Saturday, April 2, 2011

Infierno Verde.. also know as Ciudad Perdida..

... or the Green Hell.

Why is it called the Green Hell?? Well, let me tell you a little story... I had to spray so much DEET on my body that it took off my toenail polish, so I had to buy some more within a week of being in Colombia. I'm angry.

But the real story...

Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) was recently discovered in the 1970's. Why has it taken so long to find it? Because, the Lost City was built atop the Sierra Nevadas de Santa Marta. It is believed that the city was built between the 11th and 14th centuries by the pre-colombian Tayrona people (about 2,000-4,000 are believed to have lived there). In the pictures, you will see a multitude of stone terraces supported by high walls, each being connected by paths. They built the city like this because of the ridiculously bumpy topography of the Sierra Nevadas. They would then build huts on the terraces, one for the woman of the family & children, and one for the man. They believed Ciudad Perdida to be sacred, and therefore the man and wife did not stay together. They have since discovered many more mini-cities that were built by the Tayrona people, Ciudad Perdida is the largest of them all, with about 170 terraces. These people had a lot of gold which they found in the rivers below, and when the Spaniards arrived in the 1400's they nearly wiped the entire Tayrona civilization out.. although they fought really hard!

Ciudad Perdida was originally found by gravediggers who stole most of the gold, the Colombian military now guards the site 24 hours a day. The Colombians have named the Lost City, 'Infierno Verde' due to the difficulty everyone finds in reaching it... after 3 days of trekking, one must climb 1,260 slippery mossy stairs to reach the city from the base of the mountain.

The Trek:
The original plan was to complete the trek in 5 nights/6 days. But that didn't happen, we completed it at a quick pace of 4 nights/5 days. O M G. What was I trying to do to myself?! I never cried, although when I couldn't breathe.. I wanted to! When the sweat was pouring off of my face, I thought I was. When we had to cross Rio Buritaca 9 times in one day, I wanted to scream.. although the water felt so refreshing.

I... Paula Ferguson... am not a trekker. I suppose now I am.. I'm not sure how I survived it though. I am clumsy, can hardly walk without tripping, am not athletic, and could care less about such things. BUT, something intrigued me about Ciudad Perdida and how difficult it was to get there. So.. 5 days into my Colombian adventure.. I jumped on the Lost City bandwagon.

Day 1:
I used Magic Tours to organize my trek.. we met at 9AM at the tour office and drove 2 1/2 hours to a little village on the peak of one of the mountains to begin our trip. There were 16 of us that headed up the slopey-curvey road in our 4x4s to begin the trek.
We started the day with a quick lunch and intro to the next 5 days of our lives. And then hiked about 4 hours in some insane mid-day jungle heat. There was a swimming hole and a couple of fruit stops where we got surrounded by the locals' farm animals (huge pig, donkeys, chickens, ducks..). I swear the hole thing was up hill... and straight up hill! Of course the boys all have to go as fast as they can, leaving a few of us girls tagging along at our own pace meeting up about.. a half an hour later!

The entire time I was walking.. I was thinking.. WHHHYYYY didn't I go to the beach with the boys?! WHY?! What was I thinking... Luke was begging and trying to convince me to change the dates of the trek, but I was like.. NO, I HAVE to do this. I was pumped, ready to go and show myself what I could do (or not do).. and I just felt I needed to go asap. So I did.. and now I'm here, sweating, panting, climbing, while my new friends are frolicking in the waters of Tayrona Park. I was more than jealous.. and the idea of that made me none to happy!!

We arrived at camp right before sunset, experiencing our first day of sweat and pain, and feasted on some amazing chicken. The food was to die for on the trek! Post-dinner our guide informs us of two options, we can a.)combine day 2 and day 3 (about 8 hours hiking) and wake up at 5AM so that the camp we stay at will not be so boring (camp 2 didn't have a river), also so that we aren't bored half of the day when we arrive super early or b.)not combine and be bored. I was a bit terrified at the fact that I was going to be experiencing twice the intensity of today, but everyone agreed and we retired into our hammocks for the night.. me being the first one, right at night fall!! :)

Day 2:
WOW! Today was insane! Combining two days into one was crazy! We stopped at the top of a peak and ate freshly machete-cut pineapple and bananas (my first JUNGLE banana, might I add!) some of the local children came out to watch us and beg for a bit of fruit. They were absolutely precious, 5 year olds walking around carrying machetes!!!

It was insane. We also saw quite a bit of Kogi villages on the way and waved at a few indigenous peeps! We were pre-warned at one of our break stops that we needed to be super careful with the last bit of the trek. We were using all four limbs to pull us up rocks, over rocks, down rocks, most of the time our feet were an inch from disaster, falling down the tree strewn cliff with the roaring river below us. I was a bit nervous I won't lie, being super slow and super careful and not wanting to die!!!

The guides were absolutely amazing and helped us with the super difficult parts, thank God! We also had a couple of thigh high river crossings to go through today.. as usual, no surprises anymore! Back at camp we had a few more hours of daylight, and the ability to swim at the river.. but I said heck no, I'm soaking wet as it is (from sweat) and KNEW I wouldn't dry over night.

It was c-r-a-z-y how humid it was outside.. my hair didn't dry at night, my clothes didn't dry when hung dry.. in fact, they were even damper half the time. My shoes became damp at night.. everything.. was damp, muddy, sweaty deliciousness! I think I smelled pretty bad :) Then again we allll smelled a bit like roses!

This time, we had beds to sleep in that were covered with mosquito nets in a tower sort of building.. so there were beds outside, with no walls around them, just a roof. One of the girls had heard they had issues with bed bugs..hmm... I wonder why?!

Half way through the day I realized I had dumbly left my headlamp in the hammock at the last camp! ERRR!!! What if I have to pee in the middle of the night?! Unfortunately, when we arrived to the next camp Nicola (our head guide) gave us the run down on how careful to be from now on about snakes. AND after dinner I went to the bathroom while there was the teensiest bit of sunlight left (this camp had no electricity because it was soo in the middle of no where and the donkeys couldn't even make it up to that point).. 5 minutes later, Jos comes out and is like hey guys I found a scorpion in the bathroom.. uh.. Jos which bathroom?! The one on the right.. OOOOOH fabulous, the one I used.. death by scorpion, that's the way to go out. So I told Nicola about my headlamp and prayed a lot that it would be there waiting for me a couple of days later.. I really didn't expect it to be though!

I wrote my journal today listening to a waterfall which we were able to hear all through the night while we were sleeping. It was very relaxing but this was day 2 with hardly talking to anyone in my group. I was just exhausted, I didn't want to talk to anyone, I didn't want to play any games, I just wanted to sit there contemplating my stupidity!! WTF was I thinking, why the heck did I decide to do this, I've never done ANYTHING like this in my life, and I never will again (just kidding, I think I would). I was fully out of my element and ready to reach the halfway point.. so to bed early is what I did again!

Day 3:
We didn't have to wake up quite so early today.. but today was THE big day! Ciudad Perdida time! We were about to see what we had treked in the jungle for daays to see! However, we were warned not to expect a Machu Picchu in the jungles of Colombia.. that the journey was the best part (ha! again.. what was I thinking?! :) ).

So a journey over the rocky boulders by the river, more climbing up and over huge rocks, one river crossing, and 1,260 stairs to climb.. and we were THERE! Barely...I'm pretty sure my life had flashed before my eyes a few times as I imagined tumbling down the slippery moss covered teeny-tiny steps to my death! But once we were to the top and I was able to breathe, it was refreshing. Oooh it was refreshing! We could see a huge waterfall in the middle of the mountain to the left of us, a 360 degree view of the mountain ranges around us, beautiful lush green terraces all around us, and super cute Colombian anti-guerilla military men in various areas (I had fun playing where's Waldo and trying to see if I could spot them far off in the distance even though they were wearing camo). The military were SO nice, they surprisingly didn't try to sell us anything, but they let us take pictures with them, talk to them, they smiled a lot.. just very cool guys.. who are stuck up in the jungle for 6 months at a time. Some of the boys gave them cigarettes, and the smiles on their faces were sooo insanely precious, gah I could just pinch their cheeks!

So we wandered around the city for a bit, ate some lolipops, learned about the decendants of the Tayrona people that had once lived where we were standing. It is quite interesting.. there are a couple of huts in the city still which are used to gather all of the chiefs of the different tribes around the Sierra Nevada area, they meet, discuss things, and sometimes they don't allow foreigners to come to Ciudad Perdida so they can re-cleanse the sacred ground. I just loved it that they are still quite active with their ancestor's past!

It took us about 1 1/2 hours each way to get to Ciudad from our camp. The freaking stairs about gave me a heart attack. Half of them were a 1/4 of the size of my foot (where was I.. the Great Wall again?!).. add the fact that it had just rained a bit and the moss is still there.. I would say I about had a heart attack each time my foot slipped a bit. I would say the pain in my heart was about equivalent to that of the pain when I ice skate. Although I've never fallen when I have ice skated (aalllways hang onto the wall and scream bloody murder) I had no wall to hang onto now. I think I sweated more downhill than uphill purely from the nerves. O M G, I hated every second of it.. when we got to the bottom I was a bit relieved, but we still had a bit of an obstacle course to go through to get back to camp. But I was alive, no broken bones, no bruises, halleluia!

The rest of the day was spent at the same camp, it was nice sleeping in the same place for more than one day. I still was a bit broken and not in the socializing mood.. sitting there wondering AGAIN what the heck I was thinking. I have no eye-foot coordination and I almost died.. I think I was in shock! That's what it was :)

BUT good news.. IT'S ALMOST OVER!

Day 4:
We had to combine two days into one again.. but luckily it would be much easier than the way up here.. less uphills, more downhills. Although, the downhills killed my knees and every step you take it's like a blow to your body. We were again climbing up and down clay mountains.. sticking our feet into the holey stairs that the donkeys had padded out for us. Part of it was Indiana Jones like again.. I was SO insanely dirty every day.. I used my hands, my butt, I would scoot down a rock rather than, God forbid, try to balance when I jumped.

I'm at a count of about 37 mosquito bites now, and they are all quite itchy. I've even been using the dangerously high 50% DEET spray, and at times 100% DEET on my feet to ward off the malaria ridden mosquitos at night (I was told it wasn't necessary to take malaria meds here.. but just in case.. I also seriously don't want Dengue Fever!!!)

This day was quite hellacious.. but it finally ended, and wasn't quite as bad as I thought it would be (I got my headlamp back :) I love Colombia!! No one stole it!). It was funny, everytime we were finished I just blocked the previous happenings of the day out of my head.. acted like it had never happened. I'll remember the good memories, but the bad are slowly washing away! I decided to be a bit more social today.. seeing as we were almost done with it.. and I was oooh so happy about that!! We played cards for a bit, ate some yummy dinner, chatted and I went to bed an hour or so later than I normally would have, hahaha! I was just ecstatic that there was only ONE MORE DAY LEFT OF HELL!

I saw a couple of little lizards, many big spiders (one had a silver funky bottom), someone saw a scorpion, a couple of gorgeous brightly colored birds and butterflies, a butterfly that had wings with the number 89 on it (super cool), a cucaracha (a form of a cockroach, this one was gorgeous though with red and blue wings, but it's butt looked like a huge bee) eating a tarantula (literally.. when we walked up, the cockroach had just poisoned it and the tarantula was on its back moving slightly.. while the cockroach did a little dance around it preparing to FEAST!), a couple of dead snakes, one live snake, and lots of cane toads.

Day 5:
Coming into the home stretch! There were way more hills than everyone thought there would be.. we only had about 3-ish hours to go to reach the end of the road. We started off at about 7:30 and panted our way up the mountains. The girls and I were seriously angry at how many climbs we had to do today, in straight up clay and slippery sand.. but we eventually made it back to the village in the middle of nowhere.. drank a couple of lovely cervezas and ate some yummy fried chicken! Our trek was over.. after the 2 1/2 hour ride back to Santa Marta.


I've had two days to look back at the adventure.. I'm very very happy I did it, I honestly can't believe I did it.. I was surrounded by seasoned hikers and trekkers and now I'm one to.. a bit seasoned.. maybe with just a bit of salt, no pepper yet!

(and pain, bug bites, sweat, mud stains, pictures)

Side note: if you're thinking about doing the trek.. do it! I highly recommend it, especially Magic Tours.. amazing guides, great food, great places to stay, extremely professional. There is lots of mud, nothing ever dries, tons of mosquitos, many river crossings, extreme uphills, many stairs, and the only way out once you're at day 3 is by foot or helicopter.. make sure you're in decent shape (an older lady in a different group looked like she had hurt her knee/back or both.. she still had to hobble a lot to get out.. not sure what happened to her or if she's out yet, but it didn't look pretty!), so be careful! Enjoy jungle time and watch out for the snakes! The current price for all of the tour agencies (Magic, Sierra..) is 500,000COP (about $250US).. but definitely use Magic Tours!!!

1 comment:

  1. You crack me up :) the whole time I was reading this I was picturing you when we went ice-skating, clinging to the walls and and screaming so loud that you scared several children. Sounds like you had a great adventure!