I’ve been finding it very difficult to keep up with writing about all the amazing experiences I’ve been having, becuase I’m too busy having amazing experiences. Leaving Panama I sailed through the San Blas islands, arriving in the Colombian port town of Cartegena, which is beautifully maintained, clean, safe and fun as long as you stay within the walls of the old city. After Cartegena I took a small (15 person) bus to Taganga, where I got my PADI open water certificate (I can now Scuba dive all over the world) and embarked on a five day trek to La Ciudad Perdida (the lost city) through the jungle near Tayrona National park. I’ll follow up later on my recommendations regarding the trip through the San Blas islands (the best way to get to Cartegena from Panama, without a doubt) as well as on my impressions regarding Taganga as a tourist destination and dive location, but for now I want to talk about La Ciudad Perdida.
The lost city is situated some 20km from the nearest town, and it’s accessible only by foot or helicopter. It’s visited by about 3000 people a year, mostly foreign tourists as Colombians are not too interested in battling the rain, mud and mosquitos to explore what they consider a pile of rocks. Most people spend 4 or 5 days getting there and back but I’ve heard of people doing it in 3 days and also taking as long as 6 days. To get there you hike through some very mountainous jungle, complete with towering trees, creeping vines, indigenous tribes, waterfalls, rivers, mud, slippery clay, rain and ever present mosquitos. It’s not an easy hike- in the words of our tour guide “es dificil, pero no es imposible ” “it’s difficult, but it’s not impossible”. You will get sweaty, muddy and tired, and if you’re not careful you could die many ways. But most of the people who visit this area of Columbia complete this trek with nothing worse than a leg full of mosquito bites and a backpack full of wet clothes. People of all ages make it through- in our group there was a married couple age 67 that completed the trek, riding mules on the last day but hiking the rest, which gives me hope for my future self to be able to continue adventures like this well into retirement.
And an adventure it is. I had scouted around before embarking to get an idea of what I was in for- mainly I was concerned about whether or not I had adequate time and gear to complete the trek as I planned to fly to Medellin this week and I travel light- I only have 3 t-shirts, 2 socks, 1 pair of shorts and 1 pair of pants, a pair of shoes and a pair of sandals. I didn’t want all my gear destroyed before my next week in Medellin. Most people said yes, their stuff was disgusting and some of it destroyed, but not all of it. I decided I would wear my board shorts, commando style, and one (icebreaker) t-shirt during the day (the same thing every day) and I would save my pants and one other shirt for the evenings, hoping they would stay dry in my backpack during the hike. The only other gear I brought was my camera, my iPhone (no Internet, but I could use the kindle app to read and the note app to write this) a pair of ear buds, a raincoat, a bunch of Off! mosquito repellent, some TP, my watch and a wool scarf. I am currently three days into the trek and everything is going as planned. Each day my shoes and shorts get very muddy but there is always a chance to jump in the river and rinse off before we reach camp. Nothing ever fully dries out but hey, it’s the rainforest.
We spend each morning hiking through the jungle on a fairly well worn path that morphs from 6″ deep mud to rocks to uphill clay climbs to river crossings to peacefully flat meadow walks back to slippery clay slopes. I spend most of my time looking like a baby dear on ice, while our 24 year old Colombian guide Miguel deftly skips ahead to give the others a hand with the next river crossing. Miguel is a clown, often doing unexpectedly funny things. He seems to teleport from place to place, following us one minute only to appear ahead of us on the trail the next minute. At one point I was bringing up the rear but knew Miguel was in front of me, just around the next bend and out of eyesight. I rounded the bend and found his backpack sitting just off the path with no sign of Miguel. I approached the pack with trepidation, half expecting him to be lying in ambush nearby. I noticed some vines rustling over the side of the cliff but he wasn’t down there. As the vines began to shake more violently my gaze followed their ascent into the canopy above and there was Miguel 40 feet above my head, laughing as he slid down the vines toward me.
The guides turn what could be an arduous, painful, dangerous journey into a luxurious trek. Every couple of hours the chef that accompanies the group is found with orange slices, a watermelon and a nice place to relax for a few minutes. They prepare each meal, do all the dishes and make you coffee. The food is good, and there is plenty to go around. It’s even possible to buy a couple beers at the end of each day.
There are a few different tour companies you can choose from, including Magic Tours and Expo Tours but they all offer basically the same experience for the same price (about $330 USD). Each company follows the same trail and you’ll often share guides as the groups from the different companies meet up at different points along the trek. It’s hard to make travel recommendations for these kinds of things because oftentimes for the same company the level of service and safety varies greatly from year to year. Magic tours seems to be the most popular at this time, but it’s probably best to simply arrive in town, ask around, get a group together and book the trip there. One thing to note is that 2 out of 3 of our guides spoke only Spanish, which is great as it forces me to practice, but could be a hindrance if you don’t have a basic level of understanding of the language.
The trip was a challenge on many levels but I came away from the experience with a real sense of accomplishment and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in exploring jungles, encountering indigenous people, and physically pushing themselves a bit. The ruins of the lost city are really just the icing on the cake – the best part of the trek is the journey itself, not the destination. I find this to be true not only of the journey to the lost city but also of the journey of life.
Just some general administration stuff – I’ve got a Facebook Fan Page setup over here. I love photography and I’ve taken thousands of pictures on my Olympus EPL2 already, and I sort through them and post my favorites to the Facebook page, so check those out if you’re interested. While there please “like” the page, it helps with social cred and makes me feel really good inside. Buen viajes amigos!!!