Tales From The Diary
Entry #2 comes from my trip to Colombia back in 2010 – my first fall after working seasonally and my first experience having 2 months of freedom before beginning my next seasonal gig. This was also my first international solo trip…there was a lot of criticism for being a white female traveling to Colombia alone. This entry is quite lengthy & my writing isn’t of a professional level, my apologies. However, it’s also full of adventure, short history lessons, hardship and pure fricken awesomeness so hopefully you find the patience to make it to the end 🙂
October 29, 2010 – La Ciudad Perdida
To rewind…left for La Ciudad Perdida on October 24th. Dorothy and I met at the Outfitter Expotur, right down the street from my hostel (Hostel Pelikan). We arrived around 9 am, locked up our large bags and headed off in a jeep with just day packs (packed for 5 days in the jungle). Fernando was driving and Antonio, our Guia, was in the front seat. We were in the back, caged like cattle. The journey to the start of our trail took about an hour and a half and was quite an interesting ride. We stopped in a small pueblo about 45 minutes in to grab breakfast, which consisted of various fruits from the region. I wish I could remember the name of them all. One was similar to a pomegranate and I recognized it from my first South America trip back in 2008. Others were a mini banana (Amazing) and some orange fruit that was great but felt as if my teeth were combing someones hair. 15 minutes later we picked up some locals in need of a ride and began a rather rough, to say the least, ascent up to our starting point. It felt quite like a roller coaster ride…fun, of course!
The ride lasted about an hour and we arrived at our destination just in time for lunch. Did I mention the group trekking consisted of just Dorothy, Antonio and I? Brilliant. We ate lunch and began hiking around 1pm. The initial start was a joy, heading into the jungle along the river, anticipating the trek ahead. We then began the climb. Our ascent lasted approximately 1 hour but felt like 5. We ended up hiking at a rather intense speed (thank you, Alaska for prepping these thighs!) and beat the 30 Colombian students, also on the trek, to the first camp. This camp wasn’t supposed to be ours but the rains 1/2 way through were so intense that the “stream” turned into a river and we were unable to cross.
We set up in hammocks, cooked a lovely meal of chicken, salad and rice and attempted conversation for the night around 4pm. Antonio doesn’t speak a lick of English so I was quite relieved to have brought my Latin American phrasebook along for translation, when possible. We had a wonderful look into his life before guiding. Antonio used to work in the cocaine industry until he was about 21. This was the time when President Urebe came into power of Colombia and really began to turn the drug movement around and suppress the Guerrillas activity. Police and Militia swarmed the coca factories, one of them being Antonio’s, and farmers were being paid to cut coca plants down and begin new farms of coffee plants and other various products. Antonio, while working in a factory for what I believe was very little pay, had to flee when the police ambushed. He said he ran from the police for a while and it wasn’t until he discovered guiding, that he was able to fully rest. He began work as a guide at 24 years of age. Apparently, to be a guide, one must enroll in University and learn all the facts regarding the city in question, Antonio’s being Taganga and La Ciudad Perdida. Antonio is working to not just be a guide, but a professional guide which means he must learn information about every trek and city in Colombia. The history studies take 1 year and for his second year he will begin English courses. Upon completion of his 2 year study he will be considered a professional. He said that he is very excited to learn English and would like to visit the USA once he could speak the language. We told him to visit Alaska 1st thing, obviously 🙂 I mean, his nickname is Lightning because he’s an incredibly fast climber…built for Denali!
After about an hour of conversation our brains were exhausted from translation and we retired to our hammocks to fall asleep to the rain. I had no trouble sleeping and found hammock slumber to be somewhat enjoyable. Then the night took a turn. I awake in the middle of the night to Dorothy tapping me, persistent that I watch my belongings. Apparently some man had crept up under her hammock and she heard the plastic around her bag wrestling. When she looked down, the stranger was staring right at her. She glared at him and thought he went away but when she looked up again he was crouching at the head of her hammock. Talk about unsettling! She got up and looked at him again and at that point he fled. Being in the middle of the jungle, stalked by a stranger isn’t exactly the way I pictured this trip going. Luckily, I had placed my belongings at the bottom of my sleeping bag but certainly had trouble falling back asleep.
We woke up to Antonio cooking breakfast around 6:30 am. I found out that Dorothy had been up all night puking with what sounds like the sickness I had in Bolivia 2 years back. She couldn’t keep much down, a feeling I knew very well. The most dreadful part was that we had a fairly intense day of hiking ahead of us. 3 hours in the hot, humid jungle weather and blistering sun. At this point one could only pray for rain.
We began our hike around 8:30. The first part of our journey was in the sun on a somewhat exposed trail. It was a variety of downhill, escalations and rough terrain. Dorothy was struggling but doing impressively well given the circumstances. We took plenty of breaks and ate as much fresh fruit as we could possibly stuff down. We stopped in a few pueblos along the way which were home to the indigenous tribes of the Teyrona era, called the Kogis. While visiting the third camp we learned that there were 190 tribal members throughout the jungle and two shamans in charge of them all. After passing the second and largest pueblo of the trek, consisting of around 10-12 huts, we finally began to walk deep into the jungle with less sun to guide our way and the shade to cool us from the heat.
3 hours from our first camp we arrived at camp 2. This camp was larger than the first and consisted of hammocks and beds covered with mosquito nets. The camp was set right along a river too. Dorothy immediately went to rest while I tore off down the hill for the river. I was in much need of a cool down! The water felt amazing and the view was breathtaking. I was quickly joined by Antonio who dove right in showing no sign of hesitation to the cold or rushing undertow before him. He helped me across to calmer waters where we bathed in the sun and enjoyed resting for the first time in hours. Him and I discussed everything (as much as our lack of common language would allow) from girlfriends & boyfriends to jobs and life. He was fantastic when it came to helping me understand more Spanish and truly learning the language. He explained to me some significant aspects of the jungle and our journey. I found that the river we were swimming in lead straight to the Lost City and was called El Rio de Burticaca. The Lost City which I knew as La Ciudad Perdida had another name, El Inferno de Verde, meaning The Green Hell. I’d need to do research as to why this name came to be but found it quite interesting none-the-less.
We conversed a while longer until we were joined by a fellow Colombian, a friend of Antonio’s and helper with the other group, who was incredibly attractive and had a body to kill over. These two climbed rocks, splashed wildly and acted as two boys should. Entertaining to watch. We were soon joined by other trekkers, a team of 12. 5 were from Ireland, Scotland and Wales; 2 were from Isreal; a couple from Portugal and a family of 3 from Switzerland/Brazil but residing in Bogota for the time being. We headed up to camp for lunch and just in time to beat the afternoon monsoon! Lunch consisted of chicken noodle soup which was satisfying but too hot of a meal for the jungle heat. The afternoon soon fell to boredom, sitting in the rain and strongly regretting leaving the journal behind. Antonio and I attempted more conversation and he even asked me out for a beer when we returned to Taganga. I was looking forward to this, having failed to mention Antonio was a very attractive Colombian guide. Perfectly tanned, nice toned muscles and only 26 years old. I suppose the situation could get interesting…Todo Es Possible En Colombia.
Dinner was late, around 8 pm. Beef and rice. Now I’m normally against red meat but to describe the fact that I don’t eat red meat yet am ok with chicken, turkey and fish becomes difficult when your Spanish is limited to carne o vegetarian. I threw my morals out the window for the sake of a filling, savory meal. We went to sleep shortly after and all was fine until I woke with the urge to vomit everywhere. Shit. Not again. South America surely shows no mercy to my stomach, ass or pride. She’s brutal. I awake 4 more times through the night to destroy the small, innocent bano. I felt no remorse. In the morning the pain hadn’t let up and a headache was taking on. The good news was Dorothy felt great! I only hoped I had what she did and would be fine within 24 hours. I ate very little for breakfast which I would later regret when my body was screaming for energy and I would have nothing to feed it’s cries.
We began our day around 8 am, only to embark on the longest trek. Four hours, one of which being straight uphill, to camp 3. The advantage of this day was that there was little sun, getting to hike under the shade of the trees. I don’t remember too much from this day except that I felt like hell and was given rehydration salt for my water which tasted much like ass water, although I’ve never had “ass water” but you get the idea. What seemed like 12 hours later, we arrived at our camp after 100 hours of uphill climbing and 2 river crossings. I slept the afternoon away in a tent under one of the shelters. Later at dinner, while eating like a bird finally being able to keep down solids, we had the chance to sit down with the Shaman and ask him questions about the Kogis, his people and their lives. We learned the huts were built with two peaks on the roof to represent the snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada range. We also learned of the 190 natives throughout the jungle and the two shamans in charge of them all. Finally, he wore a strange white condom looking hat which apparently represents the peak of the mountain tops with lines weaving down representing the rivers flowing and lastly the base representing the beach. Only the shamans wear this hat, a symbol of status. It was a very rich experience getting to sit in his presence and hear about the indigenous life.
Engaged at camp, we also had time to dive into the lives of those trekking alongside us. The woman from Switzerland told us of her life working for the Embassy. She spoke many languages and had travelled extensively. She had been transferred to Rio De Janero a while back where she met her husband, a Brazilian. They had two children all while living throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, Bolivia and now Colombia. I’m torn as to whether this is a positive experience or negative one for her kids. Learning languages, engaging in various cultures and seeing the world is great at such a young age but their social skills were certainly lacking. However, they seemed content so who am I to judge? I envy the family’s ability to communicate with just about anyone, a truly valuable gift. One I would hope to someday possess although there’s a slim chance of that every happening!
Day four. We awake at 5:45 am. The camp, which includes our new group of 14 plus the 30 Colombian students, eats breakfast and begins the 30 minute hike to the base of the Teyrona Stairs. The hike was actually fun, having to swing from vines and scale waterfalls. Then came the stairs…all 1200 of them. Looking up was daunting however once we began I quickly found that the climb wasn’t as awful as I originally imagined. The sections were broken up with different archeological sites along the way to stop and gaze at. When we finally arrived at the top we were greeted by a few military members who are stationed to protect the city from various threats such as terrorists, guerrillas and thieves. Speaking with one of the men, Luis Cuesta, I found out they are stationed atop the ruins for 3 months at a time. They have one TV with one channel and are literally in the middle of nowhere. The only relief comes from daily interaction with tourists to break up their routine. After a bit of small talk we convinced them to let us hold their guns and take pictures with the group. The first real gun I’ve ever held and I was surrounded by Colombian military. That was likely to be the last time I’ll experience holding a machine gun which is a blessing if you know me at all.
We sat at the top of the Lost City, overlooking the amazing jungle with the sounds of waterfalls crashing down beside us. What a feeling! Another guide from one of the various groups began describing the history of the city while the Swiss woman was kind enough to translate. The Lost City was built by the Teyrona tribes’s in 700 AD. They feared Spanish invasion around 1600 AD and moved the city higher into the mountains to protect themselves. Doing so however caused children to become sick as well as other’s due to cold and altitude, ultimately leading to extinction. The city itself remains mysterious as to how it was built. The circles of the homes represent the sun, in which they worshipped. They would build stone walls with the top layer sitting further out to help rainfall. After feared Spaniard invasion and threat of extinction, the city became known as The Inferno Verde.
After the city, we trekked all the way to Camp #2. We arrived to find hammocks strung about and the two other groups weren’t far behind, joining us for the night. There were so many people packed into our small shelter it was tough to find comfort and alone time. Giving up on quiet, Dorothy and I sat to play cards with one group. The individuals ranged from the Netherlands to New Zealand, Lancaster to Vancouver. It turned out to be a fun evening and we left wishing we had been with them all along.
The fifth and final day. We woke very early, had a delicious breakfast filled with donuts (delightfully unexpected) and “ghetto” mochas. This was The Big Day, having to make the entire trek back before nightfall. Dorothy and I took off ahead of the group and managed to beat them to lunch by about an hour. We even managed to stay ahead of “Lightning” for sometime! The uphills were dreadful but after lunch we completed another two hours of hiking and finally reached the finish by noon. This time we lost Antonio until he came tearing around a corner on a horse. Can you say night in shining armor? Ummm, yeah. And where the hell did he get a horse? We didn’t bother to ask…instead we just followed him to the end. When we got to town we arrived to a congratulatory meal of fresh cooked fish and beer. Antonio took off to find a few friends with dirt bikes who would give us a ride down the hill we originally rode in a jeep up. Riding down was exhilarating and terrifying and turned Antonio into the ultimate sex machine, watching him handle the bike without fault (Dorothy had the pleasure of holding that beautiful man as she rode on his bike. I wasn’t so lucky having to ride with his chubbier friend who wasn’t nearly as graceful navigating his moto). This was, however, the start of my love of bikes, which later in life would guide me to my wonderful husband.
Dorothy and I arrived back in Taganga, safe and sound, for some much needed relaxation. I needed time to collect my thoughts and reflect back on what I had just experienced. 5 days in the jungle, relying solely on our guide and strangers & unable to properly communicate a majority of the time…something I was not familiar with yet would love to revisit again and again. I had learned a lot about myself and the limits I could be pushed to. I accomplished a challenging adventure and felt on top of the world. Salud to Colombia. I would sleep well that night and wake up in anticipation of the new adventures awaiting!