Finding Ciudad Perdida and the Way Back
Day one would prove to be one the of the more challenging days on our Ciudad Perdida trek. Despite a relatively short 3-4 hour hike, the combination of the torrential downpour and being out of shape made it a lot tougher than what it looked like on paper. And although we were not caught in similar storms the rest of the trip, multiple river crossings and high humidity guaranteed our clothes and shoes remained soaked the rest of the way.
Yet despite the constant wetness and over 100 bug bites, Ciudad Perdida would end up as one of the best adventures I’ve ever been on.
The Jungle Life
The saying “Life’s a journey, not a destination” describes Ciudad Perdida in a nutshell. I knew from the beginning that the ruins themselves were not as impressive as Machu Picchu. But I was more there for the trek.
Life in the jungle was simple. We woke up with the sun and went to bed not too long after dark. All we really had to worry about were packing our bags and walking. Typically, we walked 3-4 hours in the early morning and reached camp by 11am or noon. The scenery was always magnificent, taking us past lush, cloud covered jungles, roaring rivers flanked by death-defying cliffs and mystic waterfalls far off in the distance. Throughout our walks, we’d stop to swim in rivers, eat fresh fruit, or take in the view from the top of a hill.
Then, depending on the day, we either stayed in camp after lunch or did another 3-4 hour hike. But that was it. We didn’t have to worry about what we were going to eat, what we were going to do, or any of the other normal things you worry about in life. The first camp had electricity but the deeper ones only had candles for light. And without electricity, we didn’t have internet, cell phones, or television. All we had was the company of each other, nature all around us, and lots and lots of card games.
I’ve always found deep satisfaction disconnecting from our modern world and Ciudad Perdida was perfect for that.
Being in the jungle for five days with the same people means you better pray for a good group. You hope you don’t get a boringly small group, get stuck with that one douchebag, or get caught between a fighting couple. Luckily, our group had none of the above.
Like most of these treks, you end up with a hodge podge of people from all around the world. Our Magic Tour group consisted of: 1 Slovenian, 1 English, 1 Irish, 2 German, 2 Dutch, 3 Aussies, 4 French, and me, the American. There was a much smaller group from another agency, Turcol, that consisted of 1 English and 2 Turkish that we merged with.
Our guides, led by Jose and Jesus along with a host of cooks, porters and helping hands, were amazing in both their patience and helpfulness throughout the trek. They knew every twist and turn and gave us a great overview of the history of the region. But perhaps the most credit should be given to the cooks who somehow managed to make some of the best food I had in Colombia, despite being in the middle of a jungle.
For those five days, we fought through thick and thin and kept each others spirits up despite how hard the rain was falling or how steep the next climb would be. Even with a group that big, everyone got along and there was little drama.
Although there was a diaspora after the hike, the 18 of us bumped into each other for the rest of our time in Colombia. Some went faster, others went slower but there was always someone in the same town or the next one over. Like seeds blown from the same plant, it was always a welcome sight to see one of the crew.
We woke up early on day three and reached our final camp after a short 2.5 hour hike. It was only 11am but clouds appeared to be growing thicker up ahead. Normally, you sit around for the rest of the day (to miss the rains) and hike to the city early the next morning. But our crew was in a groove and wanted to make a push that day. The guides hemmed and hawed for a bit before finally deciding that the clouds would hold and gave us the thumbs up.
There are two things to remember when you reach Ciudad Perdida: 1. There are still ~1,900 steps after the welcome sign and 2. You’re only halfway through the trek. You can’t really exhale and say, “I’ve made it!” because unlike Machu Picchu, you’ve got the whole way back to climb.
But fuck it, everyone did exhale. With every journey, the road on the way back is a lot easier than the way there.
The ruins, as expected, were not as impressive as Machu Picchu, but there was definitely a sense of solidarity to them. Unlike Machu Picchu which was packed full of tourists, the only people there were us, the guides, and a few bored Colombian soldiers at the very top.
We explored the area for a couple hours and Jose talked about the history and significance of the place. And then, just like that, we gave the city back to the jungle and returned to camp.
I won’t go into the history (Wikipedia does a fine job) but here are a few more pictures of Ciudad Perdida:
I noticed a hop in my step as we approached the first river we crossed. My shoes still squished, my shirt and swim trunks were soaked as always, and my bug bites still itched. But it didn’t matter, we were almost done. The lot of us, looking ragged and ravenous had marched into the jungle five days prior and now we were marching back out.
It was a beautiful day: the sun was shining overhead and white puffy clouds dotted the bright, blue sky. Earlier, we crossed the two rivers which had given us so much trouble on day one and they were nothing but two tiny streams; we didn’t even have to wade through.
As we rounded the last bend and saw the hut where we had first gathered five long days ago, I glanced back at the jungle and thought to myself, “This will probably be the last time I ever see this.”
Victory beers and champagne were passed around and we all gathered together for one final lunch. Some tossed old clothing and shoes, some chatted excitedly, and some sat back with weary smiles on their faces. It was the end to a long and fantastic journey but we could all say that we had made it. We had hiked through the mud, the rivers, the treacherous canyons and…
We had found the Lost City.