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Lost Cities, Dusty Hammocks

“I can’t handle this. It’s really musty. I can smell every single person who’s ever slept in it. Ever.”

Ciudad Perdida was amazing. I loved everything about it. Everything except the hammocks. But there’s nothing like a lack of beds at the next camp and a hint of germophobia to make you pick up the pace. Trail running to avoid another dusty old hammock was much more fun than it sounds.

Situated on the north coast of Colombia, the surroundings of the Lost City are stunning. Mountains of dense forest stretched before us as we climbed hills, trekked through jungle and precariously crossed rivers. The early darkness of the great outdoors meant evening meals and card playing by candlelight while bats swooped and fireflies competed with the stars. As clichéd as it is, presented with nature of that magnitude, it’s impossible to not feel small.

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A few days before doing the trek, we met a girl who’d just finished it. She told of long rain-drenched days, ferocious mosquitos, constantly wet shoes and soaked possessions. Her accounts of food envy between groups, and territorial attitudes towards dessert seemed a little dramatic. But as we soon discovered, it was all pretty accurate.

We were much luckier with the weather than we’d anticipated. Storm clouds taunted us on the third day but we reached the shelter of the camps just as thunder crashed overhead and the rain-lashed river began to rise. Sunburnt shoulders and newfound cravings for Gatorade and Gol chocolate bars were our only real problems.

In many ways the journey to the lost city was as good as finally arriving there. Reaching the top and seeing the extensive stone ruins was amazing but getting there was the real achievement. The days were long and our blisters were painful. Hornet stings, snack stealing parrots and encounters with scorpions were all part of the memorable experience.

On the morning we arrived at our destination, tired and dirty, we climbed the trail of steep stone steps that announces the presence of the settlement. Created over one thousand years ago, the steps are narrow and slippery from trickling springs and moss. Ascending sideways, the only way to fit our feet on the tiny ledges, we became noticeably more aware of the drop below and the idea that if one person slipped we might all become victims of a deadly domino effect.

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Like the big boss at the end of the level, mosquitoes swarmed the summit more relentlessly than I’ve ever seen before, as if positioned to deter invaders at the last hurdle. Through their vicious haze we witnessed the fragments of history dotted across the ridge. The views from so high up in the jungle were immense. The landscape we’d snaked our way through for the last few days surrounded us. It was easy to see why the indigenous people love and respect their environment so much. They live on the land, as their ancestors did before them, in a harmonious relationship with the nature around them.

A camp of young police officers, waiting out their national service, is stationed at the top. With nothing much to do with their days but watch dishevelled tourists wander around the ruins, they break their boredom by talking to foreign girls. They’re also the happy recipients of spare cakes and snacks provided by the tour guides.

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The number of people visiting the Lost City is growing all the time but there’s a noticeable lack of Colombians among them. The majority of tour guides and cooks are local but between travellers from Europe, North America and Australia, we only met one Colombian. He explained this was a trip he’d wanted to take for many years. A pride in his country’s history and an interest in architecture and biodiversity meant he’d saved up to do it. For many people on a Colombian wage though, it’s simply not possible, more immediate needs must be prioritised over discovering their land’s hidden treasures.

Even so, he said the average citizen prefers a relaxing beach break to spending their time sweating in the forest. It seems no matter the country or the tourist attraction, if it’s on our doorstep, we’re often not that interested.

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Our time on the trek was unforgettable. There’s nothing quite like diving into a cool clean river to wash away the dirt of a day’s walking and four AM starts aren’t as arduous when you’re embarking on adventures.

Although ice cold showers by torchlight are never easy, when the trek’s over, the stale jeep back to town has been aired out and you’ve finally reached an insect-free bathroom, you’ll have the best shower of your life.

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