Jungle Is Massive

Off we go, into the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta jungle for 5 days.

I was so nervous about this trip. I’ve never been to the jungle and had no idea what to expect. I knew we would be trekking to the Lost City, or Ciudad Perdida, and that it would take us 5 days to get there and back again. The tour company offered two different treks, a 4 day long and a 5 day. The website said you needed to be fit and that the 4 day trek would include intense mountain hiking. Not for me thanks! The 5 day said you need to be reasonably fit and that it would be a little less intense than the 4 day hike, ‘it offers moments of relaxation and fun in the refreshing waters of the pools and natural waterfalls that we will find along the route’. Perfect. Even better the 5 day trek was the same price as the 4 day and as it includes food and lodgings would mean we could save some money to boot.

We packed our small backpacks and waited for Expotur to come and pick us up.

A 4×4 turned up, we chucked our bags on the roof and headed over to the offices. We booked in, dumped our big bags in a hotel room next door and waited outside with lots of other people. We had a quick chat with a young English couple who were also doing the 5 day hike. I was feeling a little too anxious to make much conversation but they seemed pleasant and were very friendly. Some of the staff came out and started to call people into groups. It felt a little like being picked for teams at school. We were in the last group to be called and it seemed to be substantially smaller than any of the other groups. We were introduced to our guide, Sixto and our translator, Luis and headed over to the cars to take us over to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

It took us about 2 hours to get over to our starting point El Mamey. We chatted with the others in the car with us. There was the English couple we had spoken to outside the office, Becci and Charlie. A Belgian couple, Thibault and Frauke, Agata, a Polish lady who lives in the UK and Natalia who lives in Spain. There was also a very sweet Frenchman who only spoke French and Spanish so we couldn’t really chat with him. Everyone seemed very nice and I started to relax a bit. Other people seemed a little unsure about the trek and admitted they weren’t as fit as they could be. I felt a bit better and started to think I’d be fine!

Since I had my back op I’ve had some issues with hill walking. My right leg something gets very tight and I get a pain behind my knee. It’s been ok recently and not caused me too much trouble but it’s always a bit of a worry. I wasn’t sure on the sleeping arrangements for the trip either and sometimes my back can be a bit fussy with different beds. Best I could do was be conscious of it and listen to what my body was telling me. If it was too much or my back played up I call it and turn back. Simple.

We arrived in Mamey and had lunch. I signed up for vegetarian meals during the trek and wasn’t expecting much from the food but we had a very hearty meal of rice, salad, kidney beans and boiled veg. It wasn’t anything special but there was plenty of it and it was tasty. Once we’d had lunch we headed outside and Sixto gave us a brief overview of the whole trek and told us what we would be doing for the rest of the day. We decided on our group name ‘Perezosos’ which means lazy in Spanish!

We’d be walking for 4 hours, mainly up hill, to get to camp 1. Ok 4 hours of walking is no big deal. I can easily cope with that. This is going to be fine.

We set off and it is boiling. Easily 30 plus degrees. We’ve had a little time to get used to the temperature but we’ve been by the coast so had a bit of a coastal breeze to cool us down. We walk through Mamey village and then start heading into the mountains. It’s steep, really steep and it’s hot, really hot. I’m already dripping with sweat. There is no shade anywhere, the path is wide and very dusty. It winds up and up and up. I am not enjoying this. It’s hard and my head is full of doubt. I can’t do this. I physically can not do this and I definitely can’t do this for 5 days. My legs don’t hurt, not at all. My lungs burn, my shoulders ache and my head is throbbing but my legs feel fresh. I push on and then finally we stop for a short rest in a small patch of shade under a tree.

It’s the first time I put my head up. Wow, it is beautiful here. Really, really beautiful. The tops of mountains can be seen in every direction and they seem to go on forever. Layers and layers of mountains covered in dense greenery.

It’s not long and we’re off again, winding up the steep, dusty path. The path starts to change slightly and we are treated to a few more patches of shade. It’s still boiling but there’s at least some relief from the blistering sun. I’d warned Dave before we set off to ignore my face during the hike. If I look miserable it doesn’t mean I am. At this point I was though. I had no idea it was going to be this hard or this hot. I kept trying to stay positive and keep going.

We reach a rest point and have a short break. I feel a lot better after the stop and as we move on I feel a bit more positive. At the pace we are traveling it is hard to take in all the surroundings and there’s no time to stop and take pictures but it is beautiful. Every corner we turn round treats us to a new vista.

I have no idea how far we have walked or for how long. It looks like we’re pretty high up and it feels like we’ve walked for ages. The path changes again and we’re back out in the searing heat. We’re walking on dust, dust and large loose stones. It’s hard work and I’m stumbling with almost every step. We reach another rest point and have some watermelon. Again I feel better and am impressed by my bodies recovery time. Maybe it’s not as broken as I think it is!

We must be nearly there, we must be! It’s dusky and as we accidentally left our torch at the first hotel we stayed at, I don’t want to be out here in the dark. Sixto had said we may see snakes, scorpions and spiders and that they would be poisons.

Finally we arrive at the first camp. I’m so relieved. Sixto shows us our beds and we grab a well needed shower.

I’m impressed by the facilities here. There’s a large open kitchen and benches to eat at. There’s cold showers and flushing toilets and there are beds, upon beds, upon beds.

I put my sleeping clothes on and head to dinner. I feel relieved and overwhelmed. I want to cry. I’m proud I’ve made it but I don’t want to do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next day. I can’t.

Dinner is served and it’s rice, salad, beans and some smoked tofu, I think. I can’t eat it. I feel sick, sick and so overwhelmed. I want to go home. I pick at some rice and leave the rest. After dinner Sixto comes to tell us what the next day has in store. We’ve got an early start, wake up at 5am, breakfast at 5.30am and we leave at 6am. We walk for 4 hours and have lunch at camp 2. I’m not falling for this again. It’s bound to be 4 hours of straight ups. Oh no. What if I can’t sleep? What if the bed is no good for my back? What if I’m too stiff to move tomorrow? I go for a nerve calming smoke and let a few anxious tears out. What will be, will be, I guess.

Some of our group are still at the table so we join them and play a couple of games of cards. They teach us a game we haven’t played before called Cambio. I’m not very good at it but Dave does ok. I feel more relaxed and enjoy hanging out with the group. It takes my mind off of tomorrow! Lights out at 9.30pm and I think I’m asleep by 10pm latest.

5am in the jungle is dark. Pitch black dark. We can see loads of stars but it doesn’t take long for the sun to come up.

We get dressed and head for breakfast. Another huge plate of food. We have scrabbled eggs, fruit and toast. I eat the lot and it’s yum. I don’t ache and I slept great. Today’s going to be fine.

Sixto tells us the first hour of walking will be up hill and then we will have a mix of up, down and flat. Here we go!

The first hour fly’s by and I feel fresh. It’s so much cooler at this time of day. The majority of the walk is in the shade which helps too. We pass an indigenous village and Sixto tells us lots of interesting information about the people who live there and their way of life.

We reach camp 2 by 10.30am and I still feel good. There is a stream here which we can swim in. We head down and take a dip. It’s is stunning, so gorgeous. It’s bloody cold in the water though!

We’re told we’ll be spending the night here, no more walking today. We have lunch, I do some washing and we go for another swim.

We spend the rest of the day playing cards and swimming. We have another huge meal and are told one of the indigenous leaders would be giving a talk. There is a fire set up and we all sit round ready to listen. The indigenous tribes are semi nomadic. They sometimes stay in the huts we saw but are often elsewhere in the mountains. They worship the sun, the snow and mother earth. From what I can gather the guy speaking to us is a pretty big deal and doesn’t come to the camps often, if at all. It feels pretty special and I’m interested to hear what he has to say. We spent a lot of today’s walk learning and talking about the indigenous tribes, so it’ll be good to hear what he has to say. He briefly welcomes us and then begins to tell us about their beliefs and traditions. It’s really hard to hear, we’re stood at the back near the kitchen and they are clearing up from dinner. He shows us a vessel the men carry with them and tells us what they represent. He shows us some cocoa leaves, the men carry these in their mochilla, a traditional type of weaved bag. He then begins to talk about the land they live in and the changes they have seen. These people live solely off the land in these mountains. They grow food and keep animals here. He tells us they have noticed drastic changes in the rivers, snow and the weather over all. He’s talking about global warming and the affect it’s having on their lifestyle. He then goes on to say we do not blame you but your lifestyle is affecting ours. He said all he asks is that we spread this message, that we go home and tell our families and friends. We are having an effect on mother nature and our lifestyle choices are damaging our world. So there it is guys, spread the word.

The next day is a biggie. We’re walking to camp 3 for lunch and then up to the Lost City and back to camp 3 to spend the night. Yesterday was a nice rest day so I feel ready for this. We set off an hour later than yesterday but it’s still nice and cool.

There’s a lot of down hill to begin with and it’s tough on the old knees but easier than the up hills! These are steep and I’m not looking forward to coming back up these.

It’s cloudy today and I can’t tell if it’s the weather or because we’re high up.

The morning whizzes by in a mix of steep ascents and descents.

The path changes again and were walking along side the river. We’re pretty high up and the path is very narrow and uneven in places. In some spots we are just walking on natural rocks. There’s no barrier or fence between us and the edge. Now I struggle at the best of times to walk without tripping over something or just falling over my own feet. When I’m really concentrating or remotely anxious, this seems to become more frequent. So obviously I’m all over the shop.

I take it really slow and try to keep as steady as possible. There’s little streams of water running down the rocks into the river below, so it’s slippy as well.

I’m starting to struggle again, I’m nervous and it’s making me feel a bit drained. Luckily around the next steep bend we can see camp and even better it’s down hill on a dirt track. Yay! Not much more now. We’ll have some lunch, leave our bags at the camp, walk an hour up to the Lost City, spend 3 hours looking round and then head back for dinner. Easy!

We take a dip in the river. It’s cold, colder than at the last camp. I guess it’s because we’re higher up here. It’s still very pleasant and so beautiful. We have another huge lunch and then have a little bit of time to let our food go down.

One of my favourite things about the jungle is the amount of butterflies everywhere. There are swarms of them and they are gorgeous. They flutter all around you and it feels like something from a Disney film! There are loads of different colours and sizes but the most common we see are normal size, yellowie, orange ones. There are huge, bright blue ones too but I’ve only seen a couple of them. I was sitting by the river, minding my own business and then this little guy hopped onto my knee and sat there for quite a while.

Oh, I can here Sixto ‘PEREZOSOS, CHICOS VAMOS!’ It’s time to go! We leave our bags in the back of the shop at camp and head off. It’s similar to the path into camp but I’m feeling rested and refreshed. We walk about 400 metres and then we have to cross the river. Damn, shoes off and into the river we go. When we’ve had to crossed the river before now, we’ve had our bags. So once we’re through, we’ve got our towels to dry our feet and put our shoes back on. Ergh! I can’t put my wet feet back in socks and shoes. Sod it, I pull my sweaty, stinky T-Shirt off and dry my feet with it! Right, onwards, only an hour to go!

Oh, bloody hell, NO! In front of me are steps. Steps, upon steps, upon steps. I can’t even see where they end. I hope you’re not picturing a nice, even flight of stairs with a handrail because you couldn’t be further from the truth. (I’ve since found out there are 1,200 ancient steps up to the Lost City)

Right, come on! This is what we’ve come all this way for, get your arse up these steps! Up we go, up, up, up. The steps bend up and twist and they seem to have no end. They feel like and look like they are never-ending. I’m slow, super slow. I stop regularly to catch my breath and my balance! Most of the group are out of sight, this isn’t new. Frauke, who is just ahead of us is trying to count the steps as she goes. I wish I had the energy and focus to do that too. I can’t do anything other than focus on getting up these bloody steps. We push on and then Frauke shouts ‘I can see it! I can see part of it already’. Already?! What do you mean already?! But thank goodness for that. We’re nearly done, we’re almost there. As we turn another corner, there it is. A small wall made from the same stones as the steps. Yay! I’m so relieved. Three days of walking, all the emotions and here we are. I did it, I hiked to the Lost City!

Hmm, I’ll be honest, I’m very underwhelmed. This doesn’t look anything like any of the pictures I’ve seen. Ok it’s old, it was built in 800AD, so it’s 650 years older than Machu Picchu but Meh! It’s disappointing. Three days of hiking for some crazy paving and circular raised lawns. I take a couple of pictures because I feel I should and then sit on a wall, taking in the mountains peaking between the trees around us. Now they look spectacular, even the little glimpses I can see between the trees. Mother nature is a true artist.

Sixto begins to tell us some of the history of the site. I’m only half listening because I’m feeling pretty despondent. Hang on, what was that? My ears prick up and I’m interested in what Sixto is telling us. This area was used as the market for trading. There’s more, another 4 areas we’re going to explore. I’m so pleased. That only last a short while before I realise there’s more stairs to get to all the other areas. No, please, no more stairs! I can’t, I don’t want to! What if it’s just a load more raised lawns? Ergh!

Come on, woman! You’ve come this far! Up I go again! As I’m climbing, I look back. Wow, to be fair that does look pretty impressive.

I start to wonder how they got the stones up here. The modern day indigenous people are tiny. Their ancestors must have been even smaller. Some of the stones are pretty big and there are so many of them. The walls, the steps, the paving is all made from them. They look the same as the ones in and around the river. Sixto tells us that they did in fact use some stones from the river and some from the site it’s self. In order to get the stones up from the river they rolled them up on logs. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard that must have been. Theses tiny people rolled these huge, great big stones up the side of the mountain! That’s just incredible.

We move on to the next area and this one is much more impressive than the first. Every way I look there are wobbly, old, stone steps leading to another series of grass circles. They are hidden away behind trees and some of the steps are covered with moss but they are everywhere. Sixto tells us that when this place was being used every circle would have had a house on it. Right in the middle. Between 2,000 and 8,000 people lived here back in the day. He tells us that we should not walk across the circles. This out of respect for the indigenous people. They used to bury their dead below their houses in the middle of the circles.

Up more steps we go to the next area. This place is huge, I’m blown away by the shear scale of the place. There are even maps the indigenous people carved into stone showing the rivers around the mountains.

Sixto is telling us about the map and we are standing in circle around him listening. Charlie is banging his walking stick on the ground as he listens. It makes a different sound to the ground everywhere else. We all start to get rather excited that we may have discovered treasure or a secret passage!

Turns out it was just an old rotten tree trunk or similar but it was still very exciting!

The next area is up the main entrance to the city. More steps! These ones are almost as steep as the rest but they are much wider, which makes them a little less intimidating.

All the other groups doing the trek had visited the Lost City in the morning so we had the whole place to ourselves. Just our group of 16. It’s pretty special to be able to walk around somewhere like this with such a small amount of people. It feels like it’s ours. As we reach the top of the steps there’s a clearing. The view is absolutely breathtaking. We can see the main image used to portray the Lost City in real life. We’re not quite there yet, obviously there are more steps to climb first but there it is.

There’s an old chair/throne where the head shaman used to sit and chew on his leaves. I had a little go, Dave told me to look regal…

I failed! Then a fly started buzzing round my face and I managed to look a little bit more regal while swatting a fly away…

We head up to the iconic area and I’m blown away again, this place is truly spectacular.

Here it is in all its glory…

Plus a bonus cat asleep in an old stone box.

The reason the city was abandoned was because when the Europeans arrived and began to trade in the market area, they brought new illness and disease with them. The indigenous people could not cure these with their own medicines and thought the city was cursed. The city was rediscovered in 1972 by farmers who looted it for treasure and gold.

The indigenous people have since returned to the city but only the Shaman and his family live within it. While we’re exploring a couple of the indigenous men arrive.

It’s pretty cool to see somewhere this old still being used by the ancestors of the people who built it.

We climb up some more steps because at this point, why not! We get a great almost arieal view of the site. It really is incredible.

We explore a bit more and then go back down to meet the rest of the group. Sixto tells us more about the history of the city and its rediscovery. It’s getting a bit chilly and the clouds seem to be closing in on us. Which does look really stunning and surreal at the same time. I’m suddenly aware that we’ve still got to get back down and back to camp before it gets dark.

Sixto must read my mind because we’re told it’s time to ‘VAMOS’

Down is fine. Down is always fine, we’ll be back in no time.

Wrong! Down is terrifying, truly, truly terrifying! The steps are much worse on the way down. I am so scared of falling, slipping or tripping. I get myself into right state. I’m shaking, I’m dizzy, I’m unsteady and then I start to cry. So now I can’t see! Dave, my hero, helps me down all 1,200 steps with the patience of an absolute Saint. ❤️

Once we’re down the steps, I calm down and the trip back to camp, thankfully, contains no more drama. We shower, put our bed clothes on and then have dinner. Another huge portion of rice, veg, salad and tofu. I don’t even remember going to sleep, I think I must’ve hit the pillow and I was out like a light.

The next morning Sixto has generously given us a later start. We are up at 6am, breakfast is at 6.30am and we’re walking by 7am. The killer hills we came down on the way, which I was dreading, are on us in no time. I struggle up them really slowly with regular, short stops. We’re at the back of the group the whole time. We reach the army base just before 9am, where we have a break and some fresh pineapple and oranges. I know that the worst uphill is still to come, just after we leave here. It’s going to be fine. I’ve made it this far now I just have to get back.

We’re soon back on the road and I’m not even trying to keep up with everyone else. I’m just walking, head down, walking. I’ll get there when I get there. My right leg starts to feel tight and my back feels uncomfortable. I’m struggling. The hills are so steep and they seem to just go on and on. Dave, my hero, takes my bag for me and it makes a huge difference. It’s still hard but nowhere near as hard as it was. I can pick my head up a bit again. After what feels like forever we start heading down. Yay down!

It’s been our longest day of walking and it was tough. Here we are though, we’ve made it to the first camp we stayed at. I can’t even remember what was for dinner or even going to bed but I definitely did! I was woken in the early hours of the morning (at least I presume it’s the early hours of the morning as it’s still pitch black outside) by the sound of someone vomiting loudly in the toilets. Poor person.

We’re up at 6am, breakfast at 6.30am on the road by 7am. We have a very short but steep uphill and then the rest is ‘Colombian flat’ a bit of uphill and downhill! It is so beautiful, so very, very beautiful. Now we’re on to mainly downhill.

We wind down the path and hit a spot I remember clearly from the first day. We are where the very steep, dusty, full sun uphill evens out. That means there is only downhills left. No more ups only downs! Whoop, whoop!

Here we all are at the home straight, just before the last bit of downhill before we reach Mamey. It’s easy from here and we seem to fly down. I’m remembering how I felt at this point on the way up and feel so proud of myself that I’ve done it. I trekked to the Lost City and now I’m nearly back! Go me!

We reach the river about 15 minutes away from Mamey. Sixto tells us we have time for a swim before we head to the restaurant for lunch. We all get our swimmers on and in we go. It’s lovely, so refreshing. The rest is a doddle, we mooch through the last bit of jungle and we on the road in Mamey in no time. We reach the restaurant have our last hearty lunch and that’s it. It’s done, I feel sad that’s it’s over. I miss the jungle and the gorgeous views we’ve been spoilt with already.

The bus arrives to take us back to Santa Marta and civilisation. Turns out the bus back is an adventure in it’s self. We came in in 4 X 4’s and we are leaving on a coach. I’ve never been offroading in a coach before but it’s terribly exciting to say the least! It turns out you can’t take a clear picture while your on an offroading coach either…

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