1200 Steps

(This post will function as a personal narrative of the Lost City/Ciudad Perdida and a following post will be a review with tips based on my experience. When I was looking up reviews and information, I found a lot of it 2-3 years out of date.)

Ciudad Perdida is a signature “adventure” destination in Colombia, still slightly off the map but recently growing in popularity with residents and foreigners alike. With my non-profit organization field salary I always considered it a little expensive until friends came to visit and convinced me that $300 USD for an all-inclusive trip is actually quite the deal. I’m glad they did.

It was four glorious days with no internet or cell service, surrounded by NATURE! (a Barranquilla anomaly) and quiet (WHAT????) and with nothing to do besides walk, with nowhere to be except the next camp in X number of hours, and with someone else taking responsibility for everything. All I had to do was move in a generally forward direction and throw my orange peels on the ground. Those factors alone made it worthwhile, and then there was the incredible Sierra Nevada scenery and the final destination that truly does feel like a Lost City, only accessible by 1200 stone steps shrouded in overgrowth.

The Trek

I love just about any outdoor activity, however, I can’t decide if I actually like hiking. I like the idea of hiking. I like having it on my itinerary, using it in sentences, putting in lists of my “likes” and looking all hike-y in pictures with sneakers and water bottles and mountains in the background. I like the part where you stop for breaks and eat snacks, get to the top of the mountain or the waterfall or whatever and take pictures when the trees break and there’s a nice view.

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So hike-y. Photo Credit Jacquie O’Brien

I’m not so sure if I really like the hiking part of hiking. Looking back, I want to say that the trek “wasn’t so bad;” in fact, something in my mind wants me to tell you it was easy. It’s like a fishing tale or something, like I need to up the mileage and lower the effort? Here’s the truth: This girl of decent athleticism who is accustomed to working out in high heat and humidity five or six times a week found herself, at times, cursing the stupid First World concept that is hiking and wondering, “Is this even fun? I don’t think I’m having fun right now. I don’t think I remember what fun is? Why did we do this? Why do we climb things when we have machines that do it for us? Or the internet? Why didn’t we go to the beach this week? My cast is itchy.”

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This was about 2/3s through an hour-long uphill stretch. Questioning the motives of this “hiking” business. Note my classy hat. ´Photo Credit Jacquie O’Brien

In other words, there were some difficult stretches. Maybe the three chain-smoking skinny Swiss girls sprinting at the head of the pack would disagree, but the four of us are considerably athletic and we were sweaty, heaving messes at various moments. Day one brings a good hour of never-ending switchbacks in a 400-meter climb, days three and four have hour-long uphill stretches and the final ascent to the City is a 1200-step stone staircase. All of those ups end up being downs as well, descents that make my knees and ankles hurt just remembering.

Technically the trek is 14 miles to the city and 14 back (23 kilometers each way) but when you factor in the ups and downs on the trail, it ends up being about 40 miles or about 65 kilometers. That’s bragging material in my life, considering I have occasionally taken Barranquilla buses 4 blocks.

Note: If you did the same trek or a longer one and think it was super easy and you actually ran the whole thing in 24 hours and carried a small Kogi child on your shoulders, congratulations. My soggy cast and I don’t care.

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Photo borrowed from Sarah Long

Luckily, my favorite parts of hiking (mainly the parts where you aren’t walking) made it completely worthwhile. The Ciudad Perdida trip is only accessible with a guided tour, as the city itself is on protected indigenous lands and who wants unsupervised tourists tromping around? No one. This means that Ciudad Perdida hikes are in the running with the Bogotá Ciclovia for Most Organized and Functional Colombian System. Groups of 15-20 people are staggered along the trail, only occasionally piggy-backing or passing and by some miracle everyone ends up with a bed or hammock at the end of the day and more than enough snacks and meals.

 The Destination

An enlightening, subtle AMERICAN!! guy in our group insightfully observed, “YOU KNOW IT’S FUNNY AND THIS SOUNDS BAD BUT I’VE SEEN SO MANY ANCIENT RUINS IN SOUTH AMERICAN THAT I’M ALMOST DESENSITIZED YA KNOW? LIKE IT’S NOT EVEN THAT IMPRESSIVE. HA. HA. HA.”

Personally, I thought it was quite cool.

The city itself is called Teyuna and was built and inhabited by the Tayrona people starting around 900AD (Teyuna-Tayrona –  stay with me here.) It was a thriving community that stretched all over the Sierra Nevada mountains until the Spanish came and pulled a classic conquistador move: First they traded for gold, then when the natives didn’t want to trade anymore, they enslaved them, and eventually their nasty First World diseases finished off most of the remaining Tayrona. Teyuna and dozens of smaller archeological sites were “discovered” by looters and bandits in the 1970s.

The city’s platforms, stonework and round foundation remains seem to stretch on forever, and they just might. Standing in the middle of the site, one is completely surrounded by wild, green mountains that are the perfect backdrop for lost cities and their secrets. A decade ago, some of those secrets were FARC, ELN and the like but fortunately the Lost City and its access is now secure.

Four days of shaky legs, sweat stains and 8:30pm bedtimes were the perfect remedy for a busy start to the year and left me itching to [hose down my backpack and] see as much of Colombia as I can while I’m still here.

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