la specie umana più evoluta.
After landing in Colombia I immediately started looking for adventure in the wild nature of this continent. All the advice I had received made me decide to hike to the “Lost City”, located in the highest coast mountain range of the world, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (5000m). This trek can’t be done solo, but only through local agencies that have permits from organisations of the government, the indigenous people and the inhabitants of the area. So I joined an international group of hikers and I must say that after all the time spent alone I enjoyed a bit of company. Still, while hiking, everybody went at their own pace and I walked most of the trail alone enjoying the silence and sounds of nature. I walked for five days to reach and return from the “Lost City”, for a total of almost fifty kilometres.
The first day wasn’t all that special, as we crossed the first quiet streams and climbed the lush hills in this natural park. The sunny mornings and rainy afternoons meant the was air very hot and humid and made us sweat a lot. At night the full moon illuminated the surroundings, despite clouds trying to cover its beauty and when everybody had gone to sleep I stayed up for another hour, mesmerised by the moonlit forest.
The next day I woke at dawn and a Colombian trekker showed me a particular white flower that grows upside down. The flower is called “Borrachero”, better known as thorn-apple, and contains scopolamine. If dried and drunk in an infusion it becomes a very powerful drug that causes temporary madness, hallucinations and sometimes amnesia. If the dose is too high it can even kill. In Colombia and other countries this is also used to rob a person by putting it in the victim’s drink: the victim will end up having an altered state of mind and can be convinced to give up his money, credit card and various access codes.
After being lesson on the magic flower, we carried on hiking until we reached the village of Mutanyi, which is surrounded by barbed wire and entry is forbidden. The round houses have floors made of earth, wooden walls and thatched roofs. Coca plants grow there and the locals have chewed and mixed the leaves with lime or burnt seashells for generations, using a wooden pear-shaped instrument called a “poporo” to extract the active alcaloid whose effect is to alleviate hunger and fatigue. When the local boys turn eighteen they spend four days without sleep with the “mamo” (shaman) who they confess to. The “mamo” knows whether they are telling the truth by preparing a bowl of water and putting in some quartz, which creates bubbles: if the bubbles turn to the right it means that the truth has been told. At the end they receive a “poporo” and a woman chosen by the “mamo”. In the village the locals are not very forward, and only the children come running out of curiosity to see trekkers. All the same, while trekking we did see grown ups armed with machetes for chopping wood or rifles for hunting. They are shy and reserved and rarely allow their photographs to be taken. They look like a mix between South American and Asian ethnic groups and wear boots and long white clothes. They have their own language even though some speak Spanish because they collaborate with the tourist campsites in the area.
Just before reaching the second campsite we had a break and enjoyed a dip in a cool stream. I had noticed the previous time I had done this that my ankles were bitten about fifty times by sandflies and had swollen up due to an inflammatory reaction. On reaching our destination we saw a group of soldiers returning to town after finishing their three-month stint of guarding the “Lost City”. They were armed to the teeth and we felt uneasy but they just wanted to socialize with us. They told us that until ten years ago there had been a lot of drug dealing going on and a drug-based tourism had developed, and the campsites we slept at used by tourists who had come to learn to prepare cocaine. After the army intervened the area was reclaimed and now ecotourism has replaced drug tourism.
The third day we entered the real wild jungle, something I had never seen, really lush thanks to its humidity. As I walked through mud and over slippery stones I felt such an extraordinary energy that I speeded up my pace without becoming tired. By the time we got to the last part of the trail that went up a torrent, the landscape had become very primal. We went over huge tree trunks that blocked the rocks on which waterfalls crash. And this is when you feel the way only Mother Nature can make you feel when she shows her profound essence and beauty: interior peace and absolute serenity, as if nothing else was needed to live, making you feel both at the beginning and the end of this mysterious journey called life.
Then, finally, the fourth great day with the “Lost City” only a kilometre away. We continued along the torrent and made it to a long slippery stairway of about 1300 steps. The first ruins are the round-shaped foundations in metamorphic rock of some buildings. Carrying on up the steps led us to the top of the city on a mountain in the centre of a valley with tremendous views. The Tayrona people lived here for a thousand years, until the seventeenth century. They were an indigenous population led by a shaman, their gods were represented with animal symbols and their clothes made from animal hides. The Tayrona were wiped out by diseases and the war against the Spanish (who never made it as far as the city), but they left an enormous wealth of gold and quartz. This treasure was discovered by chance in 1974 by a Colombian hunter who was then murdered.
In the evening I returned to civilization, checked out some Italian news websites talking about GDP, Property Tax, Eurogroup, banking union and anti-spread shield. I feel nauseated and I’m even more convinced that mankind has regressed. The indigenous peoples must be protected as they are the last evolved human species.