Ciudad Perdida (literally translated - The Lost City) is an archaeological site in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Colombia that was founded by the Tayrona indigenous people as a town and spiritual center around 800 A.D. The Tayronas were wiped out during the Spanish conquest and the City was forgotten until rediscovered in the early 1970s by grave robbers. The return trek to the site is typically organized as a six-day adventure through the jungle, with the highlight being the 1200-step climb to the ancient center, but we got on with a group that did the trip in five days. On the trek, you sleep in mosquito-netted hammocks, constantly cross rivers and streams and pass by more waterfalls and things of striking beauty than your mind seems to register. The words "clean" and "dry" exist only in sentences beginning with "I wish I was....", and the heat, humidity and insect life is off the charts. Finally, everything is slippery and I would say there is a realistic chance you could fall and break a bone almost any moment you stop paying attention, but probably only a handful of times when you are in danger of doing something much worse.
- A shining example of the indomitable spirit of humankind, willing itself to overcome the elements to gain further knowledge in respect of a fascinating cultural legacy, culminating in a visit to a priceless archaeological site; or
- A clever ruse by an organized network of mosquitoes to chase unsuspecting tourists up hills and further into the jungle, culminating in a retreat to a priceless archaeological site where 85% of their population lies in wait for an incredible blood feast.
I'd like to think that the trek was the former, as the I don't like the thought that we were bested by a bunch of insects. I'd also like to think that our group willingly traded several litres of blood to the mosquitoes for the privilege of exploring their city and not that those little bastards stole it from us.
To appreciate our experience, you probably need to have some understanding of the people involved. Our group included a German couple, a French woman, two Irish girls, two London girls, one Spanish lady, one Colombian girl, one Slovakian girl, our guide, our cook and ourselves. Everybody was really nice, but we tended to gravitate most towards the German couple (who are our age, just quit their jobs to embark on a one-year sojourn, and are currently doing a six-month South American portion with starting and ending dates almost identical to our own) and the French woman. She was a Parisian executive with Louis Vuitton. In addition to having a personality that we very much enjoyed, it was interesting and novel to listen to her stories about the fashion industry. She was also memorable for the moment that completely made the trip worthwhile for Kristin .... when she asked Kristin if she had ever been scouted as a model before. (Aside number 1 - This was also the moment when I realized that thing keeping us from that his and her modelling contract we have been seeking very well may be "him".)
The readiness for the trek varied greatly within the group. Kristin and I prepared like we were going to war. We thought long and hard about every item we brought (and on the trip were asked to share our bandages, toilet paper, water purification tablets and Swiss-Army knife by people who didn't bring as much) and had readied ourselves mentally to "endure". We even spent time speculating about whether the benefits of having just hiked at altitude would more than offset the difficulty we would face hiking in the tropical conditions closer to sea level (in my mind, the trade off was a net loss). In sharp contrast to our level of preparedness, I was shocked when an hour into the trek one of the London girls stated that this was her first hike ever. I was less shocked when she developed truly horrific blisters hiking in her fabric Converse sneakers. I would be immensely shocked if she ever hiked again.
Because of what we had read and because of the horrors we were expecting, we found the trek to be extremely challenging at times but much less unpleasant than anticipated. I think the trek could be completed by any physically-fit person who is willing to deal with a healthy amount of "grossness", as Kristin calls it. Everyone in our group finished in one piece, though a couple of the people in the group had had enough and hired horses to walk them out on the last, gruelling day. (Aside number 2 - On this trek and after some of the exhausting climbs, I truly began to appreciate how satisfying Kristin finds the actual punishing physical activity itself. In contrast, I don't enjoy wondering if I am going to die while I exercise, but do rather enjoy the feeling of having completed something fairly intense and then pretending afterwards that it was no big deal when debriefing others.)