LOST CITY OF COLOMBIA’S CARIBBEAN COAST

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The historic site of the Teyuna civilization is often described as ‘Just like Machu Picchu’. But the La ciudad perdida, or The Lost City, is more than just a version of the Peruvian marvel, discovers Sachin Bhandary in this report for DNA.

All we needed were a couple of Poker cervezas (beers), some Chicharron (fried pork skin) and the evening breeze at the Rodadero beach to celebrate the conclusion of our four-day trek in Santa Marta. This city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast possesses an evening skyline that has an uncanny resemblance with that of Mumbai’s, except that it’s smaller.

We had survived four days through the steep mountains of the Sierra Nevada. Not to mention the heat that made us sweat like monsoon clouds during the trek to La ciudad perdida, or The Lost City. The ascent and descent of the winding trail through mountains, streams and dense tropical forests, require you to be in good shape.

For a long time, the Sierra Nevada mountains in Colombia remained relatively inaccessible for tourists due to the narcos trade and rebel outfits. It was only in 2005 that the Colombian army secured the region, and tourists started to trickle in. Many come because it has the promise of sights and adventure ‘a la Macchu Picchu’, but with fewer tourists.

Teyuna, the name by which the indigenous people refer to the Lost City, was built by a tribe of the same name nearly 650 years before the Incas built their mountain-top city of Machu Picchu. Teyuna is a technological marvel and is said to have been inhabited by 8,000 people around 800AD.

One morning, we left Santa Marta for Machete, the base town for the Teyuna trail. We came upon a natural pool just 30 minutes into the trail. After a swim in the cool waters, the steep ascent that followed felt excruciating. We walked on white limestone sand, met villagers using walkie-talkies and keen to offer us Tinto (Colombians’ black coffee served in small cups), crossed streams and countless palm trees. After a couple of hours of ascending we started to enter the valley for our night stop.

The second day truly tested my endurance. The day-long trek began before the crack of dawn, and we reached the next overnight camp only late in the afternoon. I will never forget the steep uphill stretch that took us nearly three hours to summit. An hour into the climb, men in the group gradually gave up on their sweat soaked t-shirts. It was the stops that I looked forward to the most — where we’d be served immensely delicious and juicy watermelons, bananas and papayas.

On the third morning, after an hour of walking through dense forests we faced the 1,200 carved stairs of Teyuna. The very same steps that had given treasure hunters access to the gold buried in and around the sacred site. At the top of this ancient staircase lies a city of open terraces, places of worship, auditoriums and houses. Walking around the multi-levelled city, it’s hard not to experience a sense of grandeur even though most of it is now covered in thick vegetation.

What makes places like Teyuna mesmerising is the setting — a well-planned city built on top of a mountain. Like the Incas, the Teyunas did not maintain written records, so most of their history is lost. But many Colombians agree that the Teyunas abandoned the city to keep it a secret from the Spanish conquistadores. Though the Teyunas are now extinct, Kogis and other indigenous tribes are said to be their direct descendants. They speak their indigenous language and have only recently started to learn Espanol.

The Lost City is a lot more than ‘just like Machu Picchu’. Having been to both these sites, I can say that the Colombian attraction is in a league of its own. Also, unlike Macchu Picchu, where you can drive upto the gate, the Lost City can only be accessed via a trek. This complete immersion into the wilderness is what adds to the experience that lingers long after you return.

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