Saturday 23 August 2014

Cuyabeno reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon positively teems with wildlife

The Ecuadorian Amazon around Cuyabano reserve is not the dense deep jungle you may associate with the Amazon.  It is more low lying primary forest,  allowing more light to reach ground level than one might expect. This makes it a perfect place for viewing wildlife as well as jungle. Cuyabano Lodge is situated on Laguna Grande a 32 kilometre motorised canoe ride down the Rio Cuyabeno from our starting point.  

A good lunch was welcome before we set off, still tired from a sleepless night on the overnight bus journey from Quito. Over lunch we got to meet out guide Dario and companions Francois and David a couple of friends from France and Carmen and Anain a mother and young daughter from Cuenca in southern Ecuador.

The motor canoe ride took us straight into the primary forest with vines growing from the highest branches which also spilled air roots down into the narrow river.  Luis was to be our driver for the whole trip and we straight away felt he worked well with Dario.  One of our main reasons for choosing Cuyabeno Lodge was the that reviews named a number of different guides as being excellent and as the quality of guide is one of the biggest success factors in a trip like this it tipped the balance from other, cheaper lodges which had maybe one named, excellent guide.
Welcome to the jungle
Within minutes Dario was pointing out beautiful birds, not my strong point or passion when it comes to wildlife and numerous butterflies were following us down the river. Birds such as the great ani, a stunning deep blue member of the cuckoo family and the dark brown and yellow russet backed oropendola were a great start. At this point my eyes were peeled only looking for Anaconda. It has been my dream to see an anaconda in the wild for as long as I can remember and having been foiled by weather at Reserva Provincial Esteros del Iberra in Argentina and a combination of weather a woeful tour operator (Pantanal Discovery) and appalling guides supplied by Londra Lodge in Brazil I was hopeful that recent reports of sightings from other travellers we had met boded well.

Soon Luis slowed as we approached a couple of other boats with everybody straining to look high into the canopy, apparently a red tailed boa could be seen by the eagle eyed. After patiently awaiting our turn to move closer we could finally see the boa high up and started to realise just how important good guides are. We wouldn't have had a hope of seeing it ourselves. Things were looking good.

By now clad in ponchos to keep dry, hey it is the rain forest we were excited to stop for squirrel monkeys, woolly monkeys and capuchin monkeys, the river and surrounding forest was teeming with wildlife.  

Pulling over towards a fallen tree covered in bromeliads Luis cut the engine and Dario calmly announced we'd have a look at a baby anaconda.  And there it was coiled, exactly like you would imagine, deep green with the distinctive black markings, it would have been less than a metre long and only marginally thicker than your finger it was hardly the 30 foot monster of my dreams but there it was, very real, stunningly beautiful and barely an hour into the trip.  
Baby Anaconda
Rio Cuyabeno spills into a large lagoon during the wet season, drying out for only the first three months of the year. The water turned from a muddy brown to deep black as the water deepens, slows and deposits the organic matter on to the bottom of the lagoon.  As we crossed the lagoon the engine was cut again and we looked straight ahead as an endangered pink river dolphin surfaced ahead. Several of the dolphins surfaced as we sat on the otherwise motionless lagoon only just breaking the surface as if they were toying with our inner photographer.
We had a warm welcome from Javier and the team at Cuyabeno Lodge and an hour to settle into our rooms before heading out for a sunset motor canoe and swim.  The cabanas are perfect thatched huts open to the outside with blinds for privacy if you wish, ours had a private bathroom with piping hot water. The lodge is very strong on minimising environmental impact, providing biodegradable shampoo and soap and operating a low impact black water system. Their attitude to environmental impact would continue to impress me.
Cuyabeno Lodge
Always game for a swim I was happy to join the throng as boats from all the surrounding lodges came out for sunset and a swim. It was the only time of day when I felt like I really was on the tourist trail, squeals of excitement piercing the still air otherwise only punctuated by birds and insects. Returning back to the lodge we were happy for a warm meal and after a sleepless night on one of the most uncomfortable bus journeys we have endured were ready to crash out early.

Day 2 

Rising with the equatorial daybreak at six am we were greeted immediately by a large troop of squirrel monkeys parading through the camp, leaping one after another through the trees.  A small incredibly cute monkey with rust coloured backs and white faces with grey rings around their eyes, it was astonishing to watch. Still before breakfast we climbed the lookout tower and got our first view across the forest canopy and were treated to a visit from a many banded aracari (toucan) and a number of vultures.

A good breakfast of eggs, freshly made bread, juice and good coffee inside us our first official activity of the day was a jungle walk.  We were joined by Carlos an environmental science student who was studying the impact of tourism, how many groups and individuals passed through, who kept to the marked tracks or didn't, he was staying at Cuyabeno Lodge with us as part of their commitment to ensure high sustainability standards are kept by all operators.

Carlos, keeping an eye on our environmental footprint
Due to the high water in the lagoon even our land based activities started with a boat trip, no complaints here and we were treated to a ride across the, still water, I was again struck by the clarity of the reflections.

Dario gave us an interesting talk about the path we would walk and the importance of minimising the number of paths but also not wearing them out and spoiling them, his knowledge of and commitment to environmental concerns was hugely impressive throughout.  Within minutes we had added the black mantle tamarin to the expanding list of monkey species we had seen. I felt the flora was the star of the walk though.  The impressive walking palm tree which stands on numerous trunks, growing a new one as one dies it literally moves over time. Francois was later to comment that this was one of the things that impressed him most.

Dario shared with us how many of the plants and fungi had either medicinal or hallucinogenic properties, such as this medicinal mushroom.

The walk itself crossed different landscapes, terra firma and Pantanal (swamp) requiring careful navigation.

We also added our first significant spider to the list with a large, very hairy bird eating tarantula.

Back at the ranch we were fed a very welcome lunch, feeling kind of overwhelmed by the sheer volume and variety of what we had seen so far. We had an opportunity to take a break until the scheduled night activity, a boat trip by spotlight.  I took the opportunity to take a canoe out on the lagoon for a solo paddle through the undergrowth.  Being the only person out on the lake it was deathly still and eerily quiet, enabling me to get very close to some Hoaxin, known as stinky turkeys because of their physical resemblance and a combination of their diet and poor digestive system.

Night Boat Trip

We went out as a group on the motor canoe for sunset but due to rainfall delayed the night ride until after dinner when fortunately it had dried up.  We were soon eyeball to eyeball with an amazon tree frog, a common and not poisonous amphibian.

A small amazon tree boa was the next spot by the eagle eyed Luis, a small coiled specimen which was soon followed by a larger one, this time hanging for a branch head poised directly in front of a hole in the tree currently serving as a bats nest, we watched silently as it hung ready to spring on its unwitting prey. An amazing sight to end another spectacular day.

Siona Community Visit

Day three, I was awoken by the light sky and thinking it was dawn climbed the lookout tower, then realising the light was simply the brightness of the moon.  Not knowing the time I watched and listened and waited for dawn to break. Always my favourite time of day one of the joys of travel are extended periods of being able to enjoy day break rather than watch from the inside of a car or bus on the commute to the office which never seems natural to me.

Our main scheduled activity of the day was to visit the local Siona Community and see how they live and to make some of the traditional manioc (yukka bread).  I am always a bit sceptical of activities held out as visiting traditional villages thinking they are either forced on the local people or set up as a bit of a cheesy tourist trap. Visiting with a small group I was open minded about this visit.

As a bonus the village was a long boat ride down river so opportunities for further wildlife spotting were abundant, the jungle along this stretch of river was even more remote and pristine. Stunning electric blue Morpho butterflies followed the boat as we spotted blue and yellow Macaw, red cardinals, woodpecker and black saki monkeys and these delightful night monkeys which watched us as intently as we watched them.
Night Monkey
Once again Luis slowed the boat, already overwhelmed with what we had seen the call of anaconda sent shivers down my spine, this time a juvenile, larger than the baby on the first day it was basking in the sun.  We watched until it slowly slid into the water beside the boat. 
Juvenile Anaconda
The visit to the village was excellent our hosts took us through the whole process of making manioc bread, from harvesting the roots through washing, grating drying and baking right through to eating the bread.  Dario gave us an interesting talk on how none of the families work with the oil companies and how they see tourists as an important part of protecting the reserve for the future.  By coming to visit and supporting sustainable, low environmental impact tourism you help protect the reserve from further oil development. An interesting take as it is always a concern that simply by visiting these places you are adding to the damage.

Returning to the lodge, it seemed only minutes before we pulled over again this time for an even larger anaconda, dream land. Still not a giant but either a close to fully grown male or reasonable size female of close to ten feet, at a guess.  A truly beautiful animal, again soaking up the sun.  Magnificent.

Night Walk

Heading out into the jungle after dark, armed only with gum boots and flashlights is an eerie experience. Flicking your torch across the tree canopy lighting the foliage in the otherwise pitch black and scanning the jungle floor for insects, each image appears more intense, outlines so much crisper in the torch light, every movement more noticeable.

An amazon tree frog was an early spot and I claimed a large bufo marinus toad. Some amazing insects, some very similar to the Giant Weta of New Zealand and even managed to bag a vine snake, another new species.
Contemplating the night life
Morning Canoe

The next morning started with an early pre breakfast boat ride for the early risers, Dario was always up for bonus activities.  The first official activity was a canoe down the river taking in the jungle and wildlife in silence. Probably my favourite activity, the slow pace really enabled you to take in the remoteness of the location and to listen for the bird life and monkeys as you approached them.  Dario and Luis' trained eyes again picking out birds and snakes we would never have picked out ourselves.  We got amazingly close to a group of black saki monkeys completely engrossed in feeding, seemingly oblivious to our presence. It was incredible, only using the paddle to position the boat in the water listening to the rustle as they picked leaves, even handing leave to the babies on their backs.
Black Saki Monkeys

Afternoon motor canoe

Cuyabeno lodge has invested in an electric motor, creating less noise and fume pollution and Dario strapped this to the canoe for an afternoon ride around the lagoon where we saw the pink dolphins for a third time, managing to get much closer with the quieter mode of transport. A fine end to our last official activity.
Yellow handed titi monkey in the camp

Morning return to Puente Cuyabeno

Daniela and I were again up at dawn and were delighted to be treated to a final display from the squirrel monkeys jumping from tree to tree through the camp as the colour started to creep through the darkness.  Unfortunately the sunrise was directly behind the tallest trees and we could only glimpse the pink water.  I climbed down from the tower to see if there was a better angle from the wharf but still couldn't get the angle right, at this point Dario came to the rescue again, he got up to join us and immediately offered to take the canoe out again. We were not going to turn that offer down!  We paddled out into the lake, just missing the prime sunrise but still caught the now golden sun rising through the mist again creating the most stunning reflections on the still water.  Dario and I paddled slowly and silently close to the lake shore, again catching the squirrel monkeys on the move, we finally returned just in time for breakfast relaxed and happy.

The boat trip back delivered more up close monkey viewing and only twenty minutes from the end a final new species of snake, an amazon scarlet snake, another spot I could claim.

The Ecuadorian amazon is simply stunning, scenery to rival that as any I have ever seen and wildlife I could only have dreamed of an absolute highlight of South America and a must do if you come to South America and want to see jungle and wildlife.

Amazon Jungle, Ecuador. Flagged for Enzo

Monday 11 August 2014

Cyclovia, the South American tradition where cyclists take over the road every Sunday

One of the things I love most about South America is the Sunday Cyclovia.

Most major cities close a significant part of their road network to motorised traffic, opening up tens of kilometres, in some cases over 100 kilometres of prime city centre infrastructure to cyclists, skaters, runners and walkers. When I say major cities I am talking about Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo both with populations of over 10 million and I'm talking about major highways, dual carriageways, flyovers and other major arterial routes.  Sao Paulo takes in Avenue Paulista one of it's most iconic stretches of road through the CBD which buzzes with thousands of workers and shoppers during the week
Quito Cyclopaseo, La Mariscal

This is of course possible because most retail and offices are closed for the sabbath meaning the disruption is somewhat reduced.  Many of these cities already have significant cycleways in place in the first place, dedicated lanes separated from the traffic making cycling a genuine safe way of commuting that cyclists in many major cities could only dream of rather than a white line gently suggesting traffic give room to cyclists.
Quito cyclists make use of the roadway as well as dedicated lanes

Bogota, Colombia is credited with the inspiration for the Ciclovia, closing streets in the city since 1976. As one of the worlds most bike friendly cities it also has around 350k of dedicated purpose built bike lanes. It is estimated that 2 million people (about 30% of Bogota's population) use the weekly Ciclovia where 120k of city streets are dedicated to cyclists.

The Cyclopaseo in Quito coincided with our first day in the city and it was a great experience to walk from the La Mariscal area up to the historical old city via Parque El Ejido following the Cyclopaseo all the way.  The path here runs north south joining the new business district with the old town and is used by tens of thousands of people adding to the festive atmosphere as it winds it's way along the path.
Cyclopaseo  near Parquet El Ejido

Quito Parquet El Ejido

Many towns and cities in South America are still built around streets where individual trades are based, the mechanics street jewellery street are a couple of examples.  I was amused to see a collection of cycle shops in one area all doing a roaring trade with services and puncture repairs.
On road repairs

Seeing so many people out enjoying their city on two wheels is something to behold. Seeing serious cyclists mixing with BMX riders, families on a mix of racing, touring and kids bikes along with runners and roller skaters has been one of my favourite sights in South America and though Quito, pictured in this post is the only one I've seen in full flow the glimpses I've seen across the continent leave me in awe of their ability to make events like this happen every week.
Quito centro historico

 Incredible, forward thinking use of the city spaces with an impact on people's health and well being that must be enormous.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Tejo : A Colombian sport involving, gunpowder, explosions and beer. Get In!

On discovering that Colombia's national past time involves drinking beer while throwing heavy metal objects at gunpowder filled targets I knew I had found the sport for me and the search for a game was on.

Origins of Tejo (Te - ho) are uncertain but may have involved indigenous people throwing gold discs at targets.  The modern form of the game involves throwing a large metal disc (Tejo) weighing approximately 680 grams across a pitch of twenty metres.
A tejo
The target is a wooden box approximately a metre square and filled with heavy clay.  Within the clay is set a metal ring upon which are placed paper triangle packages filled with gun powder.

The target
Hitting the ring with the Tejo causes the gunpowder to explode with a spectacular flash and bang.  Neat, eh?  Drinking beer and shouting loudly is also compulsory.
I first came across Tejo at the end of our Ciudad Perdida trek catching a brief glimpse of a game.

The game is hugely popular in central Colombia and arriving in the Zona Cafetera was always going to provide an opportunity, fortunately being savvy to traveller needs many bars and Coffee plantations have established the enthusiasm of backpackers for beer and explosions so Tejo courts are not hard to find.

We visited the Don Elias coffee plantation for a tour, this is about a 45 minute walk out of Salento so the invite for a beer and a game of Tejo was never going to see much resistance. We played at La Aurora a new restaurant starting up just on the left before Don Elias. The guys there were great, explaining the rules and tactics to us before letting us loose.
Professional Tejo Technique

Mad Skills

Having only met one other Kiwi in South America we have now met four in three days and joined a couple from Wellington for a 'torneos Relampago' as the tournaments are called.
One point to the Kiwis

There is an official scoring system of points for nearest the metal ring, landing in the metal ring and of course explosions.  We eventually lost 21  - 16 after a hard fought battle.

Shameless plug for our hosts at La Aurora

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Colourful fresco adorned buildings and stunning lake views in Guatape

Guatape is an easy and popular day trip from Medellin for locals and tourists alike, a number of door to door tours are available but we chose to take the local bus. We arrived at the bus terminal on the metro and got lucky as a bus was leaving immediately.

The journey itself was another incredibly scenic journey, I have run out of superlatives for this beautiful country. The highest praise I can offer is that it is up there with New Zealand as the most striking country I have visited.

As well as the town of Guatape itself the area is largely visited by people seeking the view from the top of Piedra del Penol, 'The Rock' which is a 200 metre high black rocky outcrop sticking high above the surrounding rivers and lakes affording, so we are told, the best views in the world.
Are you ready for this?
Piedra del Penol - The Rock

The rock is scaled and descended via steep brick staircases (one up, one down) built into a crevice in the side of the rock. Though not a high climb it is fairly tough but well worth the effort, though I would debate the equally steep 10,000 COP fee.

The views from the top are wonderful with fingers of water jutting into the landscape in all directions.
The best view in the world
Some more of the best view in the world
Moving on to Guatape there are motor taxi (tuk-tuks) or regular collectivos servicing the route. We chose the collectivo and I wasn't remotely concerned that being full my 'seat' was standing on the bumper holding onto the roof rack, I was quite glad it was only a ten minute journey but what a great way to travel.

Guatape itself is known for its brightly coloured buildings with many of the streets having brightly painted bas relief carvings adorning their street front.

Many if these identify the trade of the home owner or the shop in question.
Ironmonger and Agricultural supplies

Each street is a little different and creates an interesting walking tour of the town.

The town square is a pleasant place to take in the passing people and the lakeside provides a great spot where you can watch zipliners being pulled across to a tower on the far side of the lake and streaming back down again.

Every town has a Simon Bolivar statue, Guatape's is one of my favourites

A perfect place to wander and chill or do more activities such as take a boat tour on the lake, we took the former option and thoroughly enjoyed our day.

Monday 4 August 2014

Medellin, a city with many challenges but definitely on the up

Medellin is a city going through long term change making now a fascinating time to visit. Once the capital of the world cocaine trade Medellin had the unenviable reputation of having the highest murder rate in the world as it was held under the grip of Pablo Escobar's cartel. It is said Escobar offered $1,000 for every police officer killed, with approximately 3,000 killed during his reign. Escobar had a reputation of being a hero to the poor, funding building of schools and other 'philanthropic' projects. Even ten years ago much of the surrounding area was under lockdown, impossible for local people to travel in their own district much less tourists. There is plenty of information elsewhere on the history of the region but like the rest of Colombia travel is now open and deemed safe in the area with business thriving and tourist numbers on the increase every year.

Arriving on the overnight bus from Cartagena afforded spectacular early morning views.  As dawn broke over the steep vallies on both sides we wound our way over the winding mountain pass, it was almost surprising to only see one truck embedded in the embankment. I always think people who sleep through bus journeys miss some of the most rewarding experiences that travel offers. You have certainly missed out if you have slept through this journey.  Medellin itself sits in a long narrow valley with red brick and tiled Comuna ( equivalent to the term favella) reaching high up the valley sides.  A huge unsettling contradiction of the poverty of these homes making the city look beautiful, it is one of the most spectacular settings for a city.

Early morning view over Medellin from 61 Prado

Arriving at Terminal Transporte de Norte affords easy transit to the Metro. Colombia's only metro system affords clean, safe, easy and cheap transport across the city. It also contains the Metrocable (more about this later) in my experience a unique addition to the public transport system. A good metro system makes the biggest difference to getting around a city and South America seems to do them particularly well.

Medellin Metrocable

We chose not to stay in the popular backpacker area of La Poblado, largely because of the lack of private double rooms available.  Our choice of 61 Prado wasn't quite what we expected as it is in the process of shedding it's Hostel set up and re branding as a more upmarket guesthouse. Our plan to save money by cooking was foiled as they have replaced the guest kitchen with a cafe. The guesthouse affords spectacular views over the city from it's roof terrace.
View from 61 Prado roof terrace
First on our to do list when arriving in a new city is to acquaint our selves with a walking tour so obtaining a decent map is always a priority.  Having failed at the bus station we were disappointed our guest house didn't have one either.  At this point we were told not to walk to the city centre (other than taking a long circuitous route) as the area between us and the City Centre was rough.  The council had recently evicted many homeless people from buildings they were occupying leaving a large homeless, drug and prostitution problem on the streets in this area.

Feeling slightly edgy we headed off on the long route round and certainly felt an edge to Medellin which lasted our whole time here. While never threatened, directly approached or treated aggressively we were on our guard most of the time we were here. Bolivar Park was not somewhere we would sit to shade from the sun with a lot of homeless people and some overt marijuana smoking taking place.

Having enjoyed the excellent and free Museo Botero in Bogota (Botero's Mona Lisa - Here) so much we were keen to see more of Fernando Botero's work.  The Museo de Antioquia is 10,000 COP entrance and if you are a particular fan of Botero or have not made it to the museum in Bogota is well worth the visit. If you are on a tight budget and have seen the Bogota gallery, you could give it a miss but Plaza Botero is well worth some time. Large sculptures of some of his best known and most amusing works line the square.  Mime artists and street vendors give it a lively feel.
Plaza Botero

Day two we headed back on the metro towards the Metro cable to visit Paque Arvi.  The Metrocable is another of Medellin's forward thinking public works projects.  The steep valley sides made some of Medellin's poorest and most violent areas hard to access and difficult to get around.  Determined to improve links, accessibility and safety the city literally built a cable car up the valley sides with stations at important points along the way.
View from Medellin Metrocable of the areas it was build to reinvigorate

I have been in many cable cars as tourist attractions but seeing one in everyday use as a public transport system linking the poorest neighbourhoods to the central metro (one stop from the hospital) is unique in my experience and very inspiring. It is acknowledged to contribute to improving lives of those it serves.

The Metrocable was also continued beyond the city a couple of killometres deep into a pine forest used for leisure and recreation. As a tourist you have the contradiction of viewing the poor favellas while heading into the park.  We had an interesting conversation with one of the locals wishing us a safe journey and helping to explain to others in our car where we are from.
Metro cable high above Arvi Park

Arvi Park itself is worth visiting for the cable care journey and views of the city and park alone.  We took a short, slow paced guided walk through some of pine forest, though other activities such as visiting the lake require further costs and onward transport.

We took a day trip to Piedra de Peno and the picturesque town of Guatape, which I will write about separately.

Our last night in Medellin we were taken out to J&C by Melissa, one of Daniela's former students, our fourth Worldwide School reunion of the trip so far having met former students in Montevideo, Sao Paulo and Salvador. Melissa's mum and aunt picked us up from our guest house and took us for the most amazing arepas, easily the best we have had in Colombia.  We had a great evening chatting away with Melissa interpreting where necessary. We were fortunate and honoured to have such a warm welcome to their city. Such hospitality makes you feel so welcome in someone elses country it leaves a very special memory.

In our time in Medellin we saw the bright modern city moving forward with the rest of the country and also saw a city struggling with many social issues but making great strides to deal with this, we loved the stunning setting and met many wonderful people the long term future will take a lot of working towards but looks bright.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Ciudad Perdida, Colombia is one of the world's best hikes

Ciudad Perdida in northern Colombia believed to have been founded around 800 AD, hundreds of years before the more well known Macchu Picchu. I first heard of it last year reading this BBC travel article and put it straight on my to do list. Known by local indigenous people as Teyuna it has gone through several name changes during it's history, the commonly used Ciudad Perdida translates literally as Lost City.  It sits atop 1200 stone steps high in the Colombian jungle accessible only by a two day hike with reversing the walk the only way out.

The City was abandoned during the Spanish conquest and remained overgrown and known only to local tribes until tomb raiders discovered the steps in the early 1970's and started selling the gold and pottery they stole on local markets. In 1976 their source was identified and archaeologists moved in followed by intrepid tourists in the early 1980's.  Tourism was stopped for three years by an INCIDENT in 2003 where 8 foreign tourists were kidnapped by ELN a rebel group seeking an inquest into human rights. Since 2006 the trek has been deemed safe.

The Ciudad Perdida track can be done in six, five or an ambitious four day and we chose the five day as it seemed to meet our desired pace. The walk begins by lulling you into a false sense of security, only twenty minutes in, after two river crossings (no need to get wet) and an inviting water hole opens up and it is time to stop for the first of many refreshing swims in the river. Immediately after this the first climb begins, a long steep, winding climb through dry, dusty almost chalk white ground.  You ascend through the low lying jungle into open farm land with view forward to the mountains and back towards the, much more inviting white sand beaches and clear sea.  The views are immediately stunning. I found day one the toughest, stifling heat and high humidity meant we were dripping with sweat from the beginning. One of the party was suffering mild asthma so I even had two day packs to carry.

One of the best things about the hike is the ever changing and incredibly diverse scenery from open grassy farm land to deep jungle and by the end of the first day we had crossed through several changes of scenery.  The camps are all basic, some have hammocks only for sleeping some have beds, all with mosquito nets. On our trip the infamous swarms of mosquitos were distinctly absent, fortunately. Most importantly all are set by the river for the all important cool and clean off at the end of the day. You will be dirty, dusty, sweaty and feel very unattractive but that is all good as you are all in the same boat.
Day one camp, deep in the jungle

On the second day the steep sided valley is filled with banana trees and feels like you are really deep in the jungle.  In the morning you pass through one of the indigenous villages where a small thatched roof school sits alongside a USAid donated medical building which replaced the previous medical centre which is the current school building.

Stopping high in the mountains for one of the scheduled fruit intakes we were all feeling pretty tired having done most of the upward work for the day but one glimpse of a football and a sudden rush of energy came upon at least some of us. A game of five a side was hastily arranged!
Next goal wins!

Arriving at camp two we were tired and the small cramped bunk rooms felt damp and busy, a cool off in the river was most welcome not for the first or last time.  During the briefing for the next day some of our concerns over the pace of the trip were clarified.  We were travelling with people doing the four and five day trip but were following the four day pace to the end of day three, meaning two very short days for four and five.  A great feed of fish and rice with salad and an early night beckoned us all.
The always welcome swimming hole.

Our usual five thirty get up was greeted with anticipation of roughly one hours steep climb to Ciudad Perdida itself.  A good feed and we were on the way. We were travelling with an experienced guide and an interpreter and somehow the mention of an early river crossing hadn't made it through the translation so caught some of us by surprise but the river was barely above our knees so there was no great drama.
Last river crossing before reaching Ciudad Perdida

A long climb up the stone steps first discovered by tomb raiders and we were on the first of the terraces and were greeted by the first real mosquito invasion (though at different times of year you can expect these throughout the hike). Sixto, our guide and Daniel the interpreter gave us a detailed history of the building, abandonment and later rediscovery right through to post 2006 when the trail first became safe for tourists.
Steps leading from the first terrace to the main complex

As we walked through the various terraces I was hugely impressed with the site. Unlike the more visited Macchu Piccu in Peru the stone work was used for terraces and foundations but the houses were built of wood and are long gone. This gives a very different experience which is spectacular. The views over the steep valleys are breathtaking.

The upper terraces are where a lot of the ceremonial and administrative duties would have been carried out. These are the most reconstructed and cleared parts of the city and give the clearest view of how the city may have looked.
Ciudad Perdida main terraces

Moving on we walked through the less cleared parts of the city where terraces are moss covered and overgrown, it felt more adventurous by the minute.

We then commenced the walk down to camp three, again via river crossings and the view back over where we had come from.  At camp three we all decided that rather than have a very short day four we would push on and all do the four day pace. Although the first part of the trip had pushed the pace a bit we were under no pressure to push on, Sixto was clear we could do either, we now felt ready to push on.

The last camp, La Cabana Tezhumake was my favourite, comfortable and much drier than the humidity of camp two. It was also beside my favourite swimming hole of the trip.
Cabana Tezhumake, the last camp

A good nights sleep and we pushed on for a big final day. Back through the steep jungle valleys, the dusty chalk paths, the open farmland, with of course fruit stops and the five a side second leg!

Ciudad Perdida is one of the highlights of our South America trip so far and I would recommend Expotours as a great company to do it with.  If you are an avid hiker this should be on your bucket list and if you are relatively fit and going to Colombia you won't find a better use of a few days. It is one of the great hikes and I will be persuading people to go for years to come.