Monday, April 26, 2010

Vale La Pena

By Peter Heck

The day had finally arrived for me to embark on a 5 day trek through Colombian jungle to search and find La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City). Prior to departure, reservations about doing this had crept into my head. Our great friend Kylee gave only mediocre reviews of the trek (given it's cost) and the thought of leaving Dalene for the first time in 8+ months made me a little uneasy. But it was booked, paid for, and my day bag was packed - I was to be picked up at 8:30am on Tuesday morning.

DAY 1:
Tuesday morning came, and so did the rain. In typical Columbian fashion the jeep didn't show up until 9:15am. I gave Dade a big smooch and I was off on a 2 hour drive to a small town named Machete.

We were fed lunch when we got there, and then started our trek into the jungle. Thankfully the rain decided to let up, we were all pretty relieved that our bags would hopefully be dry upon arrival at camp 1. On the way out of Machete we passed another group who was just returning from the trek, and they wished us luck. They looked pretty beat up from what they just went through - a sign of what was to come for us.

The first part of the hike, like any other, was mostly spent chatting with the other trekkers and guides and finding out more about their adventures (and of course taking in the scenery and photo-ops as they arise). The first ascent we had was a good one, but when we got to the top of the first climb, we were all soaked with sweat.

The humidity in the jungle was insane, and we all pretty much sweat just by breathing. We were rewarded at the top with a snack and fruit break. After the break, we hiked for another couple hours, crossed a few creeks, saw some cool bugs and birds and before long we arrived at hammock city #1.

A few moans and groans from some of the trekkers, but I thought it was a pretty easy day 1. We all picked our hammocks, and then were treated to a huge hearty dinner consisting of carne, arroz, papas, y refrijoles (typical Colombian meal of meat, rice, potatoes, and beans/lentils). We all inhaled it, and were treated to a postre (dessert) which came in the form of a Gol candy bar.

After dinner we introduced the card game "Shithead" to a few of the guys who hadn't heard of it, and played that for the majority of the night. I by far was the Shithead for most of the evening, and actually quite amazed how poorly I was playing. Pretty much I was known as Shithead for the rest of the trip, but believe me, after we came up with nicknames for all of the guys, Shithead was one of the milder ones!

As there was no electricity in our camp, we needed to use our flashlights to get in and out of our hammocks for bed. My luck was that the batteries in my torch were dead. Great, day one and I'm not going to have light at night for 4 more nights. I managed to knick a candle and that was all the light I needed.

Got into my sheet, and hit the hammock. It was my first night apart from Dalene in 8 months, I missed her being next to me already.

DAY 2:
At 6:30am, one of our guides was shaking everyones hammocks to wake up. We were supposed to depart by 8am, but there was an option to visit a cocaine operation for a tour at 6:30am. It would have been interesting to do, but only 2 of the 16 group members decided it was worth the 30,00COP (~$15). Most of us also did not want to support the industry that has been so devastating to this beautiful country. The people who took the tour did say it was pretty interesting, and if anything it was a way to make them never ever want to do cocaine, after seeing what actually goes into it.

After a hearty fruit salad breakfast, we set off for Hammock camp 2. We were all amazed at the true beauty the rain forest has to offer.

But with all the sweating from the humid trekking we were delighted to see our first swimming hole. All of us couldn't get in fast enough! A natural river with an area for cliff jumping was just what we needed to energize us for the last 2 hours of hiking in the day. An added bonus - it got rid of some of the stink that was lingering from the previous day.

We started our last 2 hour hike and passed by a number of Kogi tribe members who are indigenous to the area. The little girls eagerly ran up to us and asked for your bracelets or whatever else you were wearing. Luckily I had remembered that I had brought some granola bars and gave these to them which they seemed to appreciate.

Throughout the trek I moved at a pretty fast pace and so I kept up with the lead guide Enrique. We called Enrique the "Bird Man" because it seemed that whenever he made a whistle sound, some bird in the jungle would repeat it - it was actually quite amazing! My Spanish is good enough that I could have conversations with him, allowing me to learn all about different fauna, wildlife, and insects in the jungle. We came across giant toads, snakes, and many different insects (including the stinging catepillar which decided to sting me!)

We arrived in Hammock Camp 2 just after 1pm and were treated to lunch almost immediately. It was just a simple vegetable soup, but one of the best meals on the whole trek a lot of us agreed. After lunch, we all went down to the river to soak and wash ourselves in the water for a couple of hours before heading back up to camp for more cards.

Surprisingly enough, the camps were stocked with cerveza and Coca-Cola. Even if they had no power to refrigerate them, we were still pretty happy to indulge. Time seemed to fly by, dinner came and went, and again we were treated to a Gol candy bar for postre. These Gol bars soon became the most cherished thing, and of course every time they brought them out a chant of "GOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLL" would erupt. I think the guides loved it.

Following dinner, we played a few games of shithead before retiring to our hammocks for the night.

DAY 3: Wake up call at 5:30am. We had a 5 hour hike in front of us to Hammock Camp 3. A shitty night sleep on the hammocks was had by all of us, but we all managed to be in good spirits to start the day. The goal was to reach camp by 12:00pm and then there was the possibility that we could reach the Lost City in the afternoon, as it was only another 1 hour away. En route on the first leg, we had 3 river crossings which were actually quite nice because it gave us a chance to cool down in the water.

After a couple fruit and snack breaks we reached camp 3. A nice little location with a swimming hole and waterfall.

This time we were excited because there were beds, no hammocks for this night!! We all picked our bed for the evening and then went and had lunch. The guides asked us if we wanted to do the Lost City in the afternoon. We all agreed that we would do it first thing in the morning and just chill for the rest of the day. This was the best decision we made, because no more than 2 hours later the rains came - it poured and poured for 7 straight hours.

We wasted the afternoon away drinking rum and playing cards - shithead, 25 and flintstones poker (rock chips). Some drank a little too much rum more than others and after a couple embarassing moments went directly to bed after dinner. The remainder of the night was fairly uneventful except for the seeing the coolest bug I have ever seen - a green-eyed click beetle. It had neon green eyes that glowed in the dark and we called it the rave bug. We all thought it may have been a little toy with a battery, but nope. Truly amazing. You can't really see much in the video except for it's eyes moving around.

DAY 4:
Apart from the guides, I was the first awake. What was supposed to be a catch-up-on-sleep night in a real bed, turned into another horrible sleep. The beds were deceiving and it was probably as bad as sleeping on plywood. I was a little started when I went to wash up - a scorpion was in the sink! I jumped back at first, but after close investigation I saw it was dead. I later found out that it jumped on one of the other hikers the night before, and he thinks that one of the guides killed it afterwards. It was good for a laugh from them seeing me a little startled.

We finished breakfast around 6:30 and headed out to the Lost City. It was 1 hour and 6 river crossings away. Once we had all the rivers crossed we were faced with a 1,200 step climb up.

Upon reaching the top the view was truly spectacular. The small group of us who moved faster than the rest of the group were lucky to catch the last little bit of sun and mist in the morning and got some spectacular photos of the city's ruins.

La Ciudad Perdida: The Lost City was created by the Tayrona tribe around 700AD. They lived here until 1502 when the Spaniards invaded. Fearing for their lives, they abandoned the City and went up higher into the mountains. They were not able to survive up in the mountains and the Tayrona tribe were completely wiped out. The City was discovered by graverobbers in the 1970's. Apparently when the head of household passes away, himself and all the jewels and treasures are buried with him and the house is abandoned. The graverobbers knew of this and started digging up all of these lost treasures. In 1976 the Colombian Government and archaeologists protected the Lost City from these graverobbers and attempted to restore it. The Colombian "Ejercito" now protects the city from graverobbers, but also the tourists. In 2004, 8 tourists were kidnapped from the Lost City, and the Army wants to ensure this doesn't happen again.

It was cool to speak to the soldiers and get some photos with them. Of course they appreciated the Marlboro's I brought for them. I only wish I could have remembered to bring a bottle of rum, he may have let me hold the gun!!

After the photos we all went down for an explanation from our guide, and to walk around for a bit. Others believed that the ruins being the least impressive part of the trip, but I found them to be truly spectacular, and a well deserved goal after 3 hard days of trekking.

The route down was a lot more difficult than the way up. Our guide kept saying "liso, liso" which means slippery, and he was right. We were pretty lucky not going the day before as it would have been crazy trying to get down the steps in the rain. We made our way back to the camp, had some lunch and then made our way back to Camp 4.

The walk back to camp 4 was a little more difficult as the track was very muddy from the previous days rains. With myself, the guide, and another fast walker in front, we just decided to run down the tracks of mud instead of trying to take it easy. This turned out well as we made really good time to the next camp. Others who didn't have proper hiking shoes didn't fare as lucky and took numerous spills down the hill, but no serious injuries, and more fun came out of it all. We were rewarded with another swim in the natural waterfall and swimming hole, coupled with the Lost City, it made day 4 a great experience.

The last night was spent in another hammock, and we all retired fairly early after a few games of cards. The last day was going to be the most hiking we had done all trip so we wanted as much rest as possible.

DAY 5:
Up again at 5am, and by now nobody had any clean clothing left. Needless to say we didn't smell pretty. But nobody really cared how we smelled, we just cared about getting the walking underway and make it back to Machete by 1pm.

Again myself, the guide, and one other guy set the pace. We figured at rest stops we were 30 minutes in front of the group. We even found out later that at one of the stops where the guide asked the woman for oranges, she did not give them to anyone else but us. A nice reward for staying ahead of the group.

We arrived in Machete about an hour ahead of schedule. With luck, they had ice cold cerveza! A god-send after having warm beer for the last 5 days. We indulged in a few, and exchanged stories, laughs, and showed off injuries from the previous 5 days.

We got the waitress to take a photo of us all, and seeing the smiles on our faces, it was certainly VALE LA PENA (worth it)!

When I got home Dalene was waiting anxiously for me, but after 1 or 2 quick kisses, she couldn't stand my stench any longer. All clothes were left outside and into the shower I went. My journey was over, but it just means after a couple of recovery days, the next one begins.

For all the photos click here

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