up. We went past (quickly!) and I told Gav what I had seen and he went back for a very quick peep and then we hurried on!
It was a tough last day with a couple of long, steep uphill sections which were even harder in the heat and humidity. My tummy had started to feel a little poorly and I thought I might need an emergency stop towards the end of the trek. We had almost reached the end of the trek when I stood in mule poo. I said to Gav "Oh no, I`ve got shit on my shoe". He turned round with a look of pure horror on his face as he thought I had said " I have shit on my shoe", bearing in mind my dicky tummy from earlier! As if Gavin!
Next we head away from the Carribean coast, where we have been for a month now and head for the area of Santander. We will stop being plastic overlanders and start camping again...I promise! But....ooohhh...that hotel was wonderful!