The night before:
Hear that pick up is at 9.30am, decide that’s quite late and therefore happy hour is a fantastic idea. Get drunk and stay awake till 3am, get up at 7.30am. Shower, use fast internet (most people are sleeping through the hangover – smart) to sort life out. Have breakfast with the girls at 8.30am. Breakfast is served around 8.45am. At 8.50am, scrambled eggs halfway to face, receptionist tells us the van for our tour has arrived, we should have been told arrival time was 8.30am. Choke down entire breakfast, brush teeth, run to finish packing and check out – van waits for us for over half an hour – oops. Arrive at the tour office where the entire group has already been waiting since 9. Hey guys – awkward start. Sleep en route to the lunch place, try desperately not to throw up all over tour group (hangover kicked in).
Trek: Day one.
Wolf down lunch, feel heaps better, cover bag with black bin bag, given walking stick and off we go. Finally trekking at low altitude at full health and it is AMAZING. I was worried I’d be really slow and constantly at the back but for once I was up at the front which made a great change. Trekking with my Alaskan babe Lauren and we’ve both grown up hiking so we set a good pace and kept our breaks short to keep our muscles warm.
Early on in the hike it started to rain, which was quite fun at first – kept us cool, until the final bit of path which should’ve taken no more than 15 min to walk down turned into a river of mud and walking became almost impossible. Thankfully one of our guides was with us and helped us navigate the river of mud and horse shit. Unfortunately my trusty trail runners do not have very good grip in the mud and I fell, three times. When the guide asked if I was ok after my fourth fall into a bush, I said no – that I wanted to go home, near tears and stomped some mud off of my shoes (code for had a minor temper tantrum). It took an absolute age (well over an hour), in pouring rain, to navigate the mud road to that nights stop. Lauren and I became very well acquainted that night as we shared a shower and I had to ask Lauren ‘is all the mud off my bum?’ It wasn’t. Changing into dry clothes made a world of difference and after a ginormous meal we all dropped into our beds.
Trek: Day Two.
It was a 4.30am wake up the next morning, breakfast at 5. Getting back into a soggy sports bra and drenched tshirt and shorts was pretty miserable but I perked up on seeing the vats of hot chocolate and coffee. You could do half and half which was amaaaazing. A huge breakfast, shoving damp stuff into plastic bags and dry stuff into separate plastic bags and off we set. Back into the river of mud and horse poo. Wonderful. Tired, damp, sloshing through the path and trying to stay vertical – my mood was black almost instantly so I kept to myself as much as possible. Stroked a cow, that was cute, and eventually caught up to Lauren who had somehow stormed ahead only to find her bent over throwing up. Poor babe had eaten something that didn’t agree with her or had a 24 hour bug and had to keep trekking whilst battling nausea. I know the feeling and it’s very un-fun. I met a very adorable little boy en route and after that it was impossible not to smile.
On entering the Jungle area we caught up to members from the Colombian army, who looked incredibly intimidating, until you interact with them and they’re delightful and happy to talk / joke with you. They were carrying obscenely heavy bags and frankly I’ve no clue how they were managing it.
First rest stop and we were provided with watermelon which was pretty much the best thing in the entire world at that moment in time. The next stage of the trek was an absolute nightmare. Steep downhill river of mud. It took so much concentration, a lot of walking back up and muscle power to navigate and stay vertical, I made a lot of strange ‘eep’ noises and clung to my stick for dear life.
Finally make it to flat land and I find myself smiling like an idiot to myself as I walk along. Finally able to enjoy the scenery, engage with the indigenous children along the way and not have to walk with locked muscles to stop myself from falling over. Lovely.
I was the first one from our group to arrive for lunch so had some time to wash up and stretch out (I had mud on my face for goodness sake). Another massive meal – I finished every bite of it, before we head off again. 4 hours into the 8 hour hike. Lauren is feeling much better at this point and we get a really great pace going. Cross a dodgey bridge over a river and then find ourselves walking up a steep incline for well over an hour. Lauren did so well especially as she’d felt so ill earlier in the day.
Make it to the next break point and get stuck into oranges. (Fruit here is amazing). We’re told we’ve got another 1.5 hours of trekking before our next stop, and after waiting half an hour with the skies threatening to burst open, Lauren and I give up waiting and head off. It takes longer than it should having to navigate pockets of mud throughout the trail with the only other option being swamp like land surrounding the path. In a bizarre moment Lauren and I find ourselves having to give way to a pig and her piglets, doesn’t happen every day.
Eventually the skies do burst and Lauren and I are forced to slow down our pace as the trail becomes less trail and more wading through mud. We finally make it to the river crossing and decide to leave our shoes on as they’re so caked in mud they could use a clean.
20min more of up and down via a forest trail in the rain and we’d made our next destination! We both have freezing showers to wash away mud, rain and sweat and again back into warm dry clothes was a blessed feeling. I however was in a lot of pain at this point. Wearing shoes through the river had been a huge mistake. Imagine taking a bath and 15min in your feet have that incredibly wrinkly look and feel, but then you get out and dry them, perhaps you moisturize and it’s all dandy. Well now imagine you keep your feet in the bath (except the bath is actually the river which fills your shoes and keeps your feet in a saturated state). I walked with wet feet that stayed wet for at least 20min, and the lines on the bottom of my right foot especially ran extremely deep and were extremely sore. The worst part about trekking in the wet weather is that we were never fully dry. Usually some stage or form of damp. So I spent the rest of the night hobbling around in a lot of pain. Another feast that evening followed by the news that we’d be up at 5am and back on to trekking by 6am. I’m fairly certain we were all soundo by 9pm. I had a horrendous nights sleep. My bed was not sheltered from the wind or rain, eventually I hobbled out of bed to get my slightly damp sleeping bag liner which definitely saved the day (night) but it was a god awful sleep.
Trek: Day Three.
Up at 5am. Wow, a lie in! Finally I had a dry top to change into. Hurrah. (Still the same soggy / damp shorts and sports bra though, but dry socks and undies – what a delight). Breakfast at 6am. It had been raining (and was still drizzling) all night. Departure pushed back until 7am because the river level is dangerously high. Everyone gets nervous we’re going to have to stay an extra day because of this (please god no I don’t have enough dry underwear for an extra day). Find out we will be leaving and crossing the river at 7am but it’s chest height on anyone my size (5’4 in case you’re wondering). Everyone decides to change into swimwear. Wise decision. It takes between 10-15 min to trek to the river, where the guides have managed to get a line across the river and people are starting to cross over. I put my socks, plastic bags (I’d wrapped my socked feet in plastic bags before putting them into my shoes in an attempt to keep my feet relatively dry as they no longer hurt and I was worried getting wet feet would cause the pain to resurface), top and phone into a giant bin bag to be carried over separately. We were told (us girls at least) we would have to cross clinging on to the back of a guide (monkey style). At first I was adamant I would cross alone, until I was told – go on someone’s back or don’t cross at all. So begrudgingly, shoes in hand, shorts rolled up, and rain jacket tied as a scarf around my neck, I got on to a guides back. And thank god. It wasn’t the pressure of the running water that was the issue, it was the height, which came up to my chest. So when the guide went to set me down near the other side (I was supposed to grab on to the rope, take someone’s hand and boom – be across), I just went. Shoes dunked under water – thankfully my shorts were on because I lost my bikini bottoms, and I was flailing around, had to be grabbed and pulled back to the rope, and maneuvered to the next guy. How embarrassing. So my shoes didn’t stay dry, I had to rearrange my bikini bottoms, fix my shorts, my rain jacket was now soaked and wait for (what I hoped would be) my dry top.
Redressed, we set off up treacherously wet stairs, which were far too often extremely narrow with barely enough space for half a foot. After a kazillion stairs we’d finally made it to Ciudad Perdida. The Lost City.
We had some time to wander around, take photos, meet the Shaman and buy a bracelet for strength / protection. I’m assured these are fool proof.
The big excitement of the day was a large candy / crisp covered platter which was devoured. Interesting and slightly sad side note, the reason we’d seen so many members of the Colombian army was because they’ve claimed a stake of land in the Lost City which they for training, and a separate area used as a helipad. I’m not joking.
The river crossing back was much easier, another big lunch waited for us and the rain had stopped (and held off all day which made a word of difference). We had to trek all the way back to our lunch stop from day two. This time I took my shoes off as I crossed the river, although, in our usual style, Lauren and I were ahead of our team and weren’t sure if we should cross or wait as on the opposite side of the river was an intimidatingly large group of soldiers (as it turns out we did cross and they’re lovely! Helped me cross the river).
Socks, plastic bags and shoes back on and we took off again. It was a lot slower going as the mud was super slick, I struggled with one hill, and watched in mild amusement tinged with disbelief as a man from the Colombian Army shrugged off his bag and ran to help me down the hill. No one escaped slipping and Lauren had to be helped by our guide.
A quick fruit stop and back on it as it was getting dark. We all made it to the Cabana just before dark, having cold river water showers in the dark followed by a massive dinner of pasta! Yay! And a beer each to celebrate our last night. Sleep that night was difficult because of the really bad smell of the beds (again so grateful to my sleeping bag liner).
Trek: Final Day.
Up early again, moods declined as we realised it had been raining all night. Another 5.30am breakfast and we eventually set off around 6.30am. We all went our own paces and completely broke off from one another on the way back. To the point where (at yet another river crossing) I wandered off and got lost (I’m renowned for this). After 10min of not having seen anyone behind or in front of me and realizing I should’ve been going steeply uphill and was walking along a river, I pulled out maps.me (life saver) and ended up having to jog back almost to the river and correct myself. I hadn’t even realised there was a fork in the road! Arf. A lot of up hill sludgery and trying to avoid the worst of the mud, often digging my stick into the mud and having to cling on for dear life as my legs went Bambi-esque and I caught up to the others. After a quick watermelon break I found myself running down a lot of the downhill (really relieves the pressure on your legs) but then it was back to navigating mud. Another break of fruit and chocolate (awww yeah) and Lauren and I smashed the last section of the trek together. What had taken us over an hour on day one took 20min – and we were going uphill! We walked past a lot of people who were just starting the four day trek, looking (and smelling – yes I had a sniff. Is that deodorant and shower I can smell?!) squeaky clean and edging away from our disheveled selves, I couldn’t hope but think ‘I hope you fall in the mud you buggers’.
Within half an hour of each other we all made it back to the lunch restaurant of Day One, where another large lunch was waiting and we all drank a nice cold beer.
Finally we were on our way back to Santa Marta, barely keeping our eyes open and the second we reached our hostel Lauren and I begged them to wash everything. Shoes included.