Wednesday, July 07, 2010
Earlier this year I dragged my out-of-shape white tuckus through the rainforest for five days, at times with the humiliating assistance of a mule. I was on assignment for American Way Magazine (the inflight mag for American Airlines) to photograph Ciudad Perdida, the "lost city" of the Tayrona people (although if you ask them they never lost it. Not even for a minute. They call it Sacred City, Ciudad Sagrada). The story was published in the June 15th issue of the magazine.
Reaching the site requires a grueling two and a half day walk from the nearest excuse for a road, though the trek is mercifully broken up with cool mountain rivers (whose delicious water will end up in plastic bottles if a Coca Coa exec ever makes this trip). Along the way I learned of native culture from our indigenous Wiwa guide Lorenzo and tried to take photos in the surprisingly crappy light with my constantly fogged up cameras. Canon 5D Mark II + rainforest = Holga.
We woke early on the morning of the third day to reach the ancient city in the morning light, climbing 1200 ancient stone stairs in the twilight. I shot for five minutes and then a big ugly Colombian army helicopter landed in the middle of my shot and proceeded to unload bags of potatoes to feed the resident army garrison. (At times like these, I am glad I speak Spanish, which is a fantastic language for cursing). They left about two hours later, offering to take me with them (10 minute fiight vs. 3 day bone-jarring hike. I was sorely tempted.)
In the end, I was able to make it home with a nice set of images, a few pints of blood (did I mention the mosquitos?), and some great new friends. Special thanks to Lorenzo Gil our guide and Mathieu Perrot-Bohringer from Aventur Colombia in Cartagena. Could not have asked for better companions.
Now a few fun facts about the region: The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (home of Ciudad Perdida) is the highest coastal mountain range in the world -- ranging from sea level to 20,000 foot snowcapped peaks (that's right, snowball fights near the equator!) The area is largely controlled by paramilitary mafia bad guys who like to grow coca there. They even control the Ciudad Perdida tourist trail but as long as they can "wet their beaks" with the tour operators, everyone has a nice safe time. The snowy upper reaches of the mountains (which anywhere else would be crawling with red-cheeked Swiss guys with ice axes) is sacred territory for the indigenous people and off-limits to everyone else. Guaranteed National Geographic story there if I could just get access....