the .raw story : La Cuidad Perdida
It’s hard to find the right words to describe this ancient archeological ruin buried deep within the steep jungle mountain sides. You are filled with emotions that seem to continually conflict themselves; excitement, sadness, deep empathy, strength, gratefulness, heartbroken & awe. Continually conflicting between the ideas of being grateful to have the opportunity to experience this & should I even be here, what good am I doing the community & indigenous by being here? I don’t know what the right answer is but I do know that those ruins hold a magnetic force that lure many in. They were not chosen to be there by accident - that is for certain.
La Cuidad Perdida is the second most popular hike in South America after Machu Picchu. The destination is an an ancient ruin of a city from the Tairona civilization way back before the Spanish even thought of arriving. We’re talking 800 CE. That’s 650 year earlier than Machu Picchu. This is where they lived, farmed, traded & held spiritual ceremonies - this was their home. When the Spanish arrived they were cordial at first with the Tairona and established good trade relationships for gold. Eventually history happened - the Spanish got greedy, began stealing gold as well as bringing over infectious diseases that the Tairona weren’t immune to. These incidents lead the civilization to move away from their home and retreat up the mountain to higher ground where the Spanish couldn’t find them abandoning the city leaving what you see today. The mountain range they reside in continues onward to a height of 19,000 ft in elevation. La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta sits on the Northern Coast of Colombia. From sea level to 19K in a distance of 30 miles, it is nothing short of dense, rugged forest. That’s a lot of jungle to go through before hitting the glaciers.
The Tairona were not fighters, they do not believe in wars or fighting but love, praying & protecting our Mother Earth. They could see and feel the effects that “modern” humans were having on our planet way before global warming was ever a thought. They began to notice the shifts of change happening as the white man began moving toward the Americas. They live in complete balance with the natural world. Head to this page to read more on the Kogi village we had the opportunity to spend time with.
Eventually the gold ran out & La Cuidad Perdida dissipated from the Spanish as a hot spot. However, it was only 40 years ago that the ruins were rediscovered by an archeologist once gold from undocumented places began to show up on the black market. The Spanish never found the heaping piles of gold that the Tairona buried with their dead under their homes. Each flat pad you see pictured was a place for a dwelling or hut and still to this day there’s gold possessions buried under those pads. Archeologists began to trace it back to this region and thus the re-discovery of “The Lost City”.
But for the Kogui, Arhuaco & Wiwa people the city was never lost. They visited it frequently before the announcement to the rest of the world. Which leads me to the next topic where the conflicting emotions seem to come about.
This hike was difficult. Takes 4-5 days to complete there & back and there’s no bus or tram you can take to bypass all the hiking.. which is great. It makes people really work for it if they want to see it! But since the rediscovery, the influx in tourism to the site has grown immensely. While I am so grateful that I got to experience the hike I couldn’t help but hate the amount of people I was doing it with. Hundreds and hundreds of people backpack in, stay at the camps, pass by the villages without even a thought to stop and learn about the culture or give back in any way. We are walking on trails that are thousands of years old. They are the indigenous’s sidewalk and trading routes and most of the locals have become numb to passing by groups of backpackers with hardly any engagement. Their home has been turned into Disney world.
Every indigenous I passed I would grow a little sadder and guiltier. I was grateful to have our guide Maron who was friends with many of the passing indigenous as well as stopped to teach us things about their culture & history along the way. This filled in a few of the guilty holes as at least now we had a good grasp on the history of this place and could now feel like we could honor it appropriately.
After a mere 1000ft straight up stair climb towards the top, the jungle began to part like you were walking into the gates of the heavens. The air began to lift & a weight felt like it was being carried from your shoulders. The most beautiful shades of green were illuminating all around us. The birds surrounding us vocalizing their loud calls almost as if they were applauding our accent to the top. We saw our first platform, it was small and still surrounded by thick jungle. As you followed the stacked stones with your eyes further back in distance, the winding, stacked platforms through the steep hillside began to reveal themselves. There were so many of them; perfectly carved within the rugged mountain top. As we walked further in, the jungle on either side began to disappear until we were literally standing on the top of a ridge looking over the entire jungle valley.
We basked in it, took it in, we were silent with our gasps & then laughed out loud with amazement and astonishment. Individually we instinctually all took our own space & time to fully absorb the place in our own ways. Some meditated at the top, others laid in the grass feeling the energy beneath, some collapsed with exhaustion myself included and Capi made a shrine from collected leaves & trinkets for our cacao ceremony later on. In the distance we could see the rain coming. The clouds were sitting low over the valley and getting darker by the minute as they headed towards us. After our needed separate time, we gathered together upon the largest platform. We celebrated our accomplishment & our gratefulness for being able to experience a place like this in all its grandeur. As we waited for the rain to come we danced atop the platforms & soaked in the view until the drops of the rain quieted the jungle.
With the Guardian group we got the unique opportunity to actually stay the night up on the lost city. Maron has connections with the family & indigenous that still live atop the ruin. This is something not many tourist get to experience. Most start their morning of the 3rd day into the trek with a final hike up to the top. When they do this hike they are doing it with many other groups of hikers all ranging of groups from 20-30 people. Anywhere from 10+ groups will go up at a time spend a little under an hour at the city and then retreat back down to the camp. Our experience was much different. We started our hike up mid afternoon when most groups had already come down. We were the only ones at the city upon our arrival and were the only ones there until the next day when we left. We experienced this place in complete silence & solitude. After dinner we sat on the ruins in the complete pitch dark as the clouds from the rain were still lingering and covering the starlit sky underneath. Even though we couldn’t see we could still feel the vibration of the ruins beneath us. When morning came we awoke before the sunrise and watched the world light up around us taking in the view for the last few moments we had until we began our decent back down.
The journey back down the mountain gave us plenty of time to reflect on the overall trek. We still had 2 days left to go but the summit was hit - it was now a different level of energy. To me, this trek wasn’t just about the end destination. It was truly a chance to walk for 3 days into unknown territory and be completely submerged & wrapped in by the jungle. Yes, we got to feel and experience first hand an ancient ruin but the magic of it was also built upon the build up of walking to the summit. Stepping on stone after stone, steep incline after steep decline, cold river plunge to river crossings, through the muddy rain hikes & slides, to finally just admiring the presence of the flora & fauna whisking by, gracing you with its moisture. The magic was the entire experience and the journey it took to get there.
It was also a huge eye opener for a macro tourism experience that I never knew existed. Hundreds of indigenous people are being affected by this one the daily. So how do we fix this? How do we create an eco tourism environment where the locals benefit from the amount of potential helping hands walking to and fro past their communities. SO MANY THINGS CAN BE DONE. For instance, on the lower half of the hike you pass by ground that was once the marijuana and cocaine fields. Since the war on drugs, the United States came in and sprayed thousands of acres of land to eradicate the plants and with it they destroyed ALL plant life. Imagine if every person that walked to the ruins was required to plant a tree to rebuild that portion of the jungle. Imagine if every backpacker was required to hike in a bolt of fabric for clothing or bag of rice for cooking anything. Imagine if every tourists cared about sharing the history of the Tairona & protecting the culture vs cheersing their beer at the end of the trip with a “we accomplished it” attitude. Now I can’t assume that every person that’s gone there didn’t care about the history or people but for the majority we saw.. it seemed like they didn’t.
This is a mission that we at Guardian are trying to change. Imagine if you no longer acted as tourist in a new country but your actions turned into one of a Guardian? A Guardian of the earth. Experience a country while also giving back and putting your hand into something that lasts and makes an impact. Eco Tourism. And that’s exactly what Guardians Medicines aims to do starting this year in Colombia - with hopes for further expansion to other countries as well! But for now keep Colombia in mind for Dec 2020. The La Cuidad Perdida hike is just a portion of the experience.
I am truly grateful to be a part of this foundation & community. It drives my heart and keeps me going. How did I ever get to be so fortunate?