Spending a day in the oldest rainforest in the world in Malaysia a couple of years ago, made me come to a conclusion. I hated everything about it. It was wet, slippery, muddy and hot which all would have been fine if I could have enjoyed the beautiful scenery. I could not.
Bloodthirsty leeches were hunting me for the whole day, seemingly with only one goal, feasting on my blood. Paranoid might be a strong word but when one of my buddies had a leech close to his crown jewels, fighting off leeches definitely became my main focus that day.
So when I stepped out of the rainforest at the end of the day I did what many of you would have done. I thanked the rainforest for the oxygen and I ran off to the beach to breathe it there. I decided that rainforests were not my thing.
Five years later in Colombia, I was facing a dilemma. In the north of Colombia, close to the beach and in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, there is a lost and ancient city called Ciudad Perdida. It has been founded around 800 A.D. by the Tairona Indians and is ‘officially’ rediscovered in the year 1972. It can only be reached by a four or five day hike through the jungle so that was my dilemma.
But after many great stories from my fellow travelers along the way, promising me that there were no leeches, I decided to break my never-set-a-single-step-in-the-jungle-for-the-rest-of-my-life rule and I booked my tour. I am glad I did because the whole trip has been an amazing and it has changed my whole perspective. I do not hate the jungle anymore, I think it paradise. This is why…
Although the hostel looked more like a resort, I was excited to leave that morning. I stared at the blue pool for a couple of minutes while I was eating some bananas and I noticed that people were slowly swapping their bed for a hammock. I took a deep breath of the fresh morning air and I suddenly heard the sound of my name. The jeep was there to pick me up, it was time to go. It was time for my four day hike to Ciudad Perdida, the lost jungle city of Colombia.
My guide had a friendly face and told me that we had a small group, only three. In the jeep I met a guy from Finland and a girl from America. ‘We are family now for the next four days’, said the guide. I did not hate the idea.
After a two hour ride we arrived at the starting point. Other groups were departing from that place as well but we left separate. I was happy with my group. It clicked and it felt good. It also turned out that we were all experienced hikers and we could all walk at a nice pace.
Soon we left the last houses behind us and we found ourselves in the beautiful mountains of the Sierra Nevada. We did not hike a lot the first day but I remember it was steep. Hot and steep and after a turn, there was always another path going up. But the rewards were great. The higher we got, the better the views and at the points where we allowed ourselves a moment to catch our breath again, our breaths were taken away by the beauty of the vistas.
Mountain peaks were hidden in the clouds and everywhere around us, it was green and lush. Some trees were blossoming, giving bright yellow and orange colored flowers which we could see over big distances. Birds were flying through the valley. All the time I heard the voice of Sir David Attenborough in my head, telling me that I was walking through a nature documentary.
At the end of the day we arrived at the first camp. We were told that we could swim in the river close by. It was nice to cool off after that sweaty day. I remember that I was sitting on a rock at the river after swimming. It started to rain. Rain in the rainforest, I thought and I took a good look around me. I saw the rocks, the big trees, the lianas, the plants, the water rushing through the river, the raw nature, it all looked perfect. And at that moment I felt it. At that moment I felt the earthy connection with the jungle through my whole body. I fell in love with the jungle.
When we got back at the camp, we saw that the other groups arrived as well. Dinner was getting cooked and it smelled like burned wood. We relaxed, talked and made jokes at the long tables and after a while, a great meal including a nice fish was served.
After we had finished our meal, the Finnish guy and I had one more mission. Finding the frogs that were making so much noise in the river. We went to a bridge with our torches and tried to spot one but we did not see any. Well, at first but then we spotted our first one. A huge frog, definitely 15 cm was sitting in the river and after we saw the first one, we saw many more. Biggest frogs I have ever seen!
That night we all slept in hammocks and despite the fact that I never sleep on my back, I slept like a baby.
We woke up early that morning. The sun was not even up. The camp looked misty and there was a smell of burned wood again. After a warm breakfast and a coffee we started walking. The first part was pretty open so we could enjoy wonderful views. I had to tell myself repeatedly that it were my eyes that were seeing such beauty. I had a hard time believing it. The misty valleys in combination with the rising sun were enchanting.
Slowly, the jungle became denser. The variety of plants was huge. Palms, bananas, huge bamboo, brugmansias, bromelias, everything was growing here. The fog gave the morning a mystical vibe. As we could hear, the jungle was also home to a lot of birds. Happy songs were whistled everywhere and sometimes we could spot a colorful bird. In the valleys we saw big black vultures soaring in the sky.
The sun came through in the beginning of the afternoon and we arrived in a camp around lunchtime. The rivers close to the camps were an excellent way to cool down after the sweaty walks. They were also beautiful. I remember sitting in a shallow part of the river, looking around me. I heard the calming sound of the water. Further up river there we bigger rocks causing white water but not too wild. Lianas were growing over the river and butterflies were flying in the sun. This is paradise, I thought. Lunch that afternoon was great. Just like every other meal we got during the four days.
There are still indigenous tribes living in the area and we saw them quite frequently in the jungle. The second half of the day we passed one of their villages. Their houses where simple, made out of wood, clay and straw. But what more do you need?
A rough, rocky trail at the end of the day brought us to the camp where we would spend the night. We took another plunge in the river, our natural shower, and after dark we shared dinner at long tables while the camp was lit by candlelight. You make a lot of new friends during these evenings.
The camp where we slept was not far from the lost city. I was excited because the Indiana Jones moment was about to happen. Just like the previous morning, we started to walk early, right after breakfast. After a short walk along the river our guide stopped. ‘Look’, he said, ‘There at the other side of the river is the entrance.’ It was a little hard to spot but between the trees we could see steps made of stone. The stairs to the lost city. Yes, this was an Indiana Jones moment!
We crossed the river and we started to climb the steep stairs. 1200 steps later we arrived in the city. There is not a lot left of it but it was amazing. To think that people build a city here hundreds and hundreds of years ago and lived here. Unbelievable.
Moss covered rings of stone were all around the site. Once, wooden structures were standing on these terraces but time made them disappear. I took my time and walked around in the city. I tried to imagine how people lived here. Sometimes I could.
The city is build on a mountain so you can imagine the views are quite spectacular. A little higher, there is a big open area in the city. From here, you can see a high waterfall on one side and a beautiful valley on the other. I sat down here for a while. I watched the mountains, touched by the first sunlight, I watched the clouds drifting by, I watched colorful birds flying in the valley. This is special, I thought, I am in a lost city.
At that moment we were the only ones in the city. No other tourists. It made the moment a lot more intimate. From the highest point that is accessible in the city, you can see a couple of green plateaus in a row. They are the most characteristic of the city. Of course we took pictures and after, we explored the city for a bit more. The site is huge but lots of it is still covered by rainforest. It is good, it makes the site feel unexplored.
As the sun was making its way higher up in the sky, we walked back to our camp. Lunch and another swim, I felt satisfied. The way back was the same as the one we came from but I was surprised by how little I recognized. How do the local Indians find their way? It must be different when you live in the jungle.
In the meanwhile, the jungle started to feel more like home for me too. It started to feel comfortable. It is strange how fast your perspective can change to totally the opposite. At night we searched for frogs again and found them. But more magical were the fireflies. The jungle was pitch black but everywhere around us, we saw small yellow lights turning on and off. The frogs provided us with music.
The last day of our adventure. No one wanted to leave because everything had been so relax. We did not have to think about anything in the jungle. We just had to enjoy, walk and talk. That was it. But all good things come to an end and of course they have to.
It was ‘the last time’-day that day. The last time we had breakfast, the last time we had a swim in the river and the last time we were together as a group. But the Ciudad Perdida trek was no longer a mystery to us. We had seen it, we had done it. On the way back we saw a lot of people who just started. Their heads were full of wonders, ours full of memories.
We saw the beautiful mountain views again. The mountain peaks in the clouds, the blossoming trees in the distance. I did not mind seeing it again. It was still beautiful. At the place where we had had started we had lunch together for the last time and we celebrated our accomplishment with a beer. After that, we went our own ways again. Thank you guide, thank you group and thank you jungle. I will not forget!
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