Untouched for centuries, the beauty of the ruinous "Lost" city was reclaimed by treasure hunters in the early 1970s. Since then, adventure seekers have been visiting the remote destination to explore the dense jungle, cool off in waterfalls, sleep in nature and watch the sun roll across the mountains. On Thanksgiving a few years ago, I was grateful to be one of them.
My travel friend and I landed in Cartagena and were immediately met with rides to Santa Marta, the starting point for our trek in northern Colombia. Carrying our monstrous hiking bags on our backs, our destination was obvious. The three-and-a-half hour trip along the coast took double the time because the driver kept stopping the van to chat with friends and buy snacks. By the time we reached our hotel for the night, we had learned our first important lesson in South America: everything runs on Colombian time.
In the morning, we enjoyed a nice breakfast of muesli with fruit and authentic Colombian coffee with our hiking group on the lovely outdoor rooftop. When it was time to go, we tied up the laces on our hiking boots, strapped ourselves into our packs and rode in a 4-wheeler to Machete Pelao, a town that marks the starting point of the trek like a marker for a race. Two hours in on the winding dirt path along the Buritaca River and I was ready to post up for the night. My pack kept stealing the breath I needed to climb the steep inclines and I cursed all 40 pounds of it with every huff.
At the resting point, my group indulged in refreshing watermelon. Chomping into a juicy watermelon slice and sitting on the grass overlooking the mountains was heavenly. A dreamlike fog veiled part of the mountains, making them look even more ethereal. Another hour to the camp and we would get to rest for the night.
By day three, we were in sync with the remoteness of the jungle. We acclimated to the arctic shower water that sputtered from a single pipe; we became accustomed to sweat being a third party participant in private conversations; and fell asleep to nighttime jungle noises underneath a mosquito net. Up at five and on the trail by six, with incredibly delicious coffee to fuel my steps, we felt ourselves growing physically stronger and mentally present. Most of the time we could only hear our own breath, the sole concentration on putting the left foot in front of the right.