Deep in the jungle in the Sierra Nevada behind Santa Marta in Colombia lies the Lost City, a pre-Colombian Tayrona settlement rivalling Machu Picchu in its inaccesible, yet spectacular location. There are various companies (Turcol, Guiyas, Magic Trek, etc) that run different types of trips, but most are around 5 days. Here's how mine went:
Elevation: 100m at village Machete Pelao to 400m
Walking time: 3 1/2 hours
I started the day with a 2 hour drive from Santa Marta to the little village of Machete Pelao. We stopped on the way so that the jeep could be used to help a friend move some wood. After turning off the main road we wound up a dirt track in the land rover. I waited a while for the rest of my group to arrive and watched a finishing group celebrate. 3 hours for one pair, then 4 hours, 5 hours, etc. Lunch was a delish sandwich. We walked 3 1/2 hours with a swim in the gorgeous river after half an hour then 1 hour straight up! Had a watermelon snack at the top with the ducks eating the scraps and seeds before walking along the ridge and back down again to the camp on the river in a gully. We slept in hammocks and had quite a lot of time to chat and get to know one another. Pistachios! There was another swimming hole and showers were possible. It rained hard at night and I was glad it wasn't during the day.
The group was really international: Miguel, Jenny and Wilson were the guides, and we had English, Czech, Colombians, Swiss (French and German), Spanish, Dutch, Belgians and me, the token kiwi.
Elevation: 400m to 700m
Walking time: 3-4 hours approx 2+ swim + 1
We started the day going up a small rise, then around a ridge past another camp and a few villages, then more upwards hiking, but not too bad. A delicious orange at the top-- its amazing how good fruit tastes when you're hot and thirsty! Along another mountain top then down around the ridge, across a creek then we stopped for a welcome swim. Big relief! A leisurely sit in the sun to dry off, then a pineapple snack before resuming walking. 1 hour more up a valley to the second camp (beds!). It had a lovely grass area (likely used as a helipad), and a convenient swimming spot. The further up we went, the cooler the pools and rivers got. Many rains upstream made the river quite full so only those who swam early got a dip. Our soup lunch was perfect for our appetite, then most of us were content to snooze all afternoon, especially when it rained. Camp 2 had no electricity so our 7pm dinner and chat about local tribal traditions was by candelight.
Some interesting tribal traditions:
-A man marries an older woman with children and later chooses one of her daughters as 2nd wife (in theory it avoids conflict)
-A chief is usually born during a full moon and lives in a special house alone for 5 years as a rite of passage with no meat, salt, oil, etc
-Shamans make a coca leaves and shell mix as a drug for men which creates wild visions (likely toxic!)
-Marriages can end (separation) if it's not working
-Marriages are arranged by tribal elders after a girl's first menstruation and these husbands are much older than their wives
-They bury people under their houses, so the houses (like those in the Lost City) are sacred
-There are only 3 tribes in the Sierra Nevada, and they are all descendants of the lost Tayrona civilization. The Lost City is sacred to them. Tribes: Arsarios, Cogis, Arquaco
-The Cuidad Perdida was first built by a Tayrona tribe around 6 BC.
Elevation: 700m to lunch to 1200m in lost city.
Walking time: 4 hours to Base camp. 1 hour up to lost city
Camp: in lost city
We were up at 5.30 am to leave at 6 and started with and upward section, across a new suspension bridge (3 months old) then around a saddle. My favorite day of walking: 4 hours beautiful walk through fields and lovely forest, fording a river and bypassing the trail by going up the river. I sprained ankle very badly just before lunch camp. I had a swim in the river to bring down the swelling then Wilson taped it up and I hobbled up the steps 1 hour to the lost city itself, arriving around 3 pm. Many people were in the lunch camp ready to head down, but really this was the only contact with people not from our group in the whole 5 days. The stairs were incredibly intact after so many centuries, and there were lots of them (1200?). There was another river crossing (3 all day) before the stairs. I needed walking sticks to get across!
The lost city itself had many circular areas of housing areas then more stairs. A main road of the city goes up along ridge, 3 stones wide. There was a Colombian Army camp in lost city and it was astounding to see people watch the Euro Football Cup finals at the top in the barracks! I enjoyed a snooze at 4 pm to help my ankle get a rest, then enjoyed some nuts and beer - the army's way of making some extra funds. Dinner was finished by 7pm so we moved on to rum, chatting, and a special local ankle treatment made from boiling dead/brown banana leaves up and getting a massage. The camp included a big frog and a friendly spoiled cat.
Elevation: 1200m to 700m
Walking time: 3 on site, 1 hour down, 4 hours out. Long day!
Camp: back to camp 2
I started the day with a scorpion sting! I grabbed my towel from the hook and he was hiding beside. If I am afraid of any creepy crawly, this would be it, only second to snakes. I woke the whole house up in my panic, and wondered if I would die. Our dear guides turned the room upside down to find him, then lopped off his head, slit its stomach open and rubbed the guts over my sore finger. The contents of its stomach negate the poison making only my hand hurt instead of my arm (and no taste on my tongue, either). Disaster averted. Miguel said if it'd been a black one, we might have been in a bit more trouble.
We then had a 3-hour guided walk around site learning about how the huts were built, how the rocks were cracked using heat, the grave robbers history, etc. such an amazing place. Each circle, of which there were many, covered a family burial plot. 1 meter below was a small treasure, then a layer of coal, then another meter or so, and pots filled with more burial artifacts and a bigger treasure. Each dead person's soul was inside a statue of gold, explaing the drive of the grave robbers. Our guide, Wilson, who has been guiding people to the lost city for 20 years or so, explained that each circle with a tree was one the grave robbers had not gotten to, and was currently unexcavated. There was some government excavation in the 80s, but the traditional people were upset at what they saw as the souls being removed from their resting place and put in prisons (museums). They protested the excavations so all were stopped. Future excavations are still under negotiation. The Tayrona descendants would like to bury the gold unearthed in a secret location but whether they would allow archaeologists to document it first is just one of the issues being discussed. Several other old Tayrona sites exist but are closed to visitors, including one high above the snow line built after the Tayrona were beginning to fear Spanish encroachment.
We then had 1 hour down the steps, a quick stop for lunch, no time for a swim. It was 3 1/2 hours along the ridge and down, across the swinging bridge and along river past a camp to the friendly spacious camp of 2 nights before. Rain started so it was very muddy and slippery, so slow going. Definitely not a good hiking day.
Elevation: 700m to 100m
Walking time: 4-6 hours all the way out
Up at 5am for one of the longest days: Two major uphills to get all the way out. It wasn't as tough going as I thought it would be. We stopped briefly for a swim and a break half way through, but lunch was not till the end. I think I made it in 5 hours? Not bad for stopping to film an ant march and for having a sprained ankle. Such a feeling of accomplishment, and a beautiful journey to an amazing historical place. No comparing or judging, just enjoyment.
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