Lost Sails and Lost Cities

As most people know, an integral part of a sailing vessel is the sails. In the right conditions we sail faster than we motor, plus the motion of the boat is far more comfortable. Knowing that our old mainsail was 10 years old and had done some serious miles, we decided to bite the bullet and have a new one made & shipped to the boat in Curaçao. It was due to be there mid January, about one month before we arrived. But the best laid plans of mice and men don’t always work out. We’ll never know the full story, but it seems our sail may have swapped containers in Busan, Korea, then it decided to have a little holiday in Panama, because the container it was in had to be filled up. Then it arrived in time for a Customs strike in Curaçao. After phoning the receiving shipping agents office daily, visiting them several times and eventually jumping up and down a bit, in the end the only thing that got us our sail was having the help of the guy who owned the marina, who knew people in the shipping agency business. We still have no idea why they wouldn’t release it when the paperwork was all “Green” and good to go. Thanks Harry! With Loki back in the water and the new sail on board it was time to say goodbye to Curacao.

We had an uneventful three day sail from Curacao to Cartagena, Colombia, sailing straight past Santa Marta due to the perpetually windy conditions off the coast there. We all settled in well to being back on the water after being on land for a couple of weeks.

The old town of Cartagena, which is full of colour, is bound by 13 kilometres of old stone walls that have protected the city from marauding pirates for centuries. It’s lovely to just wander about taking in the sights and sounds and soaking up the atmosphere.

We then bused back up the coast to Santa Marta for our 4 day trek to “The Lost City”. Our intrepid group of twelve consisted of the four of us plus another German couple around our age, a group of four young Germans, an Italian girl and a French guy, all delightful twenty-somethings. We were accompanied by our local guide, Wilson, who has been guiding on this track for 31 years and Sergio, our translator. It certainly enhanced our experience to have such lively fellow travellers and have the opportunity to learn about the area and its people from such a seasoned campaigner as Wilson.

We carried backpacks with whatever clothing we wanted for the four days. At the start we trekked through open country where we saw large areas of barren, cleared hillsides. This, we were told is the result of the poisoning of the illegal cocaine crops that were grown here in the past. Originally the local farmers had grown bananas and avocados. But then the drug barons came along and introduced marijuana, which was a more lucrative crop, followed by the coca plant (for cocaine) which was even more lucrative, as it could be harvested four times a year. Thankfully nowadays the farmers grow coffee and cacao (for chocolate). As the hours went by we got deeper into the jungle. About four hours later we arrived at our first camp. It was like a scene straight out of the Netflix series “Narcos”. We could have been in a Colombian drug cartel’s jungle hideaway. The accommodation is very basic, with bunk beds completely encased in mosquito netting. With an early start and 8 hours of trekking the next day, an early night was had by all. The next morning we had to be up at 5:20am (that wasn’t in the brochure!) I awoke to small light beams (from people’s torches) silhouetting slow-moving forms. As people fumbled around in the dark it was reminiscent of a scene from a weird sci-fi movie where zombie creatures emerge from their sleeping pods.

The second day is most memorable for the killer hill, which was about an hour straight up, after our lunch stop. We didn’t disgrace ourselves though and kept up with the youngsters. In fact chatting across the dinner table Marc, the young German guy asked Ben: “Do you guys do much trekking?” to which he responded “every so often” and the German replied: “Gee! You are in good condition!” Day 3 we did the most kilometres and Camp 3 put us within striking distance of our goal, “The Lost City”, just another 1160 steps after breakfast next day and we’d be there! Being able to take a refreshing swim in the river at the end of a long day was an added bonus.

The local indigenous people are the descendants of the Tayrona, who built the Lost City around 600AD. You see them about as you trek through the Sierra Nevada, but they don’t make much eye contact, live a very basic life and eschew most things Western. Wilson is very knowledgeable of their customs and explained how they strip plant leaves to make thread to weave their bags. Also how they use various plants to naturally colour the thread.

At the start of the trek we’d been advised to make sure we didn’t leave our backpacks open and to check shoes and clothing for tarantulas and scorpions, but that was the least of my worries. I arrived at Camp 3 having been bitten on the fanny by a tick! Highly embarrassing! I don’t know much about ticks, but I sort of knew that getting rid of them isn’t straight forward. The sneaky little buggers bore head first into your flesh. They spiral their way in, so you can’t just pull them out by hand. As luck would have it there was a young French surgeon in one of the other groups, who actually had a tick removing device! What luck! He valiantly got rid of the little blighter, ably assisted by nurse Kath holding the torch. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “tick-ity-boo”. (No, there are no photos of the tick incident!)(Postscript: not wanting to be out done, Ben discovered he also had a tick invader only this morning. Our Immigration agent was visiting our boat at the time, so she very helpfully arranged for a doctor to come down and extract it for him).

The Tayrona built their settlements with multiple stone terrace bases, upon which their thatched wooden houses sat. When someone died, they were buried under their house, along with their gold, and the house was abandoned by the family. It was this gold that the grave robbers were looking for in 1975 when the Lost City was rediscovered. Shortly after our arrival we were greeted by the local Shaman, who welcomed us and gave us his blessing. Whilst the indigenous people don’t embrace Western ways they are pragmatic enough to realise that they also benefit from the tourist dollar.

Back in 2002 eight tourists were kidnapped by guerrillas during a trek to the Lost City (that bit definitely wasn’t in the brochure). So these day there is a strong presence of Colombian soldiers along the way, around 70 along the route we were told. Based near many of our stops they were highly visible. Obviously the Colombian government appreciates the importance of the tourist dollar. The hike was at times challenging, but well worth the effort. We covered approximately 62 kms, through varied terrain with boot-sucking, clay-like mud, slippery rocks, river crossings, grinding uphill ascents and steep knee-jarring descents. As with so many things in life, it’s as much about the journey as it is about the destination, as well as the people you share it with along the way. So glad we made the effort to do this!

Early tomorrow morning we’ll be heading off for the San Blas islands in Panama. Some of these islands are inhabited by indigenous people, so should be a very interesting, and we’re told idyllic place to visit.

Hope all is good at your end.



7 thoughts on “Lost Sails and Lost Cities

  1. Thanks Kate for sharing your fantastic adventure and fabulous pics. Hope you are ok after the tickity boo incident Safe travels I’ll look forward to the next episode xx

  2. Kia ora Kate,

    Great read and very colourful photos, thank you. Look forward to perusing in detail when I have more time. Am en route to Jen and Steve’s “housewarming” this afternoon and hope to see Barb there. It should be a distraction from the “events” in Christchurch yesterday. Sorry to read about the delayed delivery of the new mainsail. Hope it’s all plain sailing from here on. Kia kaha!

  3. OMG Kate! What an amazing trek. Loving your photos. Say Hi to the rest of the intrepid travellers. We had heard through the grapevine that your sail was missing – very pleased that turned up!!!! How’s the food storage going? Much love, The Leckeys xxxxx

  4. And there I was worrying about storms and sharks……never thought of TICKS!
    What an adventure!
    You really are living the dream and sharing it so beautifully with us all.
    The photos are wonderful!
    So glad Fitzy was wearing a high vis Tshirt so he didn’t get lost in the jungle!
    Sail on dear friends and enjoy every moment.

  5. Thanks Kate for the really interesting post and photos. The trek looks challenging!
    Your yacht looks great, looking forward to your next post.
    Regards Tony

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