|After a 4hr bus ride to the city of Santa Marta, we took a short cab ride to the village of Taganga. Taganga is a quiet fishing village on a small bay on the Caribbean and is filled with hostels for backpackers. This is in comparison to Santa Marta which is the main vacation spot for Colombians and is full of giant resorts. We spent a couple of days lounging around at the beach drinking beers and fresh watermelon juice. We then decided that we should book a tour to Ciudad Perdida (Lost City). This is the ruins of a city built by the Tairona people around 800 AD. The trek involves a 3 day hike to the city, a morning exploring the city, and two days back down. All in sweltering heat. Sounds like fun! The next day we were picked up by our guide, Edwin, in an ancient Toyota Landcruiser (Toyotas are king in the backroads of Colombia). We picked up 3 other trekkers (1 Czech, 1 German, and 1 Swiss) and made our way to the end of the highway and the start of a backbreaking 2hr ride over an incredibly rough road. Before we were allowed on the trail, we went through a military checkpoint. This area used to be a huge spot for cocaine production. More on that later. After a quick lunch, we were on our way. The trail was a muddy, steep trail with many river crossings and beautiful views of the surrounded green mountains. The only damper is the heat, which had us sweating buckets. Within an hour each day I would be completely soaked and wiping sweat from my eyes. The only relief was dunking ourselves in the rivers. We would hike for about 4-5 hrs per day, which is about all we could handle in the heat. Edwin had no trouble though, despite being older.
He was actually one of the first guides to start the treks, about 15 years ago. Ciudad Perdida wasn't actually discovered until 1972, by graverobbers looking for treasure. Then the government took over and developed the site into a tourist attraction. Edwin's dad was one of the graverobbers, in fact. So, our guide had lots of interesting information about the area and history. We also passed a few homesteads and a village of the Tairona people on the way. This was interesting because they still live pretty closely to the way they did hundreds of years ago. They make their own clothes and live in straw and mud huts. They have central villages with ceremonial and meeting huts (separate ones for men and women), but live nomadically tending to various crops on the surrounding hillsides. On the afternoon of the third day we reached the city after our last river crossing, (I lost count). One last hurdle though, was the dreaded staircase. This is a very steep climb up a hill over very narrow and tall stairs that takes about an hour. Finally, we were there and could relax. We walked through a bit of the city to our camp and had a very cold shower. We had lunch and then Edwin sat us down and told us some stories.
Before coming here, I had vaguely remembered hearing about how in the early 2000s, some tourists were kidnapped on the Ciudad Perdida trek. It turns out that Edwin was the guide of that trek. So he told us all the details and had magazine articles to explain what happened. The condensed version is that at the time, Colombia contained different groups, the FARC, the ELN, and paramilitary groups. Basically, the paramilitaries were upset with the government because they weren't being recognized and decided that kidnapping some foreigners would bring attention to their plight. Edwin managed to escape in the night and walked 3 days back to civilization. The tourists were eventually released about three months later. Now, however, the area is policed by the Colombian military and is safe.
The next morning we got a tour of the city. It basically a series of stone terraces built into the hillsides where the people built their houses and ceremonial buildings. It's pretty interesting, not as impressive as Machu Picchu, but is pretty cool. The best part is hiking through the wilderness. We left around noon to go back down. Again, it's very hot and slippery, but is slightly more downhill and takes only two days. Partway through the second day downhill, my knee started to give me trouble on the downhill parts. Swallowing my pride, I rented a horse to go the rest of the way. Edwin assured me that I would regret walking the rest and would be hobbling for a week. Eventually, we all got to the bottom and after a lunch break we took the Toyota back to Taganga. The next day we relaxed our tired bones and though we had thought of taking a diving course, we decided to get out of the heat and move on to the mountains of Venezuela (who knew?). So we bought our bus tickets and packed for our next country!