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Saturday
Jan092016

The lost city - found!

This summer one-third of the nation will be ill-housed, ill-nourished, and ill-clad. Only they call it a vacation. Joseph Salak

Trail head of Cidudad Perdida Hike, January 2, 2016.

As Blue Skunk readers may remember, I attempted but did not succeed in hiking the Cidudad Perdida trail in Columbia last May. My conclusion:

I need to begin selecting more age-appropriate activities. ... God, I hate to admit I am getting old, though.

That decision gnawed at me. I rarely, very rarely fail to finish a physical challenge once I start it. So I did what any person with a growth mindset (or who is simply a damn stubborn old fool) would do: lose 20 pounds, hike excessively with a pack, and book another ticket to Santa Marta to give it another go.

Photos and observations from my second attempt at finding the Lost City, January 2-6, 2016...

The trail out and back is a paltry 50 kilometers. It does, however, have reportedly 19 river crossings, all which require a good deal of balance on slick rocks - tough when one is tired. The trail is also never flat, often steep, and usually rocky, slippery, or extremely narrow.

Any of us could do this trail.

This one, not so much. Pictures do not do justice to what it feels like to scramble, often on all-fours, for nearly an hour at a time, these rough climbs in 90 degree heat with high humidity. I would never recommend this hike to anyone solely on the basis of what that person would be thinking of me about 45 minutes into an hour-long climb, puffing, sweating, and cursing my name. Hell, I was mad at myself!

This is the best graphic I could find of the changes in elevation on the hike. Note that each hike segement, leaving from the three casas (camps), starts with a very long hill and ends, coming back into the next casa, with a pretty good downhill. The uphills tested your breathing and leg muscle strength; the downhills your balance, your joints, and toes.

So why? The views, despite spending much of the time in jungle (or more specifically mountain rainforest), were lovely. After a long hard climb, the path often flattened for a kilometer or so, allowing dramatic views of mountains and valleys. Yes, this is why I hike!

Kogui Village of about 60 souls was one of many indicators that I was hiking through the home of indigenous peoples. The area is held sacred by four tribes, descendents of the Tairona people who built Tayrona (Ciudad Perdida).

Of whom these are five. Looking for "dulces" (sweets) from the hikers.

A more likely encounter were kids on the trail, wearing traditional garb. They moved fast. Girls were barefoot or wore sandals; boys wore rubber boots.

Mules carrying supplies (and a few tourists) to villages and camps were a common sight. Every American should live for a while in an economic culture where animals are the primary means of transportation. Puts complaints like "My iPhone battery just doesn't last long enough" into some kind of first world perspective.

A view from a high spot. Clouds moving across the tree-covered mountains were gorgeous.

The first day out I kept glancing down at my hiking shorts and worrying that I had a leak in one of my water bottles since they were wet - and kept getting wetter. Turns out, that wetness was just plain old sweat. I was soaked from five minutes into the hike in the morning, until I took a swim or shower late in the afternoon after arriving at camp. I lost five pounds over the course of the trip.

Besides the 19 river crossings, at least a dozen streams a day had to be hopped across. Some parts of the trail were through streams (and mud) for a dozen or more meters.

Each evening was spent at a camp, composed of metal-roofed buildings with no walls. Supper here is being eaten by candlelight. Meals were prepared by our guides and some camp staff - hearty fare, usually beans, rice, and meat. Beer, thank god, was available for purchase at each casa.

Hammocks with mosquito netting or a bunk bed were one's overnight accommodation. I had a bed three nights out of four, finding the hammock nearly impossible to sleep in. The camps were crowded this trip with little space in either beds or hammocks between you and your neighbor.

Leaving Camp Three. Each of the camps had similar amenities - flush toilets, cold showers, kitchen/dining buildings, and sleeping quarters. And each had a nice place to swim in the river at the end of a long, hard day. Could have been worse.

On the third morning of the hike we visited our destination: the ruins of Ciudad Perdida/Teyuna. This is the view of the first of the 1200 stairs to Teyuna. 1200 stairs is about 60 stories - the IDS Building in Minneapolis is 57 stories. These are, however, irregular, slippery stairs. Through the jungle. The very hot and humid jungle. I sometimes sort of amaze myself that I can actually do stuff like this.

And what does one find at the top of those 1200 stairs? The grand stairway, of course. Leading to...

Amazing stonework in four areas of the site that pre-date the Incan's Machu Picchu by some 650 years. The site lacks the granduer and dramatic setting of Machu Picchu, but it is fascinating in its own right. Only a small percentage of the ruins (some 169 ring-like terraces) have been excavated - the indigenous peoples want to protect the sanctity of the area. Personally, I hope it stays somewhat "undiscovered" and not turn into another overrun destination like Machu Picchu.

Made it! No green screen, no Photoshop. My sweaty self celebrating making it to the top of Teyuna. Long sleeves and pant legs were mosquito protection.

Of course what comes up, must go down. Even the 20-somethings on the trip took the cautious approach to descending the 1200 steps, back to the river, back to the camp, back to the world.

A reflection on shoes. These were long days of hiking. According to my log...

Day One. Machete Town to Camp One Adan
   1:40PM start, 4:20PM arrive in camp (2.5 hours, 4.7 miles)

Day Two, Camp One to Camp Three
    6:30AM start, 10AM lunch at Camp Two Sanchez (3.5 hours, 4.6 miles )
    11:50AM start, 3:50PM arrive in Camp Three Rumualdo (4 hours, 4.6 miles)

Day Three, Lost City to Camp Two
   6:30AM start, arrive Lost City 7:40AM, leave Lost City 10:30AM, arrive Camp Three 11:30AM (5 hours)
   12:00PM Leave Camp Three, arrive Camp 2 4:30PM (4.5 hours - one being lost)

Day Four, Camp Two to Camp One
   6:30AM leave Camp Two, arrive Camp One 10:10AM (3.7 hours)
   Afternoon free!

Day Five, Camp One to Machete Town
   8:00AM leave Camp One, arrive Machete 11:30AM (3.5 hours)

I ignored my own advice and did not wear two-pair of socks (thick socks over thin socks) to prevent blisters. So of course, I got blisters - one on the sole of my right foot and one on the heel of my left. I had moleskin and band-aids with me. I also got a few bug bites, some weird rash on my ankle, a scratch on my forehead, sore leg muscles, and a bit of a knee twinge. But over all, not bad, never hugely painful. My feet were damn sore for two days following the hike and I was very glad to be out of these hard-working old Merrell hiking shoes.

I wished I could say the return was all downhill, but the same mountains we crossed going to the ruins we crossed going back as well. Happily with the 5 day hike, the last two days were more or less half days. I got five books read on my Kindle during my week's vacation.

The last two nights of my stay were in a nicer hotel near the center of Santa Marta. I have to admit that I was so foot sore that I did little but read and nap and lounge by the hotel pool. The trip home started on Friday morning at 4AM local time and did not finish until getting back to my apartment until 1AM on Saturday morning.

Evan Essar once wrote: A vacation is like love: anticipated with pleasure, experienced with discomfort, and remembered with nostalgia. If my past trips like this are any indication, the pains and discomforts will fade and the memories will glow ever more brightly. I will find myself anticipating with pleasure my next hiking adventure.

Perhaps one more suited by age group.

All photos from the hike can be found here.

Slideshow in progress.

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Reader Comments (3)

Congratulations, Doug. The trip sounds amazing, as well as challenging, and the pictures are great. I really need to step up my own goals so thanks for some inspiration.

January 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTim Stahmer

Thanks for sharing your adventure! Very inspiring. Love the photos. Congratulations on your accomplishment.

January 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTrish Harvey

Hi Tim,

Thanks for the note. Good to hear from you. Let me know what your hiking goals are. I am always looking for new challenges!

Doug

Thanks, Trish. I am going to see if the MNRovers want a program on the hike!

Doug

January 13, 2016 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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