While we were in Santa Marta, Colombia, we went on a 4 day hike through the jungle to the Lost City, Cuidad Perdida. The start of the trek was a 2 hour hair-raising drive from the city, then a 1 hour off road, and equally hair-raising, drive to the village that used to be named Machete, because of the way they found to settle their differences!
The start of the hike was hot, humid and steep, but it did get a bit cooler as we climbed. At the top of each hill you got famtastic views before plunging down to the next valley for a river crossing.
I have always been a bit of a coward when it comes to jumping from slippery rock to slippery rock but our guides were very patient, although on the next crossing he made me laugh and I fell in anyway.
As the days went by the jungle got thicker, the rivers got deeper, the paths steeper and either really muddy as it tended train overnight, or covered with large boulders.
It was an incredible logistical exercise for the guides as they provided 3 cooked meals a day for each group. There were about 6 groups heading out each day, so in some overnight stops there may be 100 people. All the food was brought up by mule over some impossible terrain. The cooks unloaded at each stop, cooked a meal for their group on an open fire range, sometimes by candle or torch light, then at 4 a.m the next morning, 2 hours before dawn, the mules were reloaded and went on up to the next camp. Each night there were either bunk bed shrouded in white mosquito nets, or hammocks. The rows of bunks looked like something from the catacombs.We got up at 4:30 a.m. while it was still dark for a typical Colombian breakfast of very salty scrambled eggs, arrapas with cheese, fruit and coffee. Then set off at first light, watching the sun rise over the distant hills. As it got wetter and muddied I could see why the indigenous people we passed all wore rubber boots under their white robes. We stopped at an indigenous village where they explained that the women spent much of their time making bags that are important in their culture. They get the twine from the yucca then dye it with natural colours that they get from the forest.
They get purple by crushing the leaves of a particular tree and after about a minute the juice oxidises and turns purple. Yellow comes from the sap of some of the lliannas.
The men wear their bags across their body and the women always wear theirs straight on their front or back, or have the strap across their forehead, often with a baby fast asleep in it. The women do most of the work in the village. Often with the youngsters the way they wear their bag is the only way to tell girls from boys. One of the indigenous children who swam with us in the river was fascinated by Bernie’s grey hair, as theirs never goes grey. The villages normally have a large hut for the men. Their hut has two doors as they must not leave the hut by same door that they entered. The smaller hut is for the women. Family relationships are quite unusual. The man usually marries an older, experienced woman who may already have a child. Later the man will take a younger wife, often the daughter of the first wife. Harmony is maintained by them not having any sex within the hut but out in the jungle.
This is the start of the 1270 steps that lead up to Cuidad Perdida. The steps were built so that the Spanish invaders could not ride their horses up them to attack the city. The steps were very slippery and steep, especially on the way down and of very uneven heights. In fact the Spanish never reached the city. The city was built as a massive series of circles increasing in height, up and around the mountain. Only a very small part of the city has been uncovered. The walls up to about 3 foot high are original, generally higher than that they have been restored. We were very lucky to have Wilson as our guide as he had been there in 1974 during the original clearing and archaeological excavation. As we had started so early we were able to watch the sun rise over the city and to have the place pretty much to ourselves. Within each mound there would have been a traditional hut, built in the same way as we had seen in the villages coming up. The dead were buried beneath the Hut along with gold figures and ceramics for the afterlife.
This is what attracted the grave robbers in 1973 when the site was first found, and much of the gold was removed. In 1974 an archeologist named Frederick paid the grave robbers to leave the site alone and police were brought in for protection. Unfortunately because of police corruption stealing continued from the site. So in 1975 the army was brought in and they are still there with their machine guns, camped above the top of the site. At the end of the 16th century when the Spanish were attacking the coastal areas, thousands of refugees found their way to Cuidad Perdida. This initially caused famine as the area could not support so many people. Then some of the refugees arrived with illness from the Spanish and most of the people of the city died, so the city was abandoned. They left the stone above as a map of where the different parts of the city are located. We were taken to see the Sharman who returned to the city in 1984. At that time the indigenous people wanted to return and to stop the removal of artifacts from the site. They threatened to kill one person for every gold artifact that was removed. Frederick negotiated with them and was able to continue the excavation for a while. But now they have said that there is to be no more excavation, so the rest of the site has stayed protected by the jungle. I have to say that he did crack a smile in the end. A Colombian army soldier raising the flag at dawn over the Lost City.