The first time we saw it we were in Palomino, a small town on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. That morning was completely clear and in the background on the mountains, the Sierra was covered with eternal snow. The shocking thing was to know we were in the Caribbean Sea. Yeap! Right there at the edge of the jungle in the tropics. Very little knew Mau and I about the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. Perhaps as little as many who do not even suspect that it is the highest snow-capped mountain in the world, and that in the midst of its thick rainforests, hides Teyuna (in the Chibcha language means “origin of the peoples of the earth”), better known as The Lost City.
We had hesitated to visit The Lost City. The plans were to travel the Colombian Caribbean from Cartagena to Punta Gallinas – the northern tip of South America – and going down the Magdalena River, as in “Love in times of Cholera“, to Mompox, the town that, together with Aracataca, inspired García Márquez the universe of Macondo and the magical realism of One Hundred Years of Solitude. We ended up living an experience of magical realism, but not written by any Nobel literature, but by the inhabitants of the Sierra.
The jeep that leaves Santa Marta took us to the point of departure that leads to Teyuna deep inside the Sierra. Four days hiking, crossing rivers, going up and down mountains.
There is so much you can think about and learn from such a long walk. I always remained last because, although I have good resistance, I am very slow and I like to go at my pace. Let the first ones be out of breath! Leave me last, finally, the challenge is with myself. This is what I say now while I write because many times I thought “Who the f*@ asked me to come to sweat like a crazy, smell ugly and let the mosquitos bite me alive with a tick here and there? And suddenly, some incredible scenery with mountains of eternal snow was offered as a reward for a climb and then, I was already forgetting that a moment before I was almost losing my breath.
The first thing we learned from this trip was: Life is like this; It has climbs, descents, mosquitos, burnouts, rewards, and is worth every step. Click To Tweet
The tour was like a journey through time: we were picking up the steps of all those who had been there, centuries of history and blood. Like many other nations in the world, Colombia learned to live bathed in blood, to get ahead with what was left after the plunder. The guide told us 500 years of history of the Sierra reduced in four days. If there is something that impacts me of many aspects of humanity, it is the capacity for resilience, the capacity for adapting from adversity and moving on.
Beyond the bloodthirsty history of violence that began in the second half of the twentieth century with drug trafficking, the motivation of the tour was aimed for discovering more about the indigenous peoples who, for centuries have lived there, who have been able to withstand the passage of time. They resisted the Spaniards and their sackings at the time of the conquest, the looting of the Guaqueros of the twentieth century, the guerrilla groups that started the marijuana crops in the 60s, the paramilitary groups that seized the crops of coca to produce cocaine since the 1970s and all the actors of the Colombian internal armed conflict who have passed through its territory and forced them to be silent witnesses of violence, plunder and exploitation of the land. The Indigenous, beyond adapting themselves, have been able to meet different invaders and remain in peaceful resistance. The second major learning is: do not give anyone your peace.
For centuries, indigenous groups remained refugees in the jungle, caring for a well-kept secret to honor their ancestors. In 2003, due to the kidnapping of a group of 11 tourists in the area, the secret was revealed. No one knew exactly how it was, there were rumors of a place in the middle of the thick jungle where that mysterious city was, a kind of a” Colombian Machu Picchu”, with archaeological vestiges of a pre-Columbian civilization.
Getting to the Lost City is a kind of “feat.” This time, we were fifteen people including the guide. We were looking to live the adventure of our lives in the best style of Indiana Jones in search of the lost treasure, believing that we would find the tomb of the Colombian Tutan kamón.
Four days walking, sleeping in the middle of the jungle in suitable camps, crossing rivers, climbing and descending boulders, bridges, mountains and above all, bordering inert terrains burned by the glyphosate with which were sprayed, at the beginning of the 21st century, thousands of hectares of Illicit crops. But at what time did they go from planting coca to touring the Sierra?
Mau and I still felt the tension in the local people when speaking and asking about the conflict: the looks that invite you to be silent and “not say anything because you do not know who can be listening.” Making the long-story short, when the local government and the United States decided to start Plan Colombia to “eradicate” drug trafficking, the business of guerrillas and paramilitaries that inevitably involved all the inhabitants of the region, changed when they burned with glyphosate thousands of hectares of illicit crops, fertile land with agricultural crops and villages that were sprayed with the chemical (like the best Napalm style in Vietnam). They fumigated ALL. The environmental, health and cultural outcome was devastating.
With coca cultivation eradicated, the context of the Colombian conflict was changing and forced armed groups to leave their weapons or move to areas where they still exercise control, but that is another story. The reality of the majestic Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and its people is that they had to reinvent themselves Click To Tweet. The story of the 11 kidnapped tourists attracted an unexpected wave of curious people from all over the world who wanted to discover the mysterious Lost City and live the adventure of Indiana Jones in the country of Macondo. They had to be organized. The eyes of the world were on them. They had to protect visitors, guarantee them security: they needed cabins, routes and a history of magical realism to tell, in which former guerrillas and former paramilitaries became tour guides… They had EVERYTHING.
In this experience you enter a parallel universe, a door of magic reality opens, in which four days become eternal and while you walk, an indigenous family surpasses you silently by side, like levitating. The woman with the child on her back and the man with his poporo of coca mixture chewing, barefoot, with their typical white robes. They get lost in front of you while you barely catch your breath. After seeing acres of inert land to infinity, you are surprised by an indigenous shelter that transports you to another moment in the history of humanity. The third lessons that we take from these four days of sweat, effort and reflection: real life always surpasses fiction.
There are still sacred places in the world, places preserved in time by their villages, the Lost City is one of them. When you finally reach the destination and observe the majestic jungle that surrounds it, you see the ocean in the distance in the middle of the mountains, the terraces, the vestiges of another civilization you realize how far you have come.
At the end of the tour we were lucky to sit down with the Mamo (the top indigenous leader) and asked him what he could advise Westerners to overcome conflicts, he replied: if you want to avoid conflict, you should stop thinking there is conflict. It’s that simple.
We did not find the lost treasure nor the tomb of the Colombian Tutan Kamon, but we did find the Lost City and the magical realism around it. Now we can call it by its name: Teyuna.
|USEFUL INFO TO VISIT THE LOST CITY|
|The Lost City is 1300 meters high in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, the beginning of the Andes mountain chains on the Caribbean Sea, reaching 5,775 meters high and having perpetual snow that can be observed from the beach when it is clear.
When to go: in the tropic should be considered two seasons, the rain and the sun. The dry season runs from December to April.
With whom to go: You can only visit Teyuna with a tourist agency.
All-inclusive tours, with departures every day from Santa Marta.
Latest tips: Take advantage of the guide and his/her knowledge.
About photos to the natives: Ask permission before taking a photo of the Indians. Many feel that their energy escapes them with photographs. Others are very kind and will give you a beautiful pose.
About luggage: Go very light luggage (maximum 5 kilos including camera and everything) and waterproof to dry fast.
In case you want to get a sweet taste in your mouth, when in Santa Marta, visit the 16th Street with carrera 5. You will try the best natural juices and smoothies of tropical fruits. They are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Check our video of the Lost City Trekking tour!
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