Lost City, Colombia
As the story goes…
… Once upon a time, the lost city was a rich, thriving community. Believed to be some 650 years older than Machu Picchu, it likely came into existence near 800 CE. Like with many South American communities, the dissolution of the indigenous tribes in and around the lost city came at the hands of Spaniards around the 1400’s. With the arrival of European greed came European disease that of course ran rampant and took the lives of most.
As if the jungle’s intent was to protect the loss like a secret, growth rapidly took over. Local tribes stayed hushed in partnership with the land; an unspoken deal with the earth and the heavens, promising to let those in the ground lay in rest and with due respect.
One day, not that long ago, in 1972, a zealous farmer, motivated by potential riches, determined to be the one to uncover, ventured on a one man journey to prove the rumors, the stories and myths of the supposed lost city full of gold.
He traveled for weeks, dug for days, and successfully found treasures. Ancient urns and figurines began to appear on the black market. Alongside the organization of looters came demand of these rare artifacts. Business boomed and wallets began to fatten. Archeologist took notice next and soon after followed the necessary attention to protect and preserve.
The four day hike is full of stunning scenery and views. White sand walkways oddly growing watermelon quickly give way to dense, tirelessly rolling, growing mountains that become heavy with jungle. Rivers are dotted with pools to cool off in. Friendly locals from tiny villages along the way sell snacks and even weed if that somehow helps you climb in sweltering heat.
The lost city wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the local Shaman. This felt a little forced but harmless. The locals make a buck and the gringos walk away with a plain string threading cheap, plastic beads that have been blessed by an enlightened but unenthusiastic individual and his many curious children. Raw coca leaves taste very bitter. But I was as happy as the rest to receive my bracelet like it was a badge of honor, to say mission complete.
Coca is a very important plant to the people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region. To them, its value is medicinal, nutritional and religious. On a daily basis, it is either chewed in its raw form or used for tea. Unfortunately, the production of cocaine has given this important plant a bad name and it is now banned from being grown by the local population. This is a major infringement on the traditions and lives of the Tayrona people. Most of them continue to grow it anyway, as they should.
The lost city still requires protection. It wasn’t long ago still that this special place was being looted and there are still plenty of treasures buried. In more recent years it was a hotbed for guerrilla groups. Though infrequent, kidnapping of tourists occurred enough times to shut the trek down for a couple years.
These days, for the most part, plenty of tourist traffic keep it too busy for anyone to try and start digging things up and peace amongst opposing groups has dissolved any activity in the area. Still, young men in uniform live in makeshift homes at the top of the lost city. They mostly hang out and goof off with the tourists.
So what does it take to hike this sacred trail once only traversed by a fearless few? First, you must find a strong leader. Guides are mandatory. Second, this is a group event so you’ll need to play nice with others. You will discover camaraderie and quickened friendships with each sweat drench push. The hike isn’t easy, so be prepared to work for your (re)discovery of the lost city. Remember what goes down must come up. This applies to the hills, heat, and emotion.
This hike is very well organized and increasingly popular every day. You’ll be well taken care of along the way.
Sporadic refreshment stands appear like mirages over horizons every several hours or so. Smiling faces from ramshackle huts squeeze fruit expeditiously for ravenous climbers.
Many of the current local villagers have set up camps for groups of hikers. They offer humble, candlelit meals, cold showers and a place to rest one’s head. Open air hammocks and bunk beds make up the accommodations. And they all have over priced, cold beer, that of course, you’ll pay the extra pesos for.
Ciudad Perdida is a challenging multi-day hike sure to evoke some self-discovery while contemplating the discoveries of the parties involved in hundreds of years of history layered and uncovered. This really was one of the greatest hikes of my life. Happy hiking everyone.