266 floors, 304 floors, 217 floors, 274 floors. That’s the readout from my iPhone health app for the 4 days walking to the lost city. We had chosen the right walk to accept that J ‘fucking hates hills’ and should stay in Santa Marta whilst Liz and I walked to the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City). I think about 60% of it was very steep up and down, 10% flat and the rest a form of gradient. The paths are rather challenging too, some being slippy clay, some being sand/dust and all suffering from erosion (in some places the path had sunk about 3 metres). Liz (someone who knocks out a 4.20 marathon with no training, does 100km ultra marathons and is essentially as fit as a butchers dog) and I agreed that, where some walks claim to be challenging, and would only be so if you were 90 years old or had a 20 burger a day habit, this one met its claim.
In our group were Wilson, a local guide who had been involved with the site since about 1986, our translator Jeremy, a charming young German who had fallen in love with a Colombian, moved to be be with her and then learnt Spanish (I am trying to work out if not being able to understand a word your wife is saying is a plus or a minus) and 6 energetic, fit and friendly Colombians, of which the three males had known each other since primary school. They were an Instagram friendly bunch; the boys only body hair was the manly growth that appeared after 24 hrs, they did pull ups at every opportunity, threw themselves off the highest points they could find into the natural pools we found along the way and lacked any body fat. The girls were always glamorous, at least one had a change of swimming costume with her and make-up seemed to be non-negotiable, even for the 5am starts. I felt every bit the sagging old man that I am and I let Liz know she was letting the side down by not wearing at least a cocktail dress for our evening meals.
The walk itself is absolutely wonderful. At the end of day one we arrived at the first camp which marked the end of civilisation. From this point on only mule or foot transport was possible and the land was the preserve of the local tribe of indigenous people. On the route there were camps, a few shacks selling water, chocolate, crisps etc and the odd isolated indigenous farm, mostly made from local wood and palm leaves. The camps we stopped at each night offered a reasonable amount of comfort; electric light for a few hours, cold showers, loos that on occasion flush, good, healthy and filling meals and beer for sale (which got more expensive the further we went, but at its most expensive was still less than AU$4 or £2, despite it having to be transported by donkey for 2 days). Hurrah for beer. The beds were in large open dorms and had reasonable mattresses, clean under-sheets and very efficient mosquito nets around them. As the camps were always near the river, we fell asleep and woke to the sound of water…….. and snoring………and farting.
Between the camps, we walked for up to 8 hours each day, up and down hills through deep jungle, seeing parrots, the odd toucan, a baby snake and some hummingbirds. We stopped at crystal clear natural pools in rivers or at the base of waterfalls at least once a day to cool off (hence my rather creepy knowledge of body hair and swim suits) and whilst there were probably about another 120 people on the track going one way or the other, were largely on our own.