We walk further, deeper in the mountains, every moment more removed from the world as we are used to consider it in our thinking, every moment more conscious of how it actually is. Two hour at a good pace bring us again to the Rio Buritaca, that has accompanied us for most of the hiking with its happy flowing noise several hundred metres below, invisible to the eyes among the thick mass of trees.
The porters readily set a picnic on the shores of Rio Buritaca and the smell of food attract some wild jungle pigs to the banquet. Most travellers opt for a swim in the crystal clear cold water beforehand, to wash away sweat, dust and DEET. There is great diving from the big rocks that line the rio, so I can indulge in one of my oldest passions, down head first in a deep pool of shining liquid glass.
I am just out when I hear someone shouting and suddenly the temperature in my body drops: “Snake!! Snake!! I got bitten by a snake!!” A burst of shivers runs down along my spine as I ran towards Jin, the Chinese girl, who is sitting on a rock by the river, holding her foot up, crying and screaming. Joe is the fastest to reach her, while the snake quickly hides away in the vegetation. I arrive next and I see the damage right away, two red bite marks. It’s done, the worst has happened, abruptly, one second we were laughing out loud and having a whale of a time, the second after desperation spreads out like a virus, a venom. Nobody knows what to do. Castro the guide comes to me asking for medication, but I have none, poison antidote cannot be carried, as it needs to be kept refrigerated, so now we start to feel hopeless.
Jin cries her eyes out. She is both in shock and in pain, she cries “It hurts! It hurts!!” and everyone’s blood freezes in the veins. Castro manages to find himself again and ties a bit of stick to her calf, very tightly, to stop the poison going upward towards the heart. For the same reason her leg is now placed in a position that is lower than the rest of the body. Everyone is trying to understand what kind of reptile has bitten Jin. This is an important piece of information, in order to evaluate the gravity of her poisoning. She says it was half a metre long, two centimetres thick, brown, with orange spots. It was not a coral, at least this.
Time goes by. Jin shakes and sweats. She cries “I don’t want to die!! I want to see Ciudad Perdida!“, but we have nothing that can help her right away, no antidote, cell phones don’t work, the only thing to do is to carry her to the Lost City where the Colombian army has a small post. They will radio for help and a helicopter to carry urgently poison antidote to the ruins in the jungle.
In the meantime another small group of trekkers arrives to the Buritaca and their porters are turned into runners to make it back to the main road in the fastest possible time, as to alert the authorities of the events. The porters offer to try and get the antidote brought to the start of the path in El Mamey from Santa Marta’s Hospital and walk all the way back to Ciudad Perdida overnight. It took us two day to do it, this is an almost super human feat.
One thing is for sure: now, for all, it starts a deadly race against time. From this crossing of the Rio Buritaca to the Lost City there is two hours of really tough hike left. On the spur of the moment the Colombian porters become 100 metres sprinters, running through bushes, trees, uphill, downward, jumping thoughtlessly from stone to rock, crossing the Buritaca several more times. Castro and two other porters have the toughest task of all, as they must carry the girl on their back, swapping every 10-15 minutes, and carry her while running like hell. Jin is a medium size girl, she is by no means petite or light. The porters manage to achieve something that seems almost impossible, that is to carry someone of the same weight, on rough ground, racing faster than Olympic competitors.
The rest of us, poor normal human beings, feeling like Avatars on their first Pandora day, tries to do what we can, which turns out to be unbelievable. We cover what in the original schedule was meant to be a 2-hour hike in less than half the time. An adrenaline rush pervades everyone’s limbs, we are all possessed by fear, shock, even excitement and extreme adventure lust. We are about half way when new characters appear in this unfolding drama. It’s the Colombian Army soldiers with their shining Kalashnikov in one hand and a stretcher in the other. The first runner has already made it to Ciudad Perdida and the soldiers reached us back while we barely covered half of the remaining hike.
Jin is laid down, stretched, tied and raised by the soldiers above their head, so that the rush upward can now resume at a faster pace. All the previous running though is nothing in comparison to the climbing of the 1300 derelict stone steps that finally lead to the Los City. We take them three at the time, risking to lose our footing and precipitate 100 metres downward, but bad luck has already stroke once today, so we continue uphill towards the top safely. Yes, safely, but almost in inhuman state: someone carries two rucksacks, others carry boxes of provisions bigger than them, I run as close as possible to Castro and the others who carry Jin, as I want to record all of it with my camera.
Those 1300 steps bring us 500 metres upward in altitude, the porters with Jin on their back, and I keep wondering how they can do that, when I can barely manage to carry up myself, almost stepping on my own tongue. I scratch my shin badly twice, scraping it against the sharp rocks that line the path, while I risk what one should not to keep up with the pace of the porters. My bad knee and its bran new cruciate ligament hold, and I send a silent thank you to my surgeon back in Rome. Several times I think that I am going to die, not Jin, since my heart is threatening me to explode at any moment. I wish the Tayrona had built their capital at the bottom of this hill, beside the river but I know I have to keep up, as the soldiers do not speak a word of English and they keep asking me to communicate with the Chinese chica. They want to know how she feels, they want her awake, aware that she is being taken care of, that all is going to be right.
We finally make it to the top, a plateau covered in jungle with cleared terraces paved in stone. In these clearings once stood the wooden dwellings of the Tayrona; the wider one used to house the hut of the Chief. This is where the helicopter will land, but will it, really?
Luck has definitely abandoned us for the day, as you will learn soon.
Simone Chierchini Copyright ©2010-2011
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