Trekking deep into the Colom­bian jun­gle.

A steamy jun­gle trek to Colom­bia’s Lost City: Who can re­sist that kind of adventure?

Elle (Canada) - - Insider - By Noreen Flana­gan

when I set out on a four-day hike through a trop­i­cal rain­for­est in Colom­bia, I didn’t ex­pect to ex­pe­ri­ence an on-trend beauty mo­ment. Who knew that all it takes is a heart­pound­ing, butt-crunch­ing climb through the rugged Sierra Ne­vada moun­tains to look ex­actly like one is ready to walk Mar­ques’ Almeida’s fall/win­ter 2015 run­way? Duffy—a Vi­dal Sassoon am­bas­sador and the mas­ter­mind be­hind the “alt-beach” wave look—said that he imag­ined the girls “were out all night danc­ing, sweat­ing a lot, and put on a hat, fell asleep on the bus home and then took the hat off.”

In my case, I wasn’t hav­ing a ’90s-redux mo­ment; I was walk­ing a 50-kilo­me­tre trail to the Ci­u­dad Perdida, or “Lost City.” I was sweat­ing—a lot—and I was wear­ing a hik­ing hat, but it was about as hip as Stephen Harper lip-synch­ing a Lady Gaga tune. (Can you imag­ine?) As for my sleep­ing ar­range­ments, well, I slept on a ham­mock, shrouded in mos­quito netting, hung in a tin­roofed open shel­ter. And when I took off that hat—a nec­es­sary ac­ces­sory to avoid get­ting sun­burned or in­fested with ticks—let’s just say that I had to em­brace my in­ner Jun­gle Jane.

My sis­ter, Jean, de­scribes hik­ing as a “tab­ula rasa,” or re­set mo­ment, when the only thing that mat­ters is putting one foot in front of the other. That’s ex­actly the med­i­ta­tive state I was in when, two days into the hike, we ar­rived at the foot of the 1,200 stone steps we’d be climb­ing to reach the Lost City. The pre-In­can site was built around AD 800 but aban­doned four cen­turies later dur­ing the Span­ish con­quest. It was re­dis­cov­ered by some lo­cal trea­sure hun­ters in the 1970s. The Colom­bian gov­ern­ment even­tu­ally took con­trol of the site, and grad­ual restora­tion be­gan—de­spite oc­ca­sional skir­mishes with armed guer­ril­las. Un­like with Machu Pic­chu, which at­tracts more than a mil­lion tourists each year, only 8,500 or so ad­ven­tur­ous types com­plete the trek an­nu­ally.

Be­fore I started to climb the steep col­umn of mossy stone steps—which were shaded by a canopy of gi­ant trees draped in bromeli­ads and dan­gling lianas—my guide, Car­los Pinero, cau­tioned me to be care­ful. #un­der­state­ment.

The first thought that en­tered my mind was that the Tairona In­di­ans who once in­hab­ited this place had tiny feet! More than half of my size 9.5 hik­ing boot was hang­ing off the edge of the worn-smooth stone. “Be­ing in the mo­ment” isn’t just a sen­ti­men­tal thought in in­stances like this: For the next 45 min­utes, I could only fo­cus on where I placed my feet and hands as I scram­bled my way up the cliff. I couldn’t look be­hind me, and I couldn’t look ahead. I felt rivulets of sweat me­an­der­ing their way down my back like rain­drops on a win­dow­pane. Each breath I took was deep (okay, slightly laboured), and h

there was this de­li­cious burn hap­pen­ing at the backs of my thighs.

Then there was the en­dor­phin rush that I ex­pe­ri­enced when the ground lev­elled be­fore me and I reached the site. Af­ter catch­ing my breath, I could take in the re­mark­able beauty and di­ver­sity of this re­mote moun­tain­ous set­ting. Be­fore go­ing on the hike, I read all kinds of sto­ries that men­tioned en­coun­ters with mos­qui­toes, ticks, deadly spi­ders, un­speak­ably hor­ri­fy­ing bugs and— my favourite— ven­omous snakes. I’m sure they all ex­ist, but I only saw hum­ming­birds, para­keets and iri­des­cent- blue but­ter­flies. It didn’t even rain—just a gen­tle mist that hung over the moun­tain­tops in the early morn­ing. And there was the con­stant jun­gle sound­track—bird sounds that made me wish I had an avian Shazam app.

There isn’t much that is known about the Lost City, and all that re­mains are the 200 ter­races that have been ex­ca­vated, but Car­los—a mas­ter­ful sto­ry­teller—soon had us imag­in­ing what life was like for the farm­ers who lived here un­der the watch­ful eye of the all-know­ing shaman. In many re­spects, the lo­cal in­dí­gena en­coun­tered on the trail of­fer a glimpse into the lives of their Tairona an­ces­tors. There are four tribes who live in the moun­tains: the Arhuaco, Kogi, Kankuamo and Wiwa. They are rather in­dif­fer­ent to­ward the in­ter­lop­ers on their land, but they oc­ca­sion­ally stopped to chat with our guide. Their homes are cir­cu­lar thatched-roof huts, and they dress en­tirely in white. (No small sar­to­rial feat when one lives in a muddy jun­gle.) Car­los told me that the tribes wear white be­cause they be­lieve that they are en­trusted with pro­tect­ing the earth and white re­flects the pu­rity of that re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The men wear their hair ei­ther long or in Jared Leto-like man buns, and their uni­form— a cot­ton tu­nic and pants—is very Mao meets jun­gle. They also carry a straw satchel con­tain­ing a sup­ply of coca leaves and a hol­lowed-out gourd, called a po­poro, filled with crushed seashells. They chew the leaves and the pow­der from the alkaline shells to­gether, which pro­duces a mild stim­u­lant ef­fect. The women, who are of­ten bare­foot, wear sim­ple cot­ton dresses and mul­ti­ple beaded neck­laces. The chil­dren, more than the adults, tend to seek out en­coun­ters. They’re stoic, and it takes some ef­fort to make them smile.

That night, af­ter de­scend­ing from the Lost City, we set­tled in for our fi­nal night on the trail. The sear­ing hu­mid­ity had re­ceded, and there was enough of a chill at this el­e­va­tion that I loosely wrapped a scarf around my head. I checked my mos­quito net for holes, scanned the sheets for spi­ders—all good!—and then drifted off as I lis­tened to the frog ser­e­nade. ■

The 50-kilo­me­tre path to

Ci­u­dad Perdida wends its way through the Sierra Ne­vada de Santa Marta, a UNESCO Bio­sphere Re­serve. It’s con­sid­ered the high­est and most eco­log­i­cally di­verse coastal moun­tain

range in the world.

The 1,200 steps lead­ing up to the Lost City; a child and man from the lo­cal In­dige­nous Wiwa tribe

Morn­ing mist on the Sierra Ne­vada de Santa Marta moun­tain range; a friendly para­keet

EN­TER TO WIN a $6,000 trip for two to Colom­bia. Go to page 155 for de­tails and en­ter on­line at

ELLECanada.com/colom­bia.

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