Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Journeying to la Cuidad Perdida

After the splendour and laziness of el Parque Tayrona I retreated to Taganga with the ambition of taking on the 6-day trek to la Cuidad Perdida. The Lost City is one of the major archaelogical discoveries in Colombia (found sometime in the 70´s by local treasure looters). Founded about 800 A.D., some 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu, it had been the centre of civilisation for the Tayrona Indians.

I settled with Magic Tours and we set off the next day at the ungodly hour of 6 in the morn. I was back on my own again and therefore my next few days were completely at the mercy of the shower I was to be grouped with. I was justifiably apprehensive.

I boarded the mini-bus and headed for the back seat (some kind of childhood insecurity still in me maybe!) and lumped in next to a 19-year old Dutch lad named eh, Jip. Picture your stereotypical Dutch guy and multiply him by 10. This fucker couldn´t have passed for any other nationality, he looked a cross between Dirk Kuyt and Goldmember (an unfortunate nickname he had bestowed upon him, mainly as a result of my promptings). He was a classic ´Cheesehead´, which my ole man used to tell me was a term that would rile any Dutchie. He was so Dutch it was unbelievable. I couldn´t help but snigger uncontrolably whenever he would utter certain words like "yesh" and "fantashtic".

The other thing that separted ole Jip apart was his apparell. Most people, when embarking on a (what turned out to be) 5 day trek into the deepest and darkest jungle with extreme humidity and torrential rainfalls, would be expected to be somewhat prepared with the basic essentials - mossie repellent, proper backpack, sturdy shoes with good griping, a rain coat and spare clothes etc but Jip, nope.

Comically the fucker turned up with this tiny ´rope bag´. That is one of these bags made of cotton that you close by pulling the strings together at the top of the bag. He later would carry it on his back, the rope ripping the shite out of his shoulders. He brought no towel, one hoody, a pair of ´tennis shoes´ with fuck all grip, no long pants (mossies at night being the reason these are essential), one pair of socks and one t-shirt. Whatever bout hygeine, the one t-shirt thing was ludicrous. The killer humidity and the rain meant that your t-shirt was always 100% saturated. I wore the same one every day but always had a nice dry clean one for the evening.

Finally, his biggest failing was his lack of insect repellent. The average person got hit pretty bad by the bastards up there but Jip was the pastiest kid you´d ever seen. Man, he got fucking annihilated by them ! It was hilarious (in a schadenfreunde kind of way), the fucker looked like a four year old with Chicken Pox!! Anyway, I was sitting next to him for the two hour journey to our starting point and we had a good chat about Ajax under Van Basten and Dutch soccer in general.

Then four lads piled onto the bus with loud Aussie accents. Fuck I thought, these guys are gonna be a right pain in the hole. Aussies can be tough to deal with at the best of times, let alone a group of them. Although, it later transpired that only two of them were Aussies and ironically that were a fucking blessing of a group, absolutely sound out.

They were Tommy from Queensland - an absolute gent, Stavros the Greek from Adelaide who I ended up traveling with for the next two weeks, The Pup (Simon) A Gooner from Norf London (god was I happy to meet him, seriously trivial arsenal conversations kept us going on those tough mountainous stretches) and Rob the Dub. Rob was dead on. But he´d had some pretty shocking luck/fate of late. He had been going out with this Aussie girl previously on the trip (who the lads maintained was an absolute psycho). They broke up due to her aforementioned psycho-ness. The last he saw of her was when he gave her €50 and told her to get the fuck out of his life!

That was until she rang him two weeks later to tell him she was pregnant with his child ! Strangely she was over the moon at this. Needless to say he was less than enthused but committed to fulfilling his fatherly duties nonetheless. Then in another phone call she told him that unless he cut short his trip immediately he would never see the his child and she´d make him pay for everything.

In fairness to him he was still willing to give it a go with her and make the best of the situation. Ever tried to put a positive slant on as fucked up a situation as that to a fella !??

The remainder of the group was made up of a nice quiet French guy and girl, a Costa Rican lad who hurt his knee on the second day and for the remainder of the trip acted like an war vet who lost a limb in the trenches in the first World War (walked around with a cane and made the guides carry all his stuff), a four foot nothing Colombian girl who really wasn´t up to it and an absolute gobshite of a Frenchman we named John Rambo.

Rambo was a tool of the highest order and that became apparent within less than half an hour. He was the single biggest show-off I think I´ve met since I was about 6. He practically put the tour guides out of a job. He was up on the top of the jeep loading up the bags, he was in there chopping up all the vegetables and preparing the dinner, managing to do all this while seemingly shouting at the top of his voice. If there was a burst tire he´d probably have insisted on fixing it himself.

He would never do something the normal easy way, like the rest of us. If everyone was jumping off a 10m cliff, he´d find a 20m one. If we jumped feet first, he´d jump head first. Why should he when there was a harder, more impressive way of doing it. God we disliked him !

But the worst for me was that he would only talk to the tour guides and adopted a rural colombian accent into the bargain. Like, I´m all on for integrating with local people and having the odd chat but I do so fully aware of who I am - an english speaking, white, foreigner. I have no intention of trying to pretend I´m Colombian, as great a country as it is..

The trek itself was sheer quality. There were parts of it that were ball-breakingly tough (as there should be). Because we squeezed the six days into five, day two was a dose. There were parts of it that you just had to stop chatting, put the head down and graft for 2 hours straight. Also, I had done quite a few ´jungle´ treks in the past but this was truly the first proper Jungle I´d been in. In hindsight, the others were really only rain forests. This was different. Immensely thick and verdant foliage with rainfall like I´d never seen. Day two was longer than the others and we got seriously caught up in said rainfall. Ole Jip got truly flahed by that occurence as absolutely nothing would dry.

Accomodation was in hammocks accompanied by blankets and mosquito nets. We usually hit the hay after watchin Jip go beserk during a game of cards. The boy had a temper he just couldn´t get a hold of and well, I´ve got a hell of a lot of experience at pushing those kinds of people to the limit and enjoying it immensely!

It feels quite good being woken by the rising sun at half five in the morning and listening to the sounds of the jungle as you lie in your hammock. Although that wasn´t necessarily the case on our first night. We were woken approximately every hour by the fucking rodents they described as dogs, in the first place. These little fuckers would bark the house down if one of the other ones came within half a metre of them. As the aussie lads would say they needed to ´harden the fuck up´

Now, I´m generally fond of dogs but I would quite gladly have put these fuckers in a bag full of bricks and chucked them into the nearby river !

The second day joined by two more guys. One, Pagey - a good lad from Melbourne (who also happened to be the biggest moaner I´d met in a while) and this eccentric 48 year old english geezer who´s name escapes me as I type. He was quite unique. Skin and bone and as bald as a eagle. One of these guys who, while not having a word of spanish, wouldn´t even say ´hola´ or ´gracias´and would speak to the locals as if they were from Surrey. He also had the gayest laugh i´ve ever heard in my life.

I didn´t speak much to him initially but got chatting to him one day. An interesting character to say the least. Started telling me that he used to be a punk and was basically a tearaway when he was younger. Taken every drug under the sun (smoked crack at work) and was absolutely flaberghasted when I told him I had little interest in doing the same!

Astonishingly, when I asked him what he did for a living, he told me he was a divorce lawyer (!) and had some interesting and probing observations from his experiences. When I asked him what he was up to out in Colombia, he said that he told him wife that he was out looking for a holiday home investment (as he chuckled away). A few days after the trek when I bumped into him back in Taganga, he was wearing a fish-net top which he took off immediately when he saw me. We all reckoned he was over to meet some 18 year old boy he met online or something. This was definitely the one where the wife and two kids was a front....

Back to the trek, we finally reached the Lost City and the end of Day Two. That was after passing through a Tayronan Indian settlement and crossing about 6 rivers, bags above our heads and water up to our chests. The City itself was bereft of any remaining buildings, just the foundations of what lay there before. We spent the third day exploring these ruins and some of the lads made some swaps with the patrolling soldiers (since Uribe militarised the country, there are soldiers in every nook and cranny of Colombia that are properly under the control of the Government). In fairness, the soldiers got the better of the deals. The lads left with these manky camoflauged t-shirts, army green belts and necklaces with bullets attached. Me, I got over wearing army outfits when I was, oh, about 5.

The soldiers, with their ever busy patrol duty, somehow found the time to bring us to some great spots where we could jump of waterfalls, sometimes up to 20m high. In the end the soldiers pulled out their towels and spare jocks to change into. Seems like its part of their daily routine. What a job!

On the fourth day, we made our way back towards civilisation (unfortunately over the same route) which took two more gruelling days. Overall, it was a class trek, amazing scenery and luckily a great group of people to boot.

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