Colombia is a country on the move. And I can certainly attest to that as we were on the fast track from the moment we landed in the sweet cobbled streets of Cartagena, home to the literary maestro Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to our very last evening partying hard at the infamous Andres Carne de Res in Bogotá. But it’s what happened in between those 2 bustling cities that will be the talk at plenty of dinner parties in years to come. It’s called the Lost City or Cuidad Perdida to the locals. When I first read about this particular hike in South America, I was determined to get there sooner rather than later because it reminded me of the Inca Trail in Peru and the staggering beauty of Machu Picchu before all the tourists got there. Interestingly, Ciudad Perdida took them 200 years to construct and is 600 years older than Machu Picchu. But this site in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Colombia was abandoned in the 1600s when trade routes were cut with the arrival of the Spanish. It was re-discovered in 1970s by grave robbers and became widely known after ancient urns and other treasures (which we actually saw at the gold museum in Bogotá) started to show up on the black market. Local tribes visited and called it Teyuna after the Tayrona people. Now, the indigenous people living there as they have 500 years ago are the Koguis, descendants of the Tayrona. We had the honor of meeting a Mamo who is a spiritual leader (shaman) of the Kogui people with his cheek full of coca leaves holding his makeshift gourd smashing seashells which makes the chemical reaction needed to get high. Don’t ask…I think you had to be there for this one. But I brought one home as a souvenir. The isolation of this area being that there are no roads and is hidden between mountains gives the city a mysterious air that makes it unique and an experience of a lifetime. But only once in your lifetime will you attempt this hike. Surrounded by dense jungle, the only way to get there is through a 4 day trek and a climb of 1200 slippery moss stone steps. Sounded easy enough…HA. We started the hike in the afternoon after a 3 hour drive from Santa Marta and we were only about an hour in when the first of many challenging moments occurred. Can you say Flash Flood? Crossing the beautiful Buritaca River as we would many times over the next 4 days became pretty much impossible and we had to wait out the deluge of water for 2 hours in the rain while one my girls waited on the other side! I should have known then how difficult it was going to get when we had to hike for 2 hours in the dark with our headlamps on in the rain and mud to our first camp as we would repeat that exercise again on the 4th day well into darkness. Did I mention rain and mud without the mule shit? We all had our moments of despair and this arduous hike while sleeping in a hammock was certainly an exercise in gratitude. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. At some point in our lives, we will face adversity. And the difference between success or failure is not chance but choice of how we react to what happens. Some chose to ride down on donkeys! I am so proud of us for enduring 10 plus hour hiking days in the mud, rain and dark! The beauty of the landscape with a morning mist in the mountains dotted with fragrant pines and Quindio wax palms, the symbolic tree of Colombia, will forever be etched in my mind. And our most incredible guides “ALI ALI ALI” with his beautiful wife “no way Jose” and dearest “so good” Juan were treasures that we will keep and keep.
Once the scariest drug capital on the planet, Colombia is ready for its close up as a tourist destination. With its new president, the cities are thriving and safe. The music scene is insane and the people are happy to dance the nights away with seemingly not a care in sight. I love that. And I’ll be back soon.