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Colombia

Colombia – Amazon Slow Boat

The slow and winding river to Peru

sunny 34 °C
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Leticia is a really small isolated town on the Amazonas River where the boarders of Columbia, Peru and Brazil meet. It is so isolated that there are no roads that lead to it, you can only arrive by boat or air. It was raining when our plane landed, but walking to the terminal, the rain was actually hot, I´ve never been in hot rain before but it was a weird sensation! Maybe Leticia is so isolated that they never got told that rain is supposed to be cold...

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After checking into a hostel we headed straight down to the river to try and secure the next slow boat out of town. The purpose of coming out here was to get back down the continent without retracing our steps. So this way, we could take a 3 day boat ride up the Amazon back into Peru. There were lots of little motor boats waiting at the river to take people across to the small island of Santa Rosa (which is Peruvian). We hopped in one and the kind driver told us that the boats leave every day of the week around 7pm. He took us to the place where they depart and there was one moored up. We spoke to a man who was near the boat, and after saying that we wanted to make a reservation for one tomorrow, he said there were no reservations. Fair enough.

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We went back into town and made our police report at the police station before walking back into the main streets for some food. Today was Halloween, and it seemed like EVERYONE in town was out. People were dressed up, but it wasn’t so much a theme of something scary, just dressing up as anything was fine. There were lots of really fat blokes walking round dressed as women though, that WAS very scary indeed!!!

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A contest... for large blokes apparently.

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This kids outfit was good

The following morning we had to get our passports in order. It´s not a straight forward process here to cross the boarders officially (even though we crossed it yesterday to go to Santa Rosa). First of all we had to head back out to the airport where the immigration office is for Colombia. We got our exit stamps there before walking back to the hostel to pick up our backpacks and head down to the river again. We crossed the river to Santa Rosa and walked into the small town on the island. We weren’t sure where to go, but after asking a couple of people, we found it on the main street. We filled out the landing cards and got our entry stamps for Peru without too many problems. The slow boat wasn’t in yet, so we waited in a little cafe with some lunch.

While we were waiting, we saw three people who were on the plane yesterday with us. They asked if we knew where to go for the stamps, so we directed them to the building and then chatted when they returned. Dee, Donal and Mikkel would be our boat buddies for the time on the river. We were the only gringos on the boat along with all the locals, the chickens, the fish and other produce that was making the journey.

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Fellow passengers

We went down to the river and our boat was there now. The boat is a very simple transport boat for goods and people to go up and down the river. It has a lower level for a lot of produce, and then two upper levels for the passengers. However these levels are just a big open area that people have to sling up their own hammocks. We were intending to get one of the few cabins that are on the upper most level. The main reason being for security purposes, as your bags are prime targets to go for a walk while you are sleeping.

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After getting onto the boat, there wasn’t much of a process for booking, we just told a bloke that we wanted to travel and was after a cabin. After a couple of hours waiting not really knowing what was going on, someone let us into the cabins. The cabins had been described as jail cells, and that’s not too far off – two thin bunks and nothing else. With the heat and humidity though, it’s not the kind of place you want to spend the day. We strung up our hammocks on the deck to relax in during the days and waited around until the boat left at 7pm.

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The boat slowly chugs its way up the Amazon day and night and it took us 3 nights to make it all the way to our destination in Peru. It stops frequently along the way to offload and pick up goods and passengers. People will come onto the boat to sell you food and drinks at these stops, however this is the only real distraction from the main activity of sitting in the hammocks relaxing, reading and chatting while you watch the banks of the river pass by. It was forced relaxation!

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The view from the hammock

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The Amazon – wider than i expected

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Some refreshing watermelon from the local sellers

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The nights were cool, and there was always mist around in the mornings from the humidity of the days. We were lucky that there weren’t too many storms in the afternoon where we were, but once if fell dark, there was always some lightning off in the distance. On the final night there was a big storm off to the south and i sat there with the camera trying to get a picture. I got a pretty decent shot of one strike and it was great to watch the awesome power of the storm from the boat.

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Pretty happy with the lightning shot...

One thing that we noticed was the awful attitude to litter on the river. Any time that someone had a bottle of coke or packet of crisps the bottle or packets went straight over the side of the boat. It was both adults and children doing it without any kind of second thought. The river is the lifeblood for the people, but they don’t seem to have any appreciation of the impact that the litter has. There was a bin on the boat which just went straight overboard, so we kept all our rubbish to take off with us.

It was a great experience though to be travelling on the river like we were one of the locals. On the final afternoon i went up the front of the boat to watch the sun setting. A local man offered me a seat and after telling him that i only speak a little Spanish, I ended up sitting and chatting with him for about an hour. It was one of the strangest experiences of the trip. Firstly, i surprised myself that actually my Spanish is ok for holding a conversation with someone. However the main reason was that it was a bizarre conversation in English let alone Spanish. He was telling me about aliens and how they are super intelligent and come to earth to do tests on humans. Also how there will be a war over water because it is running out. He said he knows about all these oil reserves under the Amazon and the corrupt dealings that have happened in the government. It was a great experience to just chat with him like that watching the sun go down, even if it seemed like he has watched a few too many Hollywood movies.

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We got into Iquitos in Peru at 4am which posed a little bit of a problem. We had been told by a few people on the boat that Iquitos is Muy Peligroso (Very Dangerous). So when we got into to boat port and started packing our gear up, more people were saying to wait until the sun comes up to get off the boat. I had also picked up some food poisoning from the chicken and rice the night before (you get served 3 meals a day on the boat – two of these meals are always chicken and rice) so i was throwing my guts up making the prospect of dealing with the dangers even harder. We followed their advice and got off once the sun was shining. They also said to watch our bags so when we got up to a tuk tuk I put a plastic bag which had my shoes in underneath my big bag and held onto my little backpack with our important stuff in. When we got to the hostel though, my bag with my shoes in was gone. I think the tuk tuk driver must have taken it out and given to someone else when he was tying up the gear. Another lesson on the annoyance of being a target in these countries.

I spent the rest of that day in bed getting over the food poisoning at the first hostel. We changed hostels the following morning to a much better one and then the 5 of us looked around the town doing a few jobs like haircuts and washing. On the final evening, the hostel owner told us about a festival that was in town and he would take us there if we wanted. I was still knackered from being ill, but the other 4 took up his offer. Tanya had a good time dancing and chatting with the group of local people that the hostel owner knew.

In the morning we got our flight to Lima where we spent a couple of nights in the lovely neighbourhood of Miraflores before getting another flight over to Iguazu Falls

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – The slow boat was definitely a good way of getting back to the south. We got to feel like locals for a few days. Watching some river dolphins around the boat, the way of life on the river and chatting with everyone was great. We shipped our hammock back to Australia so im hoping that when we lay in that in our back yard, i will remember the days on the river.

Tanya – The slow boat was a great experience other than all the ‘peligroso’ warnings – nice people to warn us at least. We were lucky to get cabins (mainly to lock our valuables in) for only 10 Pesos extra. It had been difficult to negotiate in our broken Spanish and after a few attempts we were taken off the boat and up the river bank to shake hands with the captain who came back with us to give us the keys, we didn’t quite understand the process but it worked out as we hoped. The first hostel in Iquitos was horrible, never stay at a place when the owner says ‘Well you probably don’t want to stay here...’ thats a long story though. The next hostel was fab, no aircon but plenty of fans and being invited out to the local music festival was great. We had a few dancing lessons from the locals (us westerners use our upper body not lower body to dance) and all danced around our milk crate of beers and blocks of ice. Its the done thing to all chip in for the beers and then share them one at a time (in separate cups). I forget the name of famous Columbian singer who was headlining. It started with S, but we found out that the Columbians class Shakira as American.

Posted by dbgomes 18:38 Archived in Colombia Tagged colombia round_the_world Comments (0)

Colombia – Tayrona Beaches & Cartagena

Life´s a Beach

sunny 28 °C
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After some gruelling kilometres on the lost city trek, our original plan was to spend a few days on the Tayrona beaches to relax. Having decided to spend a few days extra in Ecuador and then having our missed flight (which meant we started the lost city tour a few days late), our time was reduced to just a day trip out. James and Andy from our lost city group were also heading out there to spend a few days.

The four of us found where the ´bus station´ was on the map and after walking though the chaotic markets we found people shouting out ´Tayrona´ at a random intersection next to a small old bus. It was an hours drive to El Zaino at the base of the Parque Nacional Tayrona. After sorting out the park entrance, we got in a van which took us to the point where you need to walk to the beaches. There are a number of beaches dotted along the northern coastline that are only accessible on foot. Our destination was the furthest one called Cabo San Juan.

We started walking along the pathway which at first started out on a wooden boardwalk, but quickly changed into 2 hours of walking through bush, mangroves, army´s of ants, coconut tree fields and muddy tracks that rivalled the prior 5 days on the Lost city trek. We weren’t prepared for the walk to be as difficult as it was, and our flip flops had numerous blow outs along the way.

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One thing that we did notice were the massive granite boulders in amongst the jungle and along the beaches that we came across. These were worshipped by the local tribes of the area, and it is easy to see why, they were rather impressive. We passed a few of the earlier beaches along the walk which are really nice, although this area of the coast is notorious for its strong currents which have claimed the lives of many a foolish tourist taking to the inviting sea. We had to cross a river that was joining the sea which meant a waist deep wade to add to the fun of the journey.

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'Forbidden to swim in these waters. More than 100 people have drowned here. Do not become part of the statistics'

We arrived at Cabo San Juan beach after 2 hours of walking and we welcomed by a pristine beach that made it all worthwhile. In a way, its good that it is this hard to reach, as that is probably what makes it so clean and beautiful. If it was easy to access then it would no doubt be spoilt like the beaches we saw at Taganga and closer to Santa Marta. At Cabo San Juan beach there is a little camping area and better still, a rocky outcrop which has a gazebo on it with hammocks and cabins for you to sleep in if you are staying at the beach. It was our original intention to stay in there, but now we were only visiting for the day, we had the prospect of the walk back out of the park to deal with. Luckily when we got to the little cafe that is at the beach, a bloke came up to us offering tickets for the speed boat back to Taganga. This 40 minute option would mean not having to 2 hour walk back and get the hour long bus – a no brainer decision there!!

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So now that we knew how we were getting back, we could relax and enjoy the amazing beach that we had before us. It was almost a w shape with the rocky outcrop breaking up the two beaches. We went for a swim as this bay is one spot along this coast where the currents are not dangerous. The water was so warm, just like when we swam at Taganga. It was definitely a slice of paradise!

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Cabo San Juan Beach

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The views of the two beaches from the rocky outcrop

We had some food and met up with Andy (We left James and Andy at one of the earlier beaches as they were getting a reservation there). He told us that when he crossed over the river, he almost stepped on a Caiman which was floating in the water. Someone said that with the heavy rains, its not uncommon for the caiman to be washed downriver to the beach. He said it freaked him out and after backing out of the river slowly, he went a little further along to cross hoping that it was not following him! He waited on the other side to see if it really was what he thought and managed to get photographic evidence to show us.

After our food, we had another swim with Andy and chilled on the sand until our boat was ready to leave at 3.30. The boat sped along the coast with us and another 15 or so passengers. It was cool to see all the coast line from the sea. There looked like there were a number of private beaches or something in a few of the bays, as there were lots of sizeable yachts moored up in them but no apparent roads when you look at the maps. We got into Taganga at sunset and got the bus back around to Santa Marta. We booked our bus for the morning to get us to Cartagena and called it a night.

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Our Santa Marta Hostel

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The pool rules, very important

The bus left at 10:30 and was a straight forward 4 hour trip to Cartagena. It is a beautiful old city that still has its ancient wall surrounding it. The walls were constructed after Cartagena became a key target for both Pirates and aggressive Spanish opponents including Sir Frances Drake of Britain. The walls finally stopped the relentless pillaging after Spain pumped in the equivalent of 2 trillion dollars in today´s money to secure the key port by bolstering the defences into the most extensive fortifications in South America.

We left our bags at a hostel to look after for a few hours and then headed straight for the walls. We walked through the old town to get there and then up onto the walls. It was actually a grey dreary day, which we have not had too many up to this point, but walking along the walls certainly had our imaginations going with thinking what it would have been like to see a pirate ship coming from the sea. After getting off the walls, we tried looking for somewhere to eat, but today was the election day for the national government, so a lot of places were closed. The best we could find was the Hard Rock Cafe which was not a cheap option, but we were kind of desperate to have some food as we needed to head to the airport shortly.

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Old Town square

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Beautiful streets of Cartagena´s old town

After picking up our bags we headed off to the airport on a local bus. The flight was a short hop back down to Bogota. We got a taxi back to the hostel we had stayed at previously for the night. We had a flight again the following afternoon down to Leticia in the far south.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – The Tayrona beaches were stunning. They were paradise and a good way to spend a day after finishing the lost city trek. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t stay there for a night, but at least we managed to still get out there to see them. Cartagena was a nice little city and only spending an afternoon there was also not long enough but time is running away from us at the moment!

Tanya – If only we could have stayed in Tayrona for more than the day! On the bright side we were so mosquito bitten already that I don’t know if we could have taken much more living amongst the little buggers! We didnt get photos on the worst of the trek out there as we were too busy repairing our flip flops - if only I had dressed as if trekking to the Lost City again. The beaches were just stunning, and the water was warm, it really was perfect. Im so glad we got out there even if just for a day. Cartagena was a lovely city although the few hours we spent there were strange, it was a ghost town. I loved this part of Columbia!!

Posted by dbgomes 16:00 Archived in Colombia Tagged colombia round_the_world Comments (0)

Colombia – Ciudad Perdida

Looking for the Lost City

all seasons in one day 32 °C
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The Lost City of the Tairona´s is hidden somewhere in north Colombia and kept concealed by the dense jungle. It dates to around 800AD, 650yrs earlier than Machu Picchu. The city probably became abandoned during the Spanish times possibly from diseases brought to the city by the invaders. It was rediscovered in 1972 when treasure hunters found some steps and followed them to the city. After treasures started turning up on the local black market, the authorities followed the treasure hunters and finally revealed the site. We would see if we could find this lost city after some gruelling hiking for 5 days...



We got to the tour company office and met up with James and Andy who were two blokes from Solihull in the UK who were with us in our tour. We then picked up Joel, from Estonia, from his hostel and drove the hour out of Santa Marta to the entrance of the Sierra Nevada national park. We then drove for another 45mins on a gravel track away from the coastline and deeper into the Jungle. After a few stream crossings in the land rover we got to the little town of El Mamey where we had our pre walk lunch and chatted with the other 3 getting to know each other. At lunch there was another group with another tour company that were also starting the tour today, and their group had about 12 people in it, who were almost all Irish. Maybe that company had been recommended in the Irish Lonely Planet or something. Us five agreed that we were quite happy to have a small group to share the journey with.

We set off for the first 4 hours of the trek aiming to get to our first camp at 5pm hoping that the rain would hold off till then. The walk started off with a couple of river crossings so we had to take our shoes off and wade across knee deep in some rivers. This was already a bit more hardcore than the other trekking we had done! After about an hour or so on relatively flat terrain making these river crossings, we started a 1.5hr slog uphill. It was steep, but the biggest problem was the heat and humidity. We were all sweating buckets before we even got to the uphill and at our first little break for oranges, us blokes abandoned our shirts which were now made up more of water than cotton.

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23km to the Lost City

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The trekking team

When we reached the top of the uphill section we stopped for a break at a house where our guide Jose got us some watermelon. Now I’m not a huge fan of watermelon, but I happily demolished a few big slices, it was so refreshing after the long climb. The next part was on undulating ground and then a downhill walk though a path that resembled a river bed more than a path, it was really rutted out from the heavy rains that frequently come through the jungle.

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We got into our camp which was actually Jose´s own house. We were hot, sweaty and ready to hit his natural pool that he told us about. Only a couple of minutes from his place was a waterfall and nice deep pool of water in the stream that ran through his place. We jumped off of the rocks into the pool and just enjoyed the cold water which was so refreshing for the end of the day. After some dinner and a bit of rum, we went to play some pool on Jose´s billiard table. We cant believe that he transported a billiard table out to here, but it passed some time on the evening. Jose was an absolute shark on his table too, he knew the rolls as well as he knows the trails.

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Jose´s house

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This night was spent sleeping in hammocks, which are an interesting experience. We just had the hammocks and mosquito nets to keep the bugs away. It got quite cool overnight though and a few layers needed to go on during the night.

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Camp for the night

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The second day was similar to the first day, more river crossings, 1.5 hr uphill slog and some undulating ground trough some denser forest. As the trail got deeper into the forest, it got thinner and was fairly steep and again rutted from the rains. After a few hours we got down to a smaller stream where Jose cut up some pineapple for us and we took a break for a swim. Both the fruit and the water were incredibly refreshing.

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Dense jungle now

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A fresh coffee bean which smells nothing like coffee.

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We passed through some indigenous peoples villages on our way back up and down the ridges. At the top of one of the passes, this bloke just walked out of the bush with a basket with some oranges. We weren´t sure if he wanted us to buy them so we declined, but then Jose got some and gave us one each. They were the juiciest, sweetest oranges I´ve ever had. Again so refreshing, none of us turned down a second one!

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The Orange man – best oranges in South America

We got to our second campsite and this time we had beds to sleep in for the night. We went straight down to the river for a swim, this was a much more powerful river with lots of rapids and white water in it, but there was a little bit that the water swirled around in so it was fine to have a dip there. The water was really cool, but that was refreshing after another 4.5 hours of sweaty, hard walking for the day.

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Another refreshing end of the day swim

It was lunchtime by the time we got into camp so we had lunch after our swim and then just sat around chatting and passing the time until dinner. Lunch and dinner usually always consisted of a soup to start with and then rice, beans and meat. It was always filling and our cook Samir did a good job with it. There were a couple of indigenous children that came into the camp with their father to get some firewood, and they just sat and stared at us for a while before having some of the leftovers from our lunch. With not much to do and having already passed the time since lunch, we all had a ridiculously early night at 7pm!

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It was a 6am wakeup the following morning and we were out of the camp at 7. We walked along the riverside for a short while and then hopped onto a manual cable car to cross the river! It used a person on each side pulling the car back and forth while we went one by one. After crossing the river it was another long uphill slog for an hour and a half. Towards the top of the hill we were passing lots of banana trees and at the peak the man was selling some. Jose got us some and they were incredibly sweet. The farmer was telling us that they are chemical free, which obviously makes a difference!!

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After leaving the banana man, we crossed a bit of an open plain, which was really hot after we had gotten used to the cooler but humid jungle path. We were shortly back into the jungle, and making our way downhill over another hour and a half. That got us to another big river, which we had to wade across. This was much stronger and higher than the previous river crossings that we made with the water almost up to our waist.

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After crossing the river we had about 30 minutes walk to get into the final campsite before the lost city. This part of the trail was insane however. Up to this point the path had become just a single thin track through the jungle, but from here it didn’t even have a track at points. We walked on cliff sides, edged across flowing waterfalls, climbed over boulders, crawled under fallen trees and balanced along thin logs to cross gaps. It was a lot more hardcore than we had expected.

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We got into camp a lot earlier than expected, Jose said that we were fast walkers. After another swim in the river here and then our lunch, we all went for a nap for a couple of hours. When we woke up, the Irish group had just got into the camp. On the other nights they had stayed at their own camp, but as this was the campsite that was at the base of the stairs to Ciudad Perdida, all groups stay here on the third night. Over the last few days it had chucked it down with rain in the afternoon, but because we had been making good time, we managed to avoid it. We chatted with them over dinner and played some cards until later in the night.

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Taking a ride in some of the rapids

Another 6am wakeup and out of the camp at 7, but this time we were going straight for the lost city, so we could leave our bags at the camp. The 20 minutes from camp to the river crossing was even more insane than yesterdays track. More waterfalls and cliffs combined with slippery rocks! A proper track was virtually nonexistent here.

We crossed the river again, and at this point i was relieved to see a rope going across that we could hold onto to help our balance. I was going to go first and just as i was going to grab the rope, I saw that these massive red army ants were using it to cross the river. Jose shook the rope to try and get them off, and it looked fine where we were. As i started going over though there were still some on there and one bit my finger. I took my chances with the river current after that!

So now we were at the first step that leads to the lost city. Frome here there would be 1200 steep steps leading straight up the mountain. We started the climb and we were joined by the dog that was at the last campsite, he must have followed us and crossed the river after we did. After the climb we arrived at the first of the circular foundations of the city. The walls and paths are covered in thick moss, with the jungle trees closing in around the small clearings. It was like stepping into a scene from an Indiana Jones movie.

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We started to climb the royal stairs that lead up to the main part of the city. At the base of the stairs is an interesting rock that has lots of lines carved onto it. Its not clear what it is, but the main thought is that it may be some kind of map representing the rivers and paths of the area. Walking up the stairs and further into the city where the bigger foundations are found was really special. We had beaten the other group up to the city so it was just the 5 of us, Jose and the dog alone in the remains of this massive ancient city. Standing there taking in the scenery by ourselves really made it feel like we were the first people to stumble across the ruins.

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The royal stairs

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The circular foundations of the city

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We arrived to the grand ceremonial centre of the city. On these massive foundations, the city´s halls and main meeting places would have stood. There is one that has the Sharman´s chair where he would have addressed the citizens during rituals and ceremony’s. From here you get a view out of the canopy over the rolling mountains with dense jungle. There is a waterfall on the other side of the valley which is in view from the ceremonial centre. With this view all to ourselves to take in, we all sat there eating our lollypops that Jose had brought up for us not really saying much, just absorbing the serenity.

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Addressing the congregation from the Sharman’s chair

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The ceremonial centre

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We found it (along with our faithful dog)

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We left the main part of the city and went off a side path down through residential sections to get back to the entrance of the city. I wasn’t expecting the city to be as big as it is. I expected just the ceremonial centre, however the city is like a leef with the ceremonial centre at the top of the central spine that runs up the ridge of the mountain. But on either side of this main stem, there are hundreds of paths that run into the jungle where people would have lived. The city is believed to have had around 3000 residents. A lot of the city is still completely covered by the jungle, and the authorities have only allowed the bits that we walked through to be cleared (which was still a lot more than i was expecting)

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The local Sharman is the only person (other than military control) that lives in the lost city

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We left the city blown away by it, went down the 1200 steps back to the river with our faithful dog, crossed the river and got into the campsite from the last night to have our lunch at 11. The 4 hours in the city went by so quickly. We left the campsite at 12 knowing that we had the 4 hours from the prior day to cover in the afternoon. Given it had rained every afternoon on the trek, we were hoping to make good time to avoid getting soaked (rain would have been refreshing from the heat, but it’s the bags getting saturated that is a bigger problem).

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Butterfly with a racing number on...

As we went along the really difficult section crossing waterfalls and the big cliffs, I was the last one to cross one of the waterfalls with Samir the cook behind me. I couldn’t get a good footing on the rock as it was slippery and smoothed out with the running water. As I went to take another step, I slipped. Samir grabbed my arm within a split second and i managed to get some footing and get myself up. At the time I knew that the waterfall was on the edge of the track, but i just got myself across and didn’t really look back to see what was below me. When we got to the camp later though, James said he saw me slip and that there was nothing below me but the big drop to the river below!! I brought Samir a few beers that night, I think I owed him!!

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Where Tanya is about to step is where I slipped...

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Crazy trekking here!!

After the difficult section and crossing the river again we powered through the walk. We weren’t really talking, just head down pounding out the steps. It was strange because we were walking through parts, where we said to each other, do you remember doing this yesterday? Maybe with the steep uphills and tricky downhills we just got into a trance to get through it. We got to the Banana Man for another sweet banana and continued on. We started to hear thunder rolling in the background so it was a race against the advancing storm clouds. What took us 4 hours yesterday only took 2.5 hours for the return journey. After a quick swim again to cool off the rain started to come down hard with lighting close by just as we got under cover and settled in at the campsite which was the same one as the second night. The other group passed through about an hour later looking like drowned rats still with 20 minutes longer to get to their camp. Jose said we were crazy trekkers to make it back so fast. Given it was our last night on the trek, we played some cards with a few of the guides and locals, buying rounds of beers and bottles of rum. I called it a night at about 11, but James, Andy and Joel got through more bottles of rum until 3am.

The boys were only slightly paying for the ´Mucho Ron´ from the night before, but a 5.30 wakeup for a 6.30 departure didn’t help them. Also we had to cover the first 2 days all in one day today. That distance took us 9 hours over two days on the way up... Again we just walked pretty solidly with uphills that we couldn’t remember going down on the way there, not even stopping long for breaks or fruit. Andy had a classic quote when he said, “A two headed gorilla could step out of the bush right now and i wouldn’t even give a f#*k”. We got into Jose´s place after 3.5 hours of solid walking, knowing full well that this was only the half way point for the day.

We didn’t stay long for juice and fruit before heading off again. We all definitely remembered that on the first day, we had gone downhill for a while before getting to Jose´s place. That meant we were in for a final hard slog uphill. It seemed relentless, and we had forgotten how exposed this part of the trail was. The sun and heat made us all curse every bend that revealed another steep bit of track. We did pass two dead snakes on the path to break up the walking. There was a red one with black rings and a black one. It looked like they had been fighting or something, one was missing its head. Anyway Jose said that if the black one bit you, you would have to amputate the limb, if the red one bit you, you would be dead within a couple of minutes, there is no anti venom. Glad they were dead then!!

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Deadly snakes

We got into the town of El Mamey again just before 2pm meaning we had managed the day in just over 6 hours, another good effort according to Jose. Again it started to rain just as we were getting stuk into our lunch and COLD beers!!!

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5 days and 47kms after passing here on day 1, WE DID IT

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The best guide there is!

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Shoes have seen better days

We left town in the 4wd and the rain was torrential. The track out to the road was completely mud. The driver was sliding all around the place as we were going up the hills. We crossed what was a stream on the first day, now it was a proper river with the water nearly coming in the vehicle. After an hour of hanging on in the 4wd we got back to the main road. We stopped for some refuelling and as we were stood there waiting, there was a massive flash of lighting that took out the electricity and cracked with thunder micro seconds afterwards. It must have been incredibly close. Andy threw himself behind Tanya to take cover which was pretty funny. He said he was just going to protect her :-) It chucked it down all the way back, and when we got into Santa Marta, the roads were rivers and it was like an apocalypse scene. The driver says its always like this, and to be fair, people didn’t really seem to give a toss. There were motorbikes, pushbikes and tuk tuks just cruising round.

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The 4wd transport

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Andy & James – top blokes, enjoying a final trail beer

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Crazy conditions for riding a bike!!

We got back to Santa Marta and checked into the hostel that we were in before the trek. James and Andy also checked into this one, so after a welcome shower and internet chores, we played some pool with some beers in the hostel bar already reminiscing about the trek. What a fantastic 5 days – hot, sweaty, intense, insane, tiring but above all else UNFORGETTABLE!!!

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Ciudad Perdida exceeded all expectations I had. The trek itself was mental at times especially on the third and fourth days! That wasn’t in a brochure anywhere. The lost city also was bigger and more intricate than I had thought. The other guys were asking us if it was harder than Machu Picchu. Its hard to compare the two though. The heat and humidity of this walk was completely different to the higher altitude cooler conditions of the Inca trail. The Inca trail is also made more difficult with the altitude making the going harder on the body. However the trail to the lost city is a lot more difficult compared to the wider, well maintained Inca trail. I loved both treks and i just think they are different. Our group of 5 was great, the 3 other blokes were all down to earth and a pleasure to chat with on the way. Definitely something that shouldn’t be missed if you are in the north of Colombia!

Tanya – The lost city trek was amazing! It was hard to find out much information before hand so we just had to wait and see. We were hoping that some other travellers would be able to translate for us but found ourselves translating for Jose which I was a bit shocked at. Chatting with Jose was great for practicing my Español. This was a very different trek that the Inca trek, you cant compare the 2. Leigh and Carley – you would have loved this trek as there was swimming every day and hammocks/bunk beds not to mention toilets and showers. The heat, humidity and the killer mosquitos (and that horrible bug that bit Joel before his arm grew twice its size) made it especially tough going though – but that made it so rewarding too.

Posted by dbgomes 12:18 Archived in Colombia Tagged colombia round_the_world Comments (3)

Colombia – Santa Marta

Colombia´s Cool Caribbean Coast

sunny 32 °C
View Round The World on dbgomes's travel map.

We were supposed to be doing our first update in Colombia from Cartagena, however this was the start of a run of bad luck that we started to have. We got on the bus at 7am in Quito expecting that our 28hr bus ride would get us in to Bogota at 11am, which would give us plenty of time before our flight at 8pm up to Cartagena. For some reason or another, the bus took way longer than expected and when we asked the driver at 1pm what time we would get in, he said 9pm!!!! Normally we take a bus to some destination then have a few days there before moving on, so a delayed bus wouldn’t be a problem. So it was really bad luck that the first time we actually had something booked, the bus was so late. 38 hours on a bus, a missed flight and $120 down the drain. After a failed attempt to find another bus going to Cartagena that night we got a taxi into Bogota to find a hostel.

We didn’t do much in the morning as we just organised another bus for 3pm that afternoon. This would be a 20hr bus to get us to Santa Marta, which is a little further up the cost from Cartagena and where the lost city treks start from. It would mean that we would have done 38hr and 20 hr bus rides back to back, but because we extended our time in Ecuador by a few days, we were starting to run low on time to fit in what we wanted in Colombia, so it was a necessity.

The overnight ride to Santa Marta wasn’t eventful, however the view out the window got more jungle like the further we kept going north out of the highlands. As soon as we got into Santa Marta, we went to book our lost city trek. It was a Saturday when we arrived, and the next departure was on Monday morning, so we booked onto that. We got into a hostel in town and relaxed getting a few things sorted after being on busses for 3 days. We went down to the beach and had a nice meal for dinner to make up for the bus meals (at backwater truck stops).

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It was good to be in a proper bed again and after we had a slow morning waking up we caught a taxi over the hill to the little fishing village of Taganga. The town doesn’t really know what to do with itself as it is not really big enough for the travellers and local tourists that flock there. It is a bit nicer than the city in Santa Marta, but it has a massive problem with litter. The beach is covered in so much trash to the point where its not tempting to set foot on the sand or water. I don’t know if the mentality is that someone else will clean up the rubbish, but no-one does. It´s a shame because it would be a beautiful beach. Tanya rightly said that if a wealthy person owned the beach it would be pristine and awesome, but they would then make it a private beach and we wouldn’t be able to enjoy it either. We read that a 20 minute walk over some rocks gets you to Playa Grande which is a nicer beach, so we headed straight for there.

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Taganga beach

The walk wasn’t difficult and the beach was indeed much better than Taganga but there was still rubbish behind the beach. The beach itself was fine though. We parked our stuff on a deck chair and went in the water. The first thing you notice is how warm the water is. Definitely the warmest water we have been in. This stretch of the coast is on the northern coastline of South America and it definitely has a Caribbean feel to it. We stayed in the water for a while and I started throwing a ball around with a couple of local children. After a couple of hours i tried to tell them that i was going to have a break for a while, and they could keep throwing my ball together. My message was lost in translation and i think they thought I said they could keep it because when I got out, they ran out to their parents showing them the ball. I went up to get a juice and they came over to me to say that they were going, so i asked for my ball back. They gave it back, but I think they were a bit sad to give it back. I would have let them have it, but i now there will be times over the next year when it will come in handy for some entertainment.

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A new take on an icecream man

One of the best things about this area (and generally for South America) is the fresh fruit. Here was definitely the best we have had. At the beach, the lady blended fresh passion fruit and ice. Awesome, next time i tried passion fruit with Lulo – a new fruit a little bit like a few fruits rolled into one. Bit like guava, but perfect and refreshing. Exactly what is needed for chilling on the beach.

We got back to Santa Marta and went down to the beach to watch the sunset before getting back to the hostel to pack for our trek in the morning.

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FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Santa Marta and Taganga were good for a couple of days relaxing before we headed off on the trek. The litter is a big problem around the place, which is a big shame because they have some great stretches of coastline that could be a benefit. And its not the tourists that make the litter either, you see the locals all the time just chucking wrappers and stuff on the ground. We have seen that in most places in South America, but here it was just more noticeable. In saying that, Playa Grande was good and the fruit juice was second to none!!!

Tanya – Once you get your bearings Santa Marta is a nice smallish costal city – most things are closed on a Sunday though. It is a hub for a lot of activities and also for many long term backpackers who seemed to be living at the hostel we stayed at. Its worth heading out to Playa Grande for a swim, but the best reward is to be found in Tayrona...

Posted by dbgomes 17:41 Archived in Colombia Tagged colombia round_the_world Comments (2)

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