We did it! We just completed the 4 day hike to La Ciudad Perdida, The Lost City, in Colombia's Amazon jungle. Our original plan was to hike Machu Picchu but once again my delay in planning led to all of the spots being booked for the entire season (I'm starting to notice a trend here, guess I'm not such a great planner after all). Originally I was super bummed but decided I wasn't going to let it ruin the thought of a backpacking trip. We wanted an epic hike so I did some googling and found La Ciudad Perdida listed as one of the best hikes in South America. We were already going to be in that area of Colombia anyhow and it was supposed to be just as cool but cheaper and less well known. It said moderate difficulty but we eat healthy and work out so it wouldn't be a problem. Perfect! I went with Wiwa tours, a local tour company run solely by the indigenous people of the area.
We got picked up at 8:30 in the morning to start our trek. All three of us were bright eyed and optimistic. It involved a 2.5 hour drive from Santa Marta into the Sierra Nevada mountain range in an old diesel 4x4 land cruiser. We met our hiking group, 8 of us in total plus our 2 guides. We had lunch at a little restaurant in the last town before the trail head then shouldered our packs and headed out. We were told that the hike was 14.5 miles each way, the elevation change was "only" 3,000 ft, and that we would be hiking anywhere from 4 to 8 hours a day. Totally doable! Then the hike started. It was straight up the mountain on a switch back road in the blistering sun. It took all of 10 minutes for us to be pouring sweat and out of breath. Two hours in and Shane was annoyed that it wasn't a "real" trail (weren't jungles supposed to have trees?), Chris' knee was already acting up, and I was so hot and out of breath that I wasn't talking anymore. About every hour they would stop for us to rest and every two hours we would stop at a little stand tucked on the side of the trail which would have fresh fruit for us to snack on. After four hours we finally got to our first camp, Mamey. Thank goodness! Shane had long been out of sight with his boundless energy, with Chris and I holding up the back of the group. I remember coming around the bend a little ways ahead of Chris and shouting "Chris, its camp!!!". We tumbled across the little bridge over the river and collapsed onto benches. The guides encouraged us to head to the swimming hole right away, which we grudgingly obeyed. So glad we did. It was a beautiful swimming hole with a waterfall tumbling down the rocks next to it and lush jungle all around. The water was absolutely pristine and FREEZING! That's why the guides got us to swim, the cold helps to reduce swelling of the muscles and joints like a full body ice pack, plus that was our shower! We had a delicious dinner the chef made and fell asleep around 8pm (it was a struggle to even stay up that long) to the sound of river tumbling by and the occasional call of a frog or cicada.
The next morning we woke up at 5am and had a hearty carb loaded breakfast to give us energy for the day. Yesterday had thoroughly kicked our @$$ and that was a short day so we decided to hire a donkey to carry Chris' pack to the next camp since his was the biggest. We left Mamey by 6am tired but determined. By now we were finally on a "real" trail by Shane's standards. It was a narrow path weaving through lush trees, ferns, and vines. Birds were calling from the trees and lizards were darting across our path. Even though it was shaded the humidity was so high that the feels like temperature of 102 F didn't seem to do it justice. We started uphill and reached our first fruit stop by 8:30am. Quite the start to the morning. Shane was doing fine but Chris and I were really having some trouble. I was beginning to question whether I would be able to make this trek. The guides had mentioned that there was a side detour to a river midday today (one hour each way) and I was contemplating just not going and resting at where ever the turn off point was. Luckily I decided that if I was here, I'm not going to miss anything. We entered the Wiwa camp midday for the promised swim in the river and lunch. For us non-acclimated gringos the steaming bowl of soup that was offered for lunch was not exactly what we were hoping for. It was so good I couldn't help but finish it but by the end of my bowl I looked like Reuben Feffer from Along Came Polly after eating the Indian food. Within minutes of finishing our lunch we were back on the trail for "the hard part of the day", a hike STRAIGHT up to that nights camp. Apparently switch backs aren't just for roads/cars, they are for people hiking as well. Shane was me and Chris' superman. He shoulder both of our packs so that we could try to keep up with the group and would walk back and forth between us giving us water and taking pictures long the way. Just when I thought I couldn't go any further we finally made it to that nights camp eight hours later. Teyuna Cabins (we learned that the La Ciudad Perdida is the tourist name given to the city Teyuna which has been known to the four indigenous tribes since it was built). Chris and I looked like we were 90, our legs practically giving out on us every time we sat for too long. The next day was our ascent to Teyuna so after dinner, we passed out right away.
Five in the morning came all too quickly. When I got up out of bed my knees felt like they were swollen to the size of grapefruits. We managed to gather ourselves for breakfast and the essentials for getting to Teyuna (we would come back to camp for the rest of our stuff later). After a river crossing in fast moving water we were at the base of the steps to Teyuna, all 1,200 of them carved out of rock. I guess they weren't aware of the concept of rise over run in 800AD because the tiny irregular steep steps which were covered in moss and clay were not the easiest to navigate. As we reached the top a huge terrace opened up in the jungle, seemingly from nowhere. The sun filtered through the trees and the butterflies floated past us going from flower to flower. Paradise in the middle of the jungle. All the hard work getting there was instantly worth it. We spent the next three hours wandering the four acres of recovered plazas, ceremonial areas, stone-lined paths, staircases, and canals that make up this ancient city. There are another 30 acres still covered in dirt and plants that the jungle has reclaimed. We got to see the huge carved stones that they used to map out the rivers and mountains of the Sierra Nevadas. Although there is no written record the Mamos, religious leaders, have maintained a verbal accounting of the city throughout time. The story says that the city was abandoned when the Spanish came and disease struck the city. The four sons of the ruling leader each split off to form their own tribes in different areas in the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. The four current indigenous tribes (Kogi, Wiwa, Arhuaco, and Kankuamo) have continued to use Teyuna for ceremonial and religious events for the past several hundred years and do so to this day. Each December the site is closed to all tourism and the military stationed there are required to leave. They then have the a week long ceremony where the four tribes come together in celebration. After hearing the accounts from our two Kogi guides it seems like this "lost city" has really not been lost to those who knew about it in the first place.