I Rediscovered Myself in the Ruins of a Lost City
6 min read | Apr 2022

I Rediscovered Myself in the Ruins of a Lost City

My journey into Colombia's ancient history reconnected me to my own past.

Daring Doc / Millennial / Libertarian / Doctor

All of my life, I had been a couch potato. A bed potato, really.

My bed was my best friend and my comfort zone. I’d watch TV, study, eat, read, write and do whatever possible from my very comfortable, very safe bed. Back then, my only exercise was walking to my refrigerator in order to get a snack and then crawling right back under my sheets. It took a while for me to realize that life happens outside of my bed. When I finally did, I threw myself right into the deep end. I started planning a trip that would challenge my physical limitations unlike anything I had ever done before.

My journey through Colombia led me to Santa Marta, a city renowned for the natural park of Tayrona, a wildlife sanctuary that is practically heaven on earth. Yet, it wasn’t for this that I had traveled there. It was the Ciudad Perdida, the lost city of Teyuna, an ancient settlement located in the middle of the jungle of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Built some 1,200 years ago, this city is an archaeological remnant of the Tairona people, who inhabited the lands until the Spanish conquest. It had been lost to the world until the 1970s, when some tomb raiders stumbled upon it in search of riches. 

Pretty soon, I’d be stumbling upon those same ruins myself! That was what I was waiting for, a four-day trek in the middle of nowhere that promised not only the sight of ruins thought to have been long lost but also the rediscovery of something I had long lost within me. 

I started my journey with a bag that weighed just as much as I did, victualed with all of the food and supplies I’d need on the hike, plus some extra supplies in case of an apocalypse.

Vistas and panoramas that belonged on a National Geographic cover had me in ecstasy. Every leaf of every tree seemed to be the most interesting thing I had ever seen. I was surrounded by butterflies of all kinds and colors; woodpeckers, hummingbirds and parrots; flowers of all hues and shapes; exotic fruit and weird plants. 

Up and down we climbed, crossing over dilapidated bridges and traversing rivers. We trekked along the banks of the Buritaca River, following narrow paths that were shared by the natives and their mules. The scenery only got more unreal as days went by. I felt so profoundly lucky to be able to experience such an adventure.

“”

Getting to the Lost City Wasn’t Easy

The long-awaited third day was upon us—the day we’d get to see the Lost City. I couldn’t believe our party were almost there. All battered, bruised and blistered, I had persevered. There was a long way to go, but I felt reinvigorated. My body had already grown accustomed to the trail, my stamina now not so elusive. At the break of dawn, we had already left camp and started on our way to the promised land. The Buritaca River was now waist-deep and as fast-flowing as ever. We had to cross its twists and turns over and over until suddenly, the foliage gave way to an opening that marked the start of the trail into Teyuna. 

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. The final trail was only 300 meters long, but they were at an incline as straight as a stud’s back; 1,200 steps to climb, each a slab of slippery, moss-covered rock. As we ascended the trail, the air became thin and cold. Every breath I took felt like it was skinning my lungs raw. My heart was pounding in my chest as sweat dripped down my eyes. 

“Almost halfway through,” I said to myself on the 500th step. Little did I know how much hard work went into that “almost.” The others were all far ahead, and I was left alone, damning and cursing every single step. There I was, every fiber of my being in pain, my calves now as solid as the same steps I was climbing, mosquitoes feasting on whatever blood I had remaining. But I climbed and climbed and then climbed some more, and finally, I was there.

All Our Hard Work Was Worth It 

I had read all about the Lost City’s glory, but as I lay there, I realized no description nor photo could have ever done it justice. It was like something straight out of the film El Dorado. I could breathe in the history and the magic of it all. It was eerily peaceful, pure, a place that felt untainted by the scourge of mankind. All the pain and exhaustion? Gone, extinct, vanished into thin air. The beauty left me in tears. 

As we sat down at the entrance, the guides told us that the city consisted of a sequence of terraces carved in rocks, connected to each other by tiled paths. Smaller circular plazas, covered in grass and encircled by moss-covered slabs, dotted the city. These, we were told, were what remained of the huts that were previously inhabited by the natives before the city was abandoned. 

As we roamed about, the group was oddly silent. There was no need for words. It felt as if speaking would take something away from the sanctity of the place. As we walked, our guide recounted the tales that had been buried away for so long. He told us about the Tairona’s traditions, their culture, their customs. So different, yet so similar to ours in principle. 

Happiness in simplicity—this is what I had been missing. I was too enthralled in things that were now evidently unimportant. I had grown up running around my father’s field back home in Malta, half an acre’s worth of arable land where he used to grow all kinds of stuff; filling our bellies with the plumpest and flavorful veggies and our home with plants and flowers of all sorts. I’d explore and go on all kinds of adventures with my dad. I had forgotten all about this. I was suddenly reminded of my roots, of where I had come from. Somehow, against all odds and logic, I had known that this was where I’d find my answer—that I’d rediscover myself in the depths of the jungle in the middle of Colombia.

Finally, we reached the highest point of the site: a ledge overlying the entire city that gave us a vista unlike any other, which words fall short in describing. Surrounded by the lush, verdant mountains of the Sierra Nevada on all sides, we could see a series of five circular terraces, each wider and more elevated than the last, linked together by a tiled trail hewn in all shades of green.

“”

Seeing Teyuna Was a Spiritual Experience

But it wasn’t until we were all standing on the largest terrace that it suddenly occurred to me—to all of us, really. A feeling seemed to resonate with us all, in unison and in harmony. “We really are nothing in this world,” I heard myself saying. Standing there, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a mountain range we had come to call home after just a couple of days, we felt like we were absolutely nothing. Not in the nihilistic sense that nothing we do matters or leaves an impact; more in the sense that in being nothing, we are also everything. I know it sounds vague, but that’s exactly how we all felt. We were suddenly aware that we are all part of a “great something,” that we as individuals are nothing, but together, we are whole. 

Nature is a part of that wholeness. I felt alive for the first time in years. I could feel the raw, untapped power of everything that surrounded me. I lay flat on the ground, rolling on the grass, absorbing all of it. Every breeze gave me energy, the sun on my face gave me a warmth unlike no other, the earth underneath felt like an extension of my being. I felt connected. I was in my father’s field once again. I could hear him calling me for the first time since he died. The voice I had missed so much was now so loud in my head, I burst into tears.

I had gotten all that I had come for. Now we had to walk all the way back. We’d be passing through the same paths with nothing new to see. We’d be saying goodbye the following day. I had moaned and groaned all the way there, but at that moment, all I could think of was how I’d manage to go back to normal life. But I knew I wouldn’t be returning to the life I had before—I had been reborn. 

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