At first I couldn’t decide what my most memorable travel experience was; what was the most fun, enlightening, life-changing experience I’d had, one that made me who I am today? Several places came to mind but the most obvious didn’t stand out immediately. I wondered, then, if this was the best story to share. Why wasn’t it the first thing I thought of? I realised it’s because I tend to think (and talk) about it as the most physically demanding, emotionally challenging travel experience ever, but that’s precisely why it’s so good. By the time it was over, I had bleeding blisters, a fractured toe, a body pumped with coca leaves, and the knowledge that I could truly do anything I set my mind to, regardless of how impossible it seemed at first.
I’d always wanted to see the Lost City for myself. Known as Teyuna in the native indigenous language, it’s an archaeological gem built atop a mountain near the city of Santa Marta in Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Discovered in the 1970s by treasure hunters, it remains one of the most enigmatic pre-columbian sites in Latin America, and therefore a beckoning mystery to adventure lovers like myself.
The hike would be five days long, three days up, two days down. We had to carry our own packs and sleep in hammocks during the increasingly cold nights. It was perfect. We set out with tons of energy and excitement, ready to be blown away by this city lost in time, in the jungle, at over 1,000 metres above sea level.
Climbing was exhausting and I didn’t think I would make it to the top, but our very encouraging guide told me no one stayed behind, and although I was the last one there, I made it. I survived despite crossing the Buritaca river a million times, climbing up hundreds of ancient stone steps, and stopping every few minutes to catch my breath. But it was worth it. I felt the mossy stones palpitating with the Tayrona’s legacy, evoking the history and the stories of this vanished people. And I was there! I was touching the stones and stepping on the terraces, sitting on the edge, being enveloped by the late afternoon fog. And then we had to start climbing down.
The first full day of our descent started out horribly for me. My blisters were so bad I was walking barefoot. That’s when I was given a handful of coca leaves. And thank Teyuna for it because I fractured my little toe when we stopped for lunch, gracefully walking into one of the centennial stones. The leaves gave me enough energy to forget the pain and run through the jungle, down the sandy paths, over the slippery waterfalls, across the freezing river and back to sea level.
Despite the physical aches and constant emotional questioning—can I actually make it?—visiting the Lost City will remain one of my greatest accomplishments, one that gave me peace and confidence through raw pain.