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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thank you! Stick!

Wow, where to begin....
We are in Colombia now, we flew into Cartagena from Panama City just a little over a week ago, after spending my last day in Panama in the Hospital Nacional due to a severe kidney infection.
The hospitals in Panama City are amazing, the private ones anyhow. They are all huge, new, modern buildings, and the fact that they are private means no waiting....at all!!!  Being accustomed to the 4-10 hour wait times in Canada, I was a little thrown off when they took me immediately from the reception into the hospital, and the doctor was waiting for me. In all, I spent about 5 hours there, got 2 IVs, one of morphine for the pain I was in, and another antibiotic, had a bunch of tests done, was given a couple prescriptions, and then sent on my way...all in spanish of course ;)  The bill ended up being about $500, but luckily i have health insurance to cover that..

Anyhow, on to Colombia.
We flew into Cartagena, and spent one night there...its a beautiful city, and we were lucky to meet some people from the plane who were willing to share a taxi and hostel with us. That night there was also a huge conference on South American culture, and they had a huge stage set up in the main square of the walled city that night, with a whole bunch of different dance performances from all over South America. Very Cool.

The next day we headed for Taganga, where we are now. It took 4 hours by shuttle. Taganga is a nice little beach town about 10 minutes outside of Santa Marta . Its a hippie haven...very mellow, tranquillo....  This is where Jesse and Corey met up with us. After they arrived, we decided to book a trip to the lost city- Cuidad Perdida. 

I had read a little bit about Cuidad Perdida. That it was a strenuous trek in the Colombian Jungle, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and that it actually rivaled the Inca Trail trek to Machu Pichu. This was intriguing to me, that and the fact that it was half the price of Inca trail, and twice as long. We booked a 5 day trek through our hostel, being promised a round trip by an indiginous guide, one day in an indiginous village, as well as time with a shaman. Everything was to be included, food, accomodations, guides and porters.  We were stoked. We packed a couple pairs of clothes, a few snackes and were ready to go. We were picked up from our hostel the next morning and driven to Santa Marta where we were loaded into an off road truck with all the food and supplies for the week. 3 hours later we were dropped off...Jesse, Corey, Owen & I in a small town called Machete. Only once the truck unloaded the supplies and drove away, were we informed that our guide was nowhere to be found. The guides from another company were in machete with another group of 7 people and offered for us to join their group, however, the tour was different, they paid less, would return after the third day via the same route, and no shaman, no indiginous anything. We were a bit choked, but agreed to join the group up until day 3 when we would arrive at the lost city, then would be joined by another guide, who would take us four the rest of the way we originally planned. So we were off with our 3 new guides, Carlos, Che (the cook) and Ariel ( the porter)
20 minutes into the trek it started to rain....and not just rain...torrential monsoon type downpour.....for the rest of the day. This made the trail ( which is very rugged as is) extremely muddy and difficult to hike. We were headed straight up a mountain for 2 hours....slipping 2 steps back for every one we took, and loving every moment of it....soaking wet of course. After 5 hours of treking in the rain, muddy and soggy, we arrived at our first camp. The camps were very basic, just shelters with hammocks hanging, and some fireburning stoves for the cooks. The first night was special. There is no electricity, only light is by candlelight. We ate a simple dinner, hung our clothes to dry and played a round of cards before hitting the sack early. We were to be up at 5am to start again.
We rose early, to find that due to the nearly 100percent humidity in the jungle, that our clothes from the day before were still wet...and that everything else was damp. We put on our wet clothes, ate breakfast and then were asked if we wanted to see a cocaine factory..it would only cost us $20000.00 pesos each ( about 10 bucks) Considering that I probably would probably never have the opportunity to visit a colombian cocaine factory in the middle of the jungle ever again in my life, I opted to go. It was not what I expected. The factory was in fact a small little shack in the jungle. We were allowed to take pictuers of everything, as long as we didnt take any photos of the guy who worked there. He walked us through the entire process, from the harvesting of the coco leaves, to the final product. He showed us EVERYTHING including the names of the chemicals, how to mix them etc. it was pretty unreal. We were also given the opportunity to test the finished product (PURE colombian cocaine) which we all declined.
The rains did not stop. It rained every day.
The first 3 days of the trip were amazing. Everyday, the most spectacular sights lay before us, things that i never thought I would ever see! At the end of the second day, we were informed by Carlos, that due to the heavy (unexpected) rainfall, that we would not be able to do the round trip, because the trail had been washed out by a huge mudslide and was unpassable. We were all a little bummed, but accepted it as fact, and moved on.
Day 3 we reached the camp for Cuidad Perdida. Let me point out to you all that this whole time, we were wearing wet clothes, and wet shoes. THE WHOLE TIME!!! By this time we were all blistered and starting to get sore, and the fact that we arrived to camp before the afternoon rain storm was  comforting to us all. We got to relax, and again tried desperately to dry our clothes and shoes...to no avail.  Carlos told us this day that we would not be visiting the Cuidad Perdida due to the rains that were starting, and that as a result we would have to visit it the following morning. Due to this fact, our trip would have to be extended by at least one more day, making it 5 nights, 6 days total. He also told us, that he had been told of an ALTERNATE trail that we could take out of the jungle, but that it was rarely travelled by tourists or the indiginous. We all decided to go for it, all 11 of us in the group.
Day four we rose at 5am to go to Cuidad Perdida....our goal. The hike in took an hour and involved climbing 1200 ancient stone stairs up the mountain to the base of the ruins. The city is dated to be pre incan, it is very very old. We spent a total of about 3 or 4 hours there, climbing about 2000 stone steps in total.... very cool. Among the lessons learned in the Cuidad Perdida:
1) Dont eat or smoke the plants or leaves, because you will go crazy, take your clothes off and jump from the terraces, smashing open your face.
2) If you find an artifact, dont tell anyone.
3)Indiginous women are not allowed to move or make any noise when they are making love.

After Cuidad Perdida, we returned to camp, grabbed our backpacks and began the most difficult hike i have ever done in my life.
We had 5 hours ahead of us on the alternate trail.... which was not a trail at all. Carlos had only travelled it once or twice, and the other two guides, had never travelled it at all. We were litterally trudging up mountains, off trail, in torrential rain. By this point, the ground was so soggy , that in some places you couldnt even stand without slipping. And let me emphasize this....we were litterally going straight up and down the mountains. The first ascent took us about 2 hours....2 hours of sheer hell...we  thought, but going down the other side was even worse. I kept falling, it was funny the first 10 times or so, but then it just started to suck. At one point I decided that it was probably best to just sit and slide down the muddy mountain instead of falling and sliding. By the time we reached the bottom, I was covered head to toe in mud, cut up, and felt as though my legs could no longer support me. I just sat in the river....the cold cold river, in the rain, and tried to relax...preparing for the next hour and half up the next mountain. 
Now, you may think that this was miserable, but as hard as it was, I actually loved every moment of it. It was a challenge, I didnt think I was going to make, and the view from the tops of the mountains made it worth it....but Im glad day four will never live in my life again.

After the fourth day, things were just difficult. We were all beaten up, bruised, bloody, and wet...wet to the bone. The next two days were a challenge. Hiking out of the jungle. Drinking from the rivers, just trying to make it to the next mountain top, so that we could then make it down to the next river crossing. Luckily everyone in our group was really really tough...nobody complained, nobody cried, everybody helped everyone out. We shared our little bits of snacks, our water and our conversation. We became a family.  Yesterday was our last day. It was by far the hardest, we were tired before we started, and knowing that we had 5 hours ahead of us, 4 of which were uphill made the day hard to start. On top of that, my kidney infection had returned, and I was barely functional as it was.  To reach the final mountain top was a feeling like no other...I honestly didnt think I was going to make it. I felt defeated just 10 minutes before finishing...I had no idea how close we were to being done...We all collapsed at the top, we couldnt move.

I can honestly say that it was the hardest physical thing I have ever done in my life. I pushed myself to the limits of what I could handle, we all did. We made it, but barely. On our trip we met some people that have done alot of treks including machu pichu who said that this trek was the most difficult, as well as the most spectacular trek they have ever done. We did something that not alot of people get to do. We got lost, then found in the colombian Jungle. You cant buy that tour. We had the best guides, and unreal experiences.
I cant wait to post the photos.
Oh yeah...i forgot to thank my stick.  Thank you stick!!! you saved my life....quite a few times actually.


Anonymous said...

great post! hope your feeling better!

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