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Early retirement travels - week 7 Colombia

Looking out over the Lost City, Colombia

We’ve had a busy week (a quick reminder that “we” is me and my daughter, who has joined me for the next month of my travels).

We’d already self-explored Cartagena Old Town but decided to have a do-over on Monday, this time with a guide to ensure we would see the right places and hear the history. We signed up for a “free” walking tour which isn’t really free but works on a suggested donation. The tour lasted three hours for just £5 (€5/$6) which is great value. Our guide was informative and funny and without doubt worth the donation. I just wish he could have turned the temperature down, Cartagena is too hot for me.

On Tuesday we took the bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta. The private bus company delivers a good service: regular departures, comfortable seats and WiFi in a Mercedes Sprinter minibus that got us to Santa Marta in four and a half hours, quicker than the five to six hours that we’d expected.

Going to Santa Marta wasn’t for the city itself, but because it’s the jumping off point for the Ciudad Perdida (translation “Lost City”) trek. The ancient city of Teyuna is believed to date back to 800 CE/AD which is 650 years earlier than the more known Machu Picchu. When we saw how deeply the city is hidden in the hills and jungle of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta we understood why it was only discovered by the outside world in 1972 (although the local indigenous tribes say they visited the site regularly before this but kept it secret).

Even if not at my peak, I’m still in reasonable shape. I can run 20km and if I had to run 30km tomorrow then it would probably be OK, so I figured the trek wouldn’t be too difficult. Wrong! The trek was seriously tough. Perhaps it wasn’t so much the distance, more the heat, humidity, rain, mud, ascents and descents that made it testing. I crawled into bed each evening between 7pm and 8pm and had no problem falling asleep, proof it was tiring.

Our multi-national trekking group

We had a good group, three Dutch, three British, two Germans, a Spaniard, a Norwegian and an Australian, ably lead by our Colombian guide, Yeison, an interpreter from Venezuela, Pedro, and the all important cook, Felipé. I loved that there was a mix of nationalities to hear different experiences and viewpoints. When I look back at the places I’ve lived or the things I’ve done, it’s always the people who make them special, and this trek was exactly the same.

Overall we trekked around 60km over four days. 9km on day one, 19km on day two, and around 15km or 16km each on days three and four. It felt further! We slept in camps along the route for three nights, ate surprisingly good food, braved cold (and I mean proper cold) showers, got attacked by mosquitos, wore clothes and shoes that wouldn’t dry, swapped life and travel stories, and generally had a great time. We saw members of the indigenous Wiwa and Koguis tribes along the way and heard about some of their beliefs and customs.

We reached the Lost City early on day three after climbing 1,200 steps. It’s impressive realising it was built so long ago without the modern construction machinery that we have today, but you don’t see a city as we think of them today. For a start, the population is thought to have been between 2,000 and 8,000 and whatever structures there once were, rotted away centuries ago. What you do see are the various terraces and plateaus showing how the city was arranged and the foundations and lower rock walls showing where dwellings and other buildings once stood. For me, most important is imagining what life would have been like all those years ago. I nearly always find that trying to envision life in historical times is more interesting than the buildings themselves and this was certainly the case with the Lost City.

My early retired mindset includes doing things that I would previously have said no to, and the Lost City trek is an example. I’m pretty sure that old me wouldn’t have done it, and I’m very glad that new me did. But I was also relieved when it finished. It was far tougher than I expected and to know that we didn’t have to walk the next day, could have a less cold shower and wear dry clothes was the best feeling. I’d certainly recommend the trek, but go into it with your eyes open, it sure isn’t a walk in the park!

For Sunday we had a plan. Get the laundry done, move on to the beach and do absolutely nothing, which is exactly what we did. Bliss.

This trek was hard work - we weren't always looking our best!

As to exercise and healthy eating, I assumed that the trek was going to make this a “not applicable” week, but I’ve changed my mind. The trek easily merits at least 8 out of 10 for exercise and whatever food we’ve eaten was needed to keep us putting one foot in front of the other. I did eat more than my fair share of Oreos and a few chocolate bars but I’m not marking myself down because of them. The food on our trek was mostly rice, vegetables and beans and was amazingly good for the middle of the jungle. Given the circumstances, I’m going for an 8 for healthy eating too, perhaps a little generous but I think we earned it.

Daily diary and costs

I'm including a list of what we did during our week and the approximate costs - I'm using this part of my blog as a mini diary for myself, but feel free to read if you're interested.

Week 7 - what we've done:

Monday – Cartagena. “Free” walking tour in the morning

Tuesday – Bus from Cartagena to Santa Martha – as usual, travelling takes almost the whole day

Wednesday – Ciudad Perdida “Lost City” Trek

Thursday – Ciudad Perdida “Lost City” Trek

Friday – Ciudad Perdida “Lost City” Trek

Saturday – Ciudad Perdida “Lost City” Trek

Sunday – Playa de Costeña for recovery

Week 7 - we spent a total of £426 / €477 / $558 for 1 person on:

Accommodation £36 / €40 / $46 Just 4 nights as accommodation was included in our trek

Meals/Coffee/Snacks £53 / €60 / $70 Just for 3-4 days as food was included in our trek cost

Transport £15 / €17 / $20

Toiletries/Medicine £36 / €40 / $47 Toiletries, bug spray, suncream, medicine for infected mosquito bites😬

Laundry £10 / €12 / $14

Tours/Attractions £266 / €297 / $348 Lost City 4 day/3 night trek

Other £10 / €11 / $13 Sports T-shirt for Lost City trek


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