(Day 99 – 108)
28.02.2010 - 07.03.2010 28 °C
We spent 3 days in Santa Marta, a busy, noisy town on the coast with close access to the “Ciudad Perdida” (Lost City). The hike was to be 5 full days and 4 nights sleeping in small camps sites in hammocks within the jungle.
A little history before we start:
Built sometime after 500 A.D, some 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu, although not as spectacular, the capital of the Tayronas is an isolated yet once-teeming city set high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains around Santa Marta.
When the Spanish arrived they encountered fierce resistance from the Tayrona people who revolted against the Spanish rule in 1599, but eventually the Tayrona were defeated and dispersed to different regions of Colombia. One group which still lives in the area, the Kogi Indians, are direct descendants of the Tayrona people; they inhabit villages throughout the region and are often seen along the way to the Lost City as they drift on & off the main path.
The city was left undiscovered for 400 years. It was found in 1975 when grave robbers stumbled upon it and discovered the wealth of gold and pottery hidden within the thousands of circular terraces that were the foundation for their homes.
When people became aware of the find through word-of-mouth, more grave robbers descended on the site. Fighting started and many people were killed for the gold. Only once local authority intervened because of this, did it become a national knowledge.
It was blisteringly hot on the day we started the hike, but luckily it was cloudy for most of the 5 days we were to be in the jungle. This made the weather a lot more bearable.
The first day was misty which added to the atmosphere of starting a trek to the Lost City, really enchanting..
Walking days were short but extremely challenging with very steep up and down hills all the way, but the scenery was amazingly beautiful. Each turn on the path revealed a different sight, a new waterfall or shy encounters with the local Indigenous Kogi people. Beautiful river crossings were ideal rest stops along the way to swim or have a snack of freshly cut pineapple. At times, if we lagged behind the main group we had to rely on our survival instincts (Not quite but use your imagination) we searched out the fruit of the cocoa plant, cracked open its sweet fleshing insides and sucked on the delicious seeds. This would keep us going until we were somehow rescued and taken back to camp where our hot meal was waiting…
It rained most nights with the occasional thunderstorm which pounded the corrugated iron roofs under which we were fast asleep. We slept in mosquito netted hammocks. Each camp was strategically situated near a river, natural pool or waterfall which was both our cool water swimming pool and natural shower for the next 5 days. On one particular day, after arriving early to camp, our cook pulled out a huge amount of freshly made popcorn and hot coffee as we relaxed in our hammocks like kings, watching the rain wash the day away.
Although our first camp had electricity, (which made finding huge spiders, tiny frogs and competitive butterflies easier to see before getting into bed!), the other camps didn’t, and we had to rely on our torches and newly learnt jungle “night vision” to seek refuge from the thriving insect life crawling around us.
We woke early every morning to freshly brewed coffee and hot chocolate and a cooked breakfast served by our cook who had been up since 4.30am to get the water piping hot. On our second morning we visited a makeshift “cocaine factory” to learn about the processes and a bit more about the history of coke in the jungles of Colombia.
In the forests the cocaine factories created cocaine paste. This is then transported to the cities where the powder is made from the paste. To create the paste, our 26 year old cocaine paste producer explained that to make 1 kg of cocaine paste, 5 men would need to do the following over 10 days:
1) Pick 6000kg of coca leaves over 5 days
2) Chop the leaves into a fine pulp
3) Add salt and chalk to the pulp
4) Mix the leaves with 150 litres of petrol
5) Filter off the petrol which would have extracted the toxins from the leaves mix
6) Add water and small amounts of sulphuric acid to the mixture
7) Filter the water combination from the petrol. This will contain water, acid and the coca paste
8) Magnesium is added to ‘clean’ the liquid
9) This purple liquid is then filtered until it runs transparent
10) Caustic soda is added to the liquid gradually. If too much is added, the coca paste is ruined.
11) This mixture is then filtered to extract the Coca paste
After 10 days of work with 5 men, 1 kg of cocaine paste is produced. This can be sold and transported back to the cities where about 900 grams of cocaine powder will be made from the paste. The profit which the producers of the paste would make on this process is about $1000 every 3 months (if only making 1kg of paste, as it were the coca plant can only be picked 4 times a year)
We were told that it’s not a profitable business in Colombia anymore as a person who picks leaves will only earn a little more than someone who farms or works on coffee farms because of government interventions and subsidies.
At nights our weary bodies sat around candle lit dinner tables chatting to like minded people and playing games until our food was ready. By 9pm each night, the camp was quiet as the heat and exhaustion took over and we retired to our hammocks.
On day 4 we woke early to walk the last few km to our goal: Ciudad Perdida. 1600+ narrow, moss covered steps, lead us up through the forest to the first few circular terraces of the city. Exhausted but excited to have reached the city, we spend about 2 hours with our guide walking around the many terraces and city ruins. At over 1100 meters above sea level, the city had spectacular views of the jungle and tumbling water below.
It took us only 2 days to return to Santa Marta, Combining day 1 and 2 together made for a very long days walking, but still manageable. Although by then Steph’s knee had given in so badly that she did the last gruelling descent on horse-back.
What kept us all going this last day, was the thought of a hot meal and an ice-cold-condensation-covered-mouth-watering-mind- quenching-beer!
Although challenging, we both really enjoyed the hike and its beauty, but were also pleased to be back in civilization. We spent a further night in Santa Marta before leaving for Taganga, a nearby fishing village.