Over the Rivers and Through the Jungles to Ciudad Perdida We Go
Above, the sky was an ominous grey but everywhere else I looked was lush green. We were a couple of hours into our five day hike to the Ciudad Perdida and it had already been raining consistently for an hour. Rain drops the size of small marbles pelted us every step we took and everything we wore, with the exception of our covered backpacks, was soaked through with rain, sweat and water from river crossings.
The rain had transformed the gullies and paths into slippery and, sometimes, treacherous concoctions of mud and water which occasionally required us to get down on all fours. I noticed that the conversation had died off as people focused on the task of putting one foot safely in front of the other. As we descended an especially steep and muddy gully, several tin roofed buildings and the makings of a camp appeared ahead. A little further off, I made out the outlines of a river.
The first couple of rivers we crossed had been without incident. The water only reached ankle high and flowed slowly. But that had been several hours ago, when the sun was still out and before mother nature decided to take a massive piss on us. Now, the looming river looked like something you’d drop a raft into, not one you frolicked through.
We waited for our 15 person group to bunch back up, held hands as if we were playing “Red Rover” and waded through. The water was fairly strong and up to thigh level in some parts but the river wasn’t very wide making the crossing relatively quick and easy. I crossed and stopped on the other side to snap a couple photos of what would undoubtedly be an interesting moment of the trek.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for us to realize that this river was mice nuts.
A short distance up ahead, a roaring, raging specimen of a river awaited us. The rain water had engorged the river so much that the water was flowing twice as fast as the last one. As we stopped and gaped at the churning water, I thought to myself, “No fucking way we’re going to cross this. Might as well start heading back to the camp and setup for tonight.”
Jose, our lead guide who was bringing up the rear caught up with Jesus and the other members of his team scattered throughout the column. They consulted for a while before pulling a long climbing rope out of a backpack. Jesus tied one end of the rope around the trunk of a tree and Jose held on to the other and waded out towards the middle of the river. He didn’t take too many steps before turning around.
“See, not going to happen.”
Wrong. Jose grabbed a rock, heaved it onto his shoulder and started making his way out again. The weight of the rock allowed him to get further and deeper into the river before he slipped, dropped the rock and scrambled back to the safety of shore. Having seen two failed attempts, I was convinced the river crossing was impossible. Wrong again. This is South America where safety standards are a bit more lax than what we’re used to in the West. Jose tied the rope around his waist and with the help of Jesus, heaved a massive boulder onto his shoulder and began wading through. This time, Jose successfully reached the other bank and tied the end of the rope around a tree. To be honest, I’m still not sure if it was the weight of the rock or Jose’s massive balls that got him across…
Now the real fun began. I had put everything in plastic bags but I wasn’t prepared for anything like this. The water reached chest high so everything would get soaked through. Having no dry clothes would be unfortunate but my real concern was my camera. I started fretting about how to get my camera safely across when one of the guides grabbed my backpack, lifted it above his head and crossed.
With that pressing issue solved, all I had to do now was cross myself. Three of the guides stood abreast to each other to form a crude human safety net and herded people through. A couple of people had already crossed and I could see that it was no cakewalk. The strain on the rope was considerable and several briefly lost their footing before the guides pulled them back upright to the rope.
I decided that the faster I crossed, the lower the chance of me being swept away. I positioned the rope underneath my right armpit and pulled in a fashion where I crossed perpendicular to the river. The beginning was no problem but when I reached the middle, the current started pushing my lower half sideways.
“Tranquilo! Tranquilo!” yelled Jose above the roar of the river. I repositioned my feet and re-tightened my grip. The water was flowing chest high and angry. I had no doubt that if I slipped, I’d end up a few miles downstream and needing a body bag to take me home. But the guides were there in the fastest part of the river and with a few more pulls of the rope, I stepped onto the other side.
Dripping wet, heart pounding, and adrenaline coursing through my veins, I thought to myself:
“Welcome to Ciudad Perdida. Bitch.”