23 January 2014

"It's Probably Not Gout."

"Hold on a minute; I want to do some research on tropical diseases, and then I'll be right back."

I waited in my shorts at the sports doctor's office for about 15 minutes, reading The Lost City of Z as the paper on the table stuck to my lower thighs. I'd be back a week, getting back into life, work, running, when I noticed a weird lump on my knee. "Marshmallow knee," Wayne baptised it, but I called it "Water balloon knee" in my head. I stopped running, worried, and was forced to stay in shape by cross-training at the gym (which was honestly not such a terrible thing in the bitter, horrendous cold we have been having here in NYC).

"You don't have a history of gout in your family, do you?" said the doctor when she returned.

"Um, no. Not that I know of."

After my knee was proclaimed okay, and that draining it was only optional, I headed back to the subway. My head was in a fog, perhaps damaged by the cold, and maybe the lack of oxygen my body was getting as a result of my asthma. (Actually, I don't think my asthma was that bad. But it was brutally cold.)
Bundled up for winter running. I hate the cold.

I got on the subway. I had a lot of unanswered questions in my head. I wasn't really sure if my knee would hurt while running, but there's only one way to find out: try. I had a lot of other unanswered questions, mainly, the cliched, "What am I doing with my life?" You know - why I am not writing; career questions; location questions. A big issue I have is the cold - I love New York City, love my lifestyle, my friends, my family, my community, my neighborhood. But since I got frostbite a few years back, my feet get cold very fast and it can be quite unbearable. It's also very painful. And sometimes, I want a different life - more relaxing, more quiet, more peace, warmer. I like being outdoors in gardens, sitting in the sun, enjoying nature. Maybe New York's not the best place for me? Or do I want to give everything up and travel for a while - but then what? I can't do that forever.

I ended up taking the 7 train in the wrong direction. I was confused as why we were at 5th Avenue instead of Vernon Jackson. Then I stood in the bus in the cold, waiting, tears in my eyes as my toes grew more and more painful. Ray cheered my thoughts as his voice rattled in my phone about a 24 hour race he was planning on putting on so I could hopefully qualify for World Championships.

Nothing is solved, but it's another day, not a terrible one, and I'll keep moving ahead, hoping to figure things out soon.

15 January 2014

Reflections on Colombia

Do I like Colombia? Everyone kept asking me. Yes, but it wasn’t my favourite country.

I found the people overall to be very rude and aggressive. They’d shove you. They would accidentally kick you and not apologize, even if you made a yelp in pain. They’d cut you in line.

But some of them, individually, were friendly, asking questions about you and where you came from.

There were offers to buy coke. I didn’t accept any of them, but yes, it’s there.

I didn’t have any security issues, but on my last night in the hostel, I heard of two people getting their daypacks (with all this credit cards, passport, etc) stolen from the seat next to them at the airport while they were there.

I felt unsafe at times, but that’s mostly because I was so paranoid. I mainly felt safe. My unsafe feeling was my nervousness because of all the warnings.

The country is pretty, the climate and environment diverse.

Arepas really are best when you get them on the street. In restaurants, they tend to be dry and flavorless.

Juices are amazing and I tried to drink as many as I could. The cheapest I paid was 50 cents for a maracuya juice.

The fruits are unlike anything I’ve ever tried. They were lovely.

The mosquitoes were lethal.

It gets cold in the tropics, sometimes.

You find yourself as you get lost in the city streets.

Bogota, the Final Time

I arrived in Bogota off a mini-bus, and met a girl at the bus station who was going to my hostel. We shared a cab.

I didn’t do too much on my final day; I walked around the streets, taking in the square, Calle 7, eating salted freshly-made plantain chips. I went back to my hostel, where we swapped travel stories, ate a barbeque, and then, it was time for a few hours of sleep before my flight.

The airport was a chaotic mess. I waited in line, found out I had to go pay a tax, went to pay it and then learned I wasn’t in the country long enough so I didn’t have to pay. I went back in the original line and then answered a lot of questions about my bag and security. Then I went to another line and this guy tried to make me print out my boarding pass but the machine sucked and he singled me out because I was American. I just wanted to have someone help me in person because I had a question about my ticket. Then you give your bag to someone and then they bring it to you when you check in. Then you have immigration and then you are in Duty-Free, where I bought some cheap liquor and had a breakfast.

It’s sad – it took me longer than normal to get into this trip, and I think the main thing this trip has left me with is a lot of questions. What do I want to do with my life? How much more do I want to travel? Is this all worth it? What should I do next? I am left with even more questions, and no answers, but it will figure itself out eventually. I hope. And if not, I’ll sling my backpack over my shoulder and head out to another country to find more questions and more answers.

The Charming Villa de Leyva

I had wanted to go to Barichara, but didn’t have enough time, so I ended up in Villa de Leyva – and I’m so glad. What a great place.

It was a gorgeous, charming little colonial town. There were some museums in town, but just wandering the gorgeous cobblestoned streets, stopping in cafes, or shops is likely to be enough.

I barely caught the express bus (Liberatadores) and sat next to a friendly Colombian woman who kept trying to give me food. When I arrived, I couldn’t find a cab right away, and then I found a chatty driver. The road to the hostel seems desolate and dark and scary and I was worried about express kidnappings and such – but no, he was a good man and I got to my hostel, Renacer Guesthouse. It was a great hostel/hotel/guesthouse, and the on-site café was great because it meant you didn’t need to walk the 1.2km into town.

My first night, I chatted with other backpackers, ate a rather salty but good falafel from the café, and passed out pretty early.

In the morning, I got up and ran an hour and a half, ate again in the café, and went to do a lovely hike just beyond the hostel. You get to see three miradors, and a small waterfall. On my way up, I met some rather friendly English backpackers. We hiked it together, laughing and talking the whole way. After, I went back to my hostel, swapped my stuff, and headed out to walk around the town. It was gorgeous. I tried to sort out my bus ticket for the following day, but you can’t buy it until the next day. I went to sit on the bus to Santa Sofia. After waiting an hour, I realized the bus would take forever and I wanted to do a lot. So I hopped in an 18,000 peso cab ride and headed out to the ruins. It’s a small site, but almost all of the ruins are phallic sculptures. When the guy at my hostel told me about it, he said “las ruinas son penises.” Yep, Spanglish. I wandered around, but it’s pretty small, so after taking some phallic photos, I confirmed my directions with the guards, and headed to the next site, Pozos Azules (a set of five small gorgeous lakes of a lovely turquoise colour – unfortunately that did not come across in photographs). After walking for a bit, I asked a guy working at the antique car park for directions and he verified. Okay, so this desolate way is the right way. I came to a fork and took the one the cabbie told me about but it seemed wrong. I went into someone’s house where there were geese quacking all over the lawn. Yep, keep going. I kept going. I was supposed to take another fork after a bridge; I saw a fork but no bridge. I took it, nervously. Then I walked for a long time without seeing anyone. Finally, I saw a bunch of people working in an onion field. Yuck. I asked them to verify I was going the right way, and they told me to keep going and ask at the Fossil Museum. This was new. When I got to the Fossil Museum, I should have continued straight but went to the museum, which was small and not fantastic. Then I got new directions from the staff of the fossil museum, which I verified with a jewelry seller. Still, I wasn’t convinced. It was desolate. I yelled at a house where I saw someone on the terrace; the woman yelled to keep going. Turns out, I was sent on a back road that was an okay way to go, faster than the way I was told about earlier. Finally, I found a parking lot and asked where Pozos Azules were. “Aqui.” I had arrived.

I walked down into the lakes and they were gorgeous. There were just a few people there, so I sat for a bit and wrote in my journal and meditated on the beauty of the lake. After a while, I headed out on the road to walk another 1k or 2k (I probably ended up walking 15k that day; I spent most of my day walking.) to Casa Barro, a house made entirely from mud. Mud furniture, mud steps, mud shelves. Well, not really mud, but clay. It was gorgeous, and inspired from Gaudi. The bathrooms were gorgeous with lovely tiles and small squares of mirrors.

After I left, a man in his seventies began chatting me up in Spanish. He was really friendly, and we conversed for a while. He told me about the history of Villa de Leyva and we discussed the atrocities committed by missionaries to the indigenous people who wouldn’t convert. Horrifying. Then he gave me a fist bump and a kiss on the cheek and I walked back to town.

I had a lovely dinner, stopped in some shops, and then chilled at the hostel, chatting w other backpackers until the morning.

In the morning, I went for another lovely run on cobblestone, and then had a long wander around town. I stopped at the market, eating avocados, buying  bocadillos, enjoying the sites. I had a final maracuya juice, and then I went to the bus station. The direct bus was sold out, but I got a seat on a minibus that arrived rather fast. 

12 January 2014

Amazon - It Likes to Draw You Back

I’ve been to the Amazon in Brazil out of Manaus, and when I went to Peru, I did two different trips out of Puerto Maldonaldo. But still, I wanted to go again.

After this trip, I found the guides lackluster and a lot of it to be repeats, same old, same old. I don’t think I’ll go back to the Amazon in the same way, but I still find it so thrilling, gorgeous, and charming.

I went out with Amazon Jungle Tours – mainly because they were the only ones who emailed me back. I would recommend them, as I found the guides to be lazy, wanting to rest for any hours instead of doing lots of stuff. But still, there were some great moments….

·         Awesome trek where we hiked at day and night and saw baby tarantulas and lots of other bugs
·         Pink dolphins. Do I need to say more?
·         Grey dolphins.
·         Lots of monkeys, swinging and eating. They are so cute.
·         Too many mosquitoes. UGH. Bites everywhere. Impossible. Ouch. Ugh.
·         Caimans.
·         Sunset boat rides.
·         Swimming in “Lucky Lake.”
·         Caipirnhas.
·         Chilling in the hammocks.
·         Scary spiders

You can’t help but be charmed by the water, the houses, the mud, everything. People live very differently out there – with little electricity, boating as a way of getting around, bugs everywhere. I’m not sure I could live there.

Leticia....A Taste of the Jungle Indeed

Leticia is not a town you plan to hang out in long, but circumstances might force you to.

I had two nights in Leticia, and that was plenty – one before my trip into the jungle, one after. I booked a room at Mahatu Hostel, which is really a great place to stay. The owner is pretty friendly and helpful and the grounds are great – you can swim in the pool, row in the lake, walk around by the plants. I had a private room my first night and stayed in a “treehouse” the second time. Both were fine.

When I got into Leticia, I paid for my tour (though I wish I didn’t – that’s a later story!), and then got to my hostel. I chatted a bunch with Gustavo, and then a Kiwi guy, Jeff, mentioned he was hungry. So was I – so we went out to pizza together. We split a pizza at a place close to the border, and chatted and laughed. Then we decided to walk across the border to Brazil.

Normally, United States citizens need a visa to Brazil. Mine expired a year ago, but luckily, the borders are fluid in these border towns and you don’t need passports or visas to enter.

Jeff and I walked and talked. I immediately noticed differences – Portuguese instead of Spanish, acai for sale (and randomly also, showing how close we were to Peru, Inca Cola!), different music, slightly different styles. It was really neat to see.

We walked for a long time, losing ourselves in conversation. Finally, Jeff pointed out that we should probably turn around. After walking for a few minutes, a downpour began. A torrential downpour.  Jeff and I hid underneath an overhang with some others doing the same, in front of some sort of Brazilian security building. They watched the rain with us.

It didn’t let up. No cabs passed. The Brazilian security dudes tried to call me a cab, but they didn’t answer. Finally, I ran across the street in the rain, where I persuaded some random kid studying to be a flight attendant to give us a ride back across the border for 10,000 pesos.

I went to my room in the hostel, and organized everything for my trek. Then, the next morning, when I woke up, it was STILL pouring. I really wanted to go running – I knew I wouldn’t be able to on my trek, so I pulled on flipflops – because the streets were like rivers, and set out for a pouring rain run. It was actually not too bad.

Then I went on my trek for a few days with Amazon Jungle Tours (I’ll write a separate post about them, but I don’t recommend taking them), and came back. I came into the port at Tabatinga, where I was supposed to be picked up by my tour group. When they never showed, I climbed on the back of some guy’s motorcycle, strapped on a helmet, and went to the Tour Center. I got my bag, got another motorcycle ride to my hostel , and checked in. I talked with Gustavo about my tour, changed into running clothes, gave them my laundry, and went out for a run. On my run, I ended up buying a machete as a present for Wayne, and ran my run feeling a little safer. Unfortunately, the motorcycles were insane and it was too scary and dangerous to run long.

When I got back to my hostel , a big group of people were going out to dinner, so I jumped in the shower, and tagged along. We got the “comida corriente” for 7,000 pesos, which wasn’t too bad. The other people were traveling for a year or so around South America, and I was very jealous. I wish I could do that. Then I went back to the hostel, organized my stuff, used the crappy internet, and went to sleep. In the morning, I ran for 10 miles, visited Museo Etnografica Amazonico, stressed about my delayed laundry, and ran to the airport.

Leticia, you’re just okay, but it was nice knowing you.

Bogota, Segunda Vez

Wonderful – Bogota!

Sad – goodbyes.

We landed in Bogota in the early evening, and after a long wait for our baggage, we took a cab with a rather chatty cab driver who told us that he worked in a carwash outside of NYC in the early eighties. Then we checked into Abadia Colonial Hotel, which was very pretty and comfortable, though cold. (Our verdict – the hotels need heat in Bogota. They are always freezing, which is why we spent some time snuggling and reading under blankets in Bogota during our first visit.) We hopped back out in another cab – to Zona Rosa and more specifically, Zona T – clubs and restaurants.

We walked around, again, amazed with the clubbing scene. “We’re not dressed cool enough to get into these clubs,” I fretted to Wayne. After popping in a few shops, we decided to go to eat. “Let’s go to Wok; Andres [our Colombian friend we met on the trek] says it’s great.” Indeed, they had an entire vegetarian section, but somehow, we ended up not eating off that menu, as due to a language snafu (Um, my Spanish isn’t that great.), we ended up on the 3rd floor: Japanese, which normally I hate.

However, they had a ton of yummy vegetarian things on the menu, and with four small bottles of warm sake, everything is good. We spent hours laughing, talking, sharing our dreams, eating, drinking. It was so nice to really spend so much time, with so much free time, outside of the streets of work and other BS, to bond and get closer.

All those sakes later, we were tipsy. We walked around a while more. We felt boring for not wanting to visit clubs, but really, we were tipsy enough and fairly tired. We hopped in a cab and headed for our hotel.

In the morning, we headed out for a run, during which I took a bunch of photos of the anti-violent and revolutionary street art. Then we headed up to Chapinero to look around, but we clearly were not in the cool part of the neighborhood, and we hopped in another cab to Zona Rosa. All the shops were closed , and we found an overpriced restaurant to have eggs Florentine and eggs Benedict in, and drink mimosas. Wayne bought a hoodie (And warning to those going to Colombia: if you want to use your credit card in a store, you need to bring ID. Argh.). Then, we hopped in another cab to Candelaria and wandered the streets, looking for ice cream. Eventually, we found a place and got a banana split.

After I got my bag at the hotel (Wayne’s flight home to NYC was later in the evening; I was flying to Leticia for an Amazon trip that afternoon.), I began bawling. I know I’ll see him a week, but this trip has been an amazing reconfirmation of what a wonderful relationship we have, and how much I love him. It was SO hard to say goodbye.

Oh Medellin, What a Dream....

As soon as Wayne and I landed, we were in love. The valleys. The mountains. The green. So pretty. So clean. A great city.

We landed on New Year’s Day, which is a terrible day to be a traveler. It’s a day to recover from your hangover, or travel, or just read books. Most things were completely closed, which was a little sad, but it was okay. We figured things out.

We were starving, and after checking into the super stylish and wonderful In House Hotel, Wayne and I wandered around until we found food. Most restaurants were closed, but we found an amazing Italian one, and filled ourselves with food. We walked around the streets, peering in closed store windows and plotting where we would go shopping and visiting once they were open.

The altitude smacked me in the face, making me sleepy. I napped while Wayne figured out how to get to the Festival of Lights and what we should do in town. We headed out on the long walk down to the Metro and then, WOW. Basically, they cover the river on both sides with crazy Christmas lights and decorations, and over the river, they hang lights to look like stars, or glowing candle lights. Truly amazing. But what really was overwhelming was the vastness of everything – people selling everything you could possibly want (or not), from popcorn to giant hot dogs to aguardiente to arepas to mangos to annoying noise makers to balloons to handmade taffy to cotton candy to helado to chocolate covered apples. It was really intense – with the lights and the people, it reminded us of Burning Man.

The next day, after sleeping lots, we took the Metro downtown and took some photos in Botero Plaza – really beautiful. Then we walked around the streets, and Wayne bought a pair of pants. Then, we headed over to the Botanic Gardens and had lunch at the café, but didn’t stay at the gardens – we finally got an email to head up for paragliding.

Paragliding is wonderful – you are flying, you see the world in a new different perspective. I thought, “Those look like toy horses. Did the creator of toy horses go paragliding?” Really beautiful waterfall. Very amazing.

The negative is that from Medellin, you have to take the Metro to Caribe, wander around Terminal Norte until you find ticket counter #11. Then you take a bus abt 45 minutes up. Then you wait around. We spent about 20 minutes paragliding, but we left the Gardens at 1pm and got back to our room at 7:30pm, so it was a long day for not a lot of activity.

Also fail – our bus driver was out of it, so I didn’t get to tell him exactly where we were going. Then I saw a paragliding school, yelled, and Wayne and I jumped out. Turns out, this school was the wrong one – and closed. Ours was 10-15min drive up the road – and it was too curvy and dangerous to walk. A local guy took pity on us and took turns giving us motorcycle roads up the mountain to the other school. It was scary and amazingly fun and gorgeous. As I waved goodbye to Wayne and headed up the mountains, clutching the back of a complete stranger, all I could think was, “I hope he doesn’t murder me.” He didn’t, and made the day a lot more fun.

We ate fantastic veggie burgers at Lentejas Express, and were so tired, we went to sleep after taking a nice walk around the neighborhood.

The next day was incredible. After running, Wayne and I took the train, then transferred to the in-Metro gondola. WOW. Then we hopped on another gondola and ended up in this amazing park on the top of these mountains outside of Medellin. The views were glorious. We weren’t outfitted properly (I was wearing a sleeveless dress (in the chill) and ballet flats, and Wayne had on his nice dress boots.), but we still did a bit of hiking and talking and enjoying the day. I bought a knit hat from a vendor to keep myself warmer, and they had lots of great vendors, so ended up buying some pressies for friends back home. There was an incredible vegetarian restaurant (set menu – 8,500 pesos) with grass and flowers growing on the roof. Then we took the gondolas back, which was less of a mess of lines and crowds.

We went to the Botanic Gardens, which were free. We took photos, admired the plants, and really enjoyed the gardens. Then, we hopped back on the Metro and went out shopping in El Poblado.

El Poblado is one of the hippest neighborhoods in Medellin – great shops, restaurants, cafes. Wayne bought some clothes, so I was happy. I ended up finding this amazing shop where the woman handmakes all of the original lace dresses. I bought three. She was so friendly, we were chatting and she bought Wayne and I a beer (though I declined mine, as a non-beer drinker). I bought a purse for work, Wayne bought a print and some cards, I bought a shirt. We are never big shoppers on trip, so this was rather fun.

Then we dumped off our purchases at our hotel, and headed back up to El Poblado for dinner. We went to a wonderful pizza place (City Pizza?) on Calle 34. It was phenomenal. We ordered a Grande pizza, which I’m pretty sure if meant for a family, but we ate it all.

Then we explored the streets of Medellin – or rather, the party scene of El Poblado. We were amazed – the styles, the fashion, the clubs, the bars, the party scene, the crowds. We couldn’t decide where to go, but on the way, we found a stand-up bar on the sidewalk with 3 shots for 5,000 pesos. Yes, please. Finally, we find a restaurant/bar with a sidewalk spot, and we drank maracuya capiroskas and pina coladas while people watching. We got up and walked around some more, and then ended up at a cute bars, sitting on the street, drinking mojitos and margaritas way past when we should have been drinking them. The bar itself only existed on the sidewalk, so that shows you how nice Medellin’s weather is – if it was cold or rainy, people wouldn’t drink outside. And really, it’s never either in Medellin – they call it the city of the eternal spring, because it’s like lovely spring weather there all year long.

In the morning, we went downtown, looked at some art and sculptures, visited the library, walked around some really neat parks with places to “ground yourself.” Wayne and I took a cab over to the museum of modern art, which had some really neat displays, including a room with video displays so creepy I almost refused to enter. Then we walked around El Poblado some more, ate lunch at a delicious vegetarian café, and drank delicious tea at the Tea Market. I felt so sad leaving Medellin – but at least the airport (only nine years old) was fantastic, with great shops. I was able to buy a fabulous (and cheap!) pair of pants, which eased the sadness of the goodbye of the city.

Taganga? Taganga!

Wayne and I decided hell no, we did not want to stay in Santa Marta again. We tried to find a place by Tayrona or in Palomina, but everything was full. We gave up. Taganga it was.

The first night, I was so excited to have a real bed, shower, etc. We checked into the Bayview Hotel and I thought I went back in time to the Soviet Era. The next morning on my run, I found the glorious Bahia Taganga up in the cliffs with amazing ocean views. I booked it and we were quickly relocated in a stylish, comfortable room with ocean views, the pool just below us, and lots of jugo de maracuya below us. We were set.

We decompressed the first day, dealing with emails, sorting through clothes, reading, relaxing by the pool. We wandered around the town, and I bought some jewelry for friends, and Wayne finally found a wooden pasta fork to replace my giant one that he stuck in the blender a while back. (I have never forgiven him for this bizarre action, mainly because we couldn’t find wooden pasta forks anywhere.)

New Years Eve had us going on the most terrifying boat ride of our lives. Bump, splash. My camera is now destroyed from this ride. I dug my nails into Wayne’s hand and leg, and the guy next to me was so petrified, he was clutching one of his friend’s legs and had his foot wrapped around mine for stability. So scary. I was almost crying at times.

We got back, somewhat shell-shocked, and showered. We found some food, then took a nap. We celebrated the New Year on the beach with Sherry and Steve and some other hikers, and a bunch of rum.

The morning had us relaxing by our pool. The town of Taganga is a bit dirty. People warned us it was overrun with Israeli backpackers but I really didn’t notice any Israelis at all. There were a lot of Colombians and some other gringos, but lots of drinking, dirty beaches, crowds. There were a variety of different restaurants, wonderful arepa vendors on the street, tons of fresh juice stands (Mmmmmmmm), aggressive vendors. We spent a lot of time in our room, sitting on the balcony, reading, relaxing. Yes, we’re traveling, but sometimes you need to escape even the traveler’s world.

Ciudad Perdida: Trek to the Lost City

The only way to see “The Lost City” is to do a hike – generally, with the tour groups, it’s 4, 5, or 6 days, though if you are fit and hired your own guide, you could easily do it in three days (I think). While a lot of the hike is very challenging and technical, you take frequent breaks and don’t do too much hiking at once,  so it’s not that bad.

We signed up with ExpoTour (or ExpoTur) and Sherry signed up with Magic Tours – Magic never answered any of my emails, which is why we went with Expo. What ended up happening was – perhaps because of the day we left – our groups were small, so ExpoTur and Magic merged their groups and we all headed out together.

I was angry, however, because in emails, ExpoTur specifically told me that they had two English-speaking guides available during that time, and when we arrived, we were told our guide did not speak English. They explained at length that most people did not know English, that they hire people from the communities – they have to, you see, and they didn’t speak English, and could I please be understanding? I was being understanding, I told them; I understand this, but I don’t understand why I was told that there would be TWO English speaking guides when we wouldn’t even have one. I was frustrated. Luckily, the guide spoke slowly enough that I understood most of his Spanish and when I was tired of translating to Wayne, we had a few others whose Spanish was much better, and they would translate.

They were late picking us up, late leaving, took forever. Then we got to a lunch place – they gave us terrible bread, cheese, lunchmeat, and onions/tomatoes/lettuce to put on top. Oh, and “Golf Sauce” which is apparently ketchup and mayo mixed together. It was awful. I hoped the food would be better on our trek, and happily, it was.

We started out in the afternoon sun, and very quickly, had some stream crossings (I fell in, and I’m good at falling in on stream crossings.), and after 40 minutes, we took a swim break. Then we hiked. An orange break. Hiked. A watermelon break. Hiked. Another watermelon break. We arrived shortly before dark at a crowded camp with hammocks. My hammock unfortunately smelled like sweat – or was it the less-than-clean blanket they provided us with? They did have showers, so I took a shower and I felt amazing after. We ate dinner, and then passed out.

I slept poorly; I never sleep well in hammocks. In the morning, I tried to eat the eggs with onions, but I do hate onions so I just could not. I ate my toast and fruit, though. We began hiking at 6am, and it was a lot of downhills, some uphills too, and then we passed through an indigenous village. At 8:50 a.m., we arrived there, and had until 11am. Because my skirt I had worn the day before was filthy and stinky, and I was planning on re-wearing it, I washed it in the sink with some soap and hung it to dry. A small cute indigenous girl (Don’t know which Tayrona group of people she belongs to), begged for my necklace. I made it at Burning Man but found myself taking it off and giving it to her. Then she asked for my bracelet, and I said no. She begged. Her mother came over and asked. It was weird. Later, on Day Three, we had children begging us for “Dulce, Dulce, Sweet, Dulce.”

We swam in the creek, ate some food, relaxed. Our group was small, which was nice, and everyone was great: besides Wayne and I, we had two Dutch guys in their late twenties or early thirties, an English woman around the same age, and a 30 year old Colombian guy who is currently living in Guatemala.

After lunch, we hiked some more – a lot of uphill. We had some breaks for oranges, and then we forded a stream without shoes on. It sucked. Wayne and I were hungry and tired and had taken a break before the stream to have granola bars. I was in calorie deficit, and was on the verge of being dizzy from lack of calories. After the stream, our guide gave us a bocadillo, which was amazing.

The next section was brutal. Horrifying. Ladders gone sideways, walking planks, drop-offs straight down. I fell at one point, sliding down on a cliff. I grabbed a rock, which moved, and then Wayne and Andres (Colombian hiker) pulled me up. I was very scratched, but happy to be okay.

We arrived at the final camp before Ciudad Perdida. It was a dump. People talked about bedbugs. The bunkbeds were so close that you could touch the person through the mosquito net (that very likely had rips) in the bed next to you, and you couldn’t do anything in front of your bed without inconveniencing anyone else who wanted to walk through the “bunkhouse” or go through their stuff. Wayne and I slept together, cramped, on a very uncomfortable surface.

We woke up at 5am again, and headed up to the Lost City. It was really special; almost no one was there. Well, except for the military. They keep a base up there, and a helicopter had just dropped off a month-long supply of food, so they were moving it all up to their base. A little weird how one of the terraces has been turned into a helicopter landing pad.

Oh, but the stairs. 1260 up, plus another 600 in the city. And yes, all the way down. I freaked out on the way up, knowing how awful it would be on the way down. Wayne was a star; he held my hand, talked me down. He is fast on stairs, and I know he could have been way in the front, but stuck with me. I love this boy so much.

To go up the stairs, I used my hands. I was basically on all fours, which is really comfortable and fun (sarcasm). Our guide actually told us some stuff on the visit to the city (which he hadn’t done before), about plants, rituals, traditions, what certain terraces were. You can’t see any of the buildings because they were made of wood, but you see the stone terraces and all the steps – still pretty cool.

Hiking down was worse. Wayne and I went slow and he held out every time I freaked out (which honestly, is more often than I’d like to admit).

We ate our lunch ravenously, then hiked back three hours to the camp we had swam at and ate lunch at the day before. The beds were more comfortable, the river pretty (but cold), and everyone spent the night relaxing, talking, scratching mosquito bites, spraying on bug repellent.

We awoke again at 5am, ate breakfast, and hiked. We didn’t remember there being so many uphills. A break for some guava juice, watermelon and a chocolate cake. More hiking. We got back to the original swimming hole, and it felt amazing. It was cold, but so good to clean off.

We hiked the final bit back, everyone happy with the trip but happy to return to civilization.

Am I glad I did it? Yes, but I thought the accommodations were a bit rougher than I would have liked: there was almost never any toilet paper (I found myself going into the kitchen and snagging napkins to use in the loo.), the beds and bedding were filthy and stinky, there was not much comfy room for hanging out. But it was great – pretty views, lots of quiet time, time to think, chat, reflect. Lots of gorgeous photos.

I’m glad I had my Kindle so I could read, and letters to write and my travel journal to add to. All of these items were light and definitely worth their weight.

I would recommend to others to pack mosquito repellent, extra socks, extra clothes than you think (A lot of people thought they could just wear the same outfit all week, not realizing that it would never dry due to the humid climate and smell more than imaginable.), rain jacket, maybe something to use as a pillow, shampoo/soap/toiletries, sunblock, a few snacks (We packed some granola bars.), warm clothes for night, money if you want to buy beer en route. The safety at times was dubious, so you really needed to be cautious while hiking. But it was wonderful.