Ready and eager to start the 6-day jungle trek to the Lost City in Santa Marta Colombia?
Follow me in the forest, sweating and panting all the way…
di SIMONE CHIERCHINI
Day 1 of the Lost City Trek starts with meeting all the gang at the hostel in Santa Marta. A monster Land Cruiser is being loaded outside, among the indifference of the locals. The roof rack is full of boxes, sacks and backpacks. When all is done, 10 travellers reunite at the call of Castro, our guide for the trek. Out of these 10, 3 are girls. Nationalities vary from English to Australian, Chinese, American, German and Italian.
At 10 we leave Santa Marta and take the road leading north. This road goes through the “wrong” side of Santa Marta, which extends in a bidonville siding the main road for many miles.
Poverty and rubbish dumping go side by side. People live, walk, do business, play above and among a continuous stream of trash, a carpet of plastic and various rubble which accompanies their every single step. Buildings are one story, at best made of bricks, most of the time no more than shacks of corrugated iron and plywood. As the road leads us further away from Santa Marta, the vegetation starts to reclaim its place, slowly but constantly.
We are packed tight in the back of the jeep, feeling awkward for the excessive physical contact, that comes way to early in the trip, when friendship hasn’t been stroked yet. Every few kilometres there are road blocks of different sort: police, army, road police, all looking tough but at the same time shielding a warm smile to the travellers. We don’t get stopped or searched and the going goes.
After 45 km on a paved road we leave the main thoroughfare and pick an unpaved road in the direction of the mountains. From there it’s going to be 16 km of full body massage, including guts, ribs and soul on a road that is actually more a donkey track, deeply dug in by the massive recurrent rains. The jeep bumps and jumps its way upwards in the direction of the village of El Mamey, trying to skip the gorges that line the track without ending up at the bottom of the valley, some 100 metres below.
Once we reach El Mamey, a village of 15 houses that boasts a restaurant, we finally get out of the Land Cruiser and try to reacquire human shape, not an easy feat. This is the end of the track, where jeeps have to make way to donkeys, which in the meantime have been duly loaded for us.
While the travellers move under the veranda of the restaurant to get away from the heat, a bunch of villagers play tejo, a typical Colombian game where heavy iron bowls are thrown aiming to hit a gun powder patch positioned on a clay bed 15 metres away. Music blares out of from the hi-fi stereo of the jeep so that Colombian salsa gets mixed with the shouts of the players and the gun powder bangs triggered by the winning throws.
While all this goes on, lunch is served, consisting of pasadillas, spicy fried triangles of corn filled with meat, plus big sandwiches ham and cheese on a bed of salad and tomatoes. Soon the food is destroyed by the hungry gang and the time to start the trek comes.
We start with an easy first hour, the ground is level, the heat bearable. The landscape shows the hand of men. Here the local campesinos cut down a good deal of the forest to obtain farming land, so the jungle is at best patchy. We are at about 500 metres above sea level and we are surrounded by rolling hills covered in trees. Butterflies move around in bunches, while high in the sky the chacos, a variety of Colombian vultures, circulate in the air, never tired of looking for fresh food.
Even though the going is an easy one, the trekkers are already completely drenched in sweat by the time they reach a little river that runs down from the mountain under the cover of the tree canopy. Castro suggests a swim in a natural pool and quickly a few are promptly getting rid of their sweaty clothes to put on a swim suit. Soon everybody dives jumping from a rock, screaming with pleasure at the contact with the lovely cool water. Swimming in the crystal clear waters of the river is paradise. Little fish touch my body, as they are interested in making friends with the visitor from abroad. When one of the Australian dudes dives forgetting his mouth open, he manages to swallow one…
After a while we get dressed and pick our path again. The going is to get very tough, all of a sudden.
Come back soon to read how we survived our first day in the jungle.
End of Part 1
(To be continued)