My experience trekking to La Ciudad Perdida – learning to be present, slow down, and deeply connect
I spent four days trekking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to La Ciudad Perdida in Colombia. Two months later, I’m reflecting on why this was such a transformative experience for me and how this would make a unique and inspiring adventure for your organization’s next charity challenge. These types of adventures expedite community building and the deepening of relationships and connections among your community – your community of people who come together to physically challenge themselves in support of your cause.
This is one major aspect of a charity challenge that differentiates it from a donor trip – the genuine authentic connections made in a short period of time.
La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) was my very first trek. A trek, meaning multiple, consecutive days of hiking in the mountains – carrying my pack, sleeping in open air dorms, and being in the mountains for four full days. No internet. No distractions. Nothing more than the mountains, myself, and the people you are with.
If you are planning a charity challenge for your next international fundraising and donor engagement trip, La Ciudad Perdida Trek is one you should consider. The nature and history of Colombia is unlike any other. Being one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, Colombia is breathtakingly beautiful. The country also has a naturally regenerative energy – as a friend of mine put it, there is a “ communal healing energy” here, perhaps stemming from the country’s dark history, its resiliency and deep, spiritual connection to nature.
History & Location
La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) is an archaeological park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the northern Caribbean Coast of Colombia, just outside of Santa Marta. The ancient ruins were discovered in 1979 and deemed a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. The mountains are the world’s highest coastal massif and represent a microcosm of the planet, ranging from coastal reefs to glaciers.
The four main indigenous communities that populate this area believe that it is the “beating heart of the world” – some believe that the world emerged in these mountains. That what happens to the land in these mountains happens worldwide, so they are committed to protecting the land. It is a place of regeneration, both physically and spiritually, that is continuing to heal and rebuild from its traumatic past.
La Ciudad Perdida is a sacred place that remains fairly untouched. A truly special place to bring your community together.
A charity challenge is intended to physically challenge you. Four days of trekking in the mud, rain and humid air was exactly that. The terrain was steep, uneven and muddy. The earth was slippery. We woke up at 5:00 AM every day, sometimes to our guide singing, “vamos a la playa,” to embark on full 8 hour days of hiking. It wasn’t easy. But we all found the strength to power through. We had no other choice – you either keep going or you stay in the mountains with the indigenous communities.
Your legs will feel tired and achy. But you can keep going, and you do keep going. There are moments when your feet may be completely submerged in mud as you trek downhill and you have no idea how much longer until you reach your next stop. There are other moments when you are trekking up a steep incline for at least an hour. Your guide tells you to breathe deeply and trek at your own pace. Respira profundamente – tranquila – se puede. You are exhausted and at times don’t have the energy to speak out loud so you have to do a lot of self-talk, and encourage yourself, and remind yourself to breathe and take it one step at a time.
It’s a mental challenge just as much as a physical challenge. People bond over this. They share the pain. They encourage each other. At the end of the day, they may even laugh at each other’s blisters. These are the moments that connect people. These moments are unique to charity challenges; they’re not what people will experience at a gala or other fundraising event.
Not having internet, and I don’t just mean not checking your phone or computer, I mean you and the people you are with have no way of accessing the internet, relieves this unconscious need or anxiety many of us feel being constantly connected. When you fully disconnect from the Internet, it frees you up to more fully connect with the present experience. Sure you may think about the future or past, but in a more introspective way and a less stressful, doubtful, anxious way. This is where real thinking takes place. The type that allows your mind to open up to possibilities that seem fleeting in our every day list of “to dos.”
Tune in by tuning out the outside world.
Being Fully Present
I have never felt more present in my life. It took a few days to find that groove but once I did, it was quite meditative. You have no other choice but to be fully present during the trek. You could slip, you could get stuck in the mud, and the reality is, with no outside world to distract you, the present moment is all you have in the mountains. You are fully with yourself, with the people, and your intentions. Whether or not you realize it, something inside of you is shifting. This kind of trek is powerfully transformative in ways we cannot always describe. It’s just a feeling. And a feeling that you share with those you’re trekking with.
This is an inherent aspect of a charity challenge. As an organization, you don’t actually need to do anything to engage your supporters on the trek. It will happen naturally and effortlessly, which is that much more impactful.
A Shared Goal & Experience
You, as a community, set out to achieve this tangible goal, together. The explicit, tangible goal of the physical trek to La CIudad Perdida and back down. Other personal goals and insight will come up along the way. This shared experience is another thread that bonds you all.
Sense of Accomplishment
Any physical feat is empowering. When you get to La Ciudad Perdida and you look out into the vast mountains and see how far and how high you have trekked, you feel alive. You feel like you are on top of the world.
It may sound cliche but this trek is a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable experience. People will never forget that they came together through your organization to trek to La Ciudad Perdida in support of your work.
Deep, Meaningful Connections
All of these threads lead to deep, meaningful connections. To more deeply engage people in your organization’s work and build a network of advocates or ambassadors for your organization, this type of community engagement and team building is crucial.
In the evenings, when the group reconvenes for dinner and recaps the day, it strengthens the bond that forms through this shared experience. You are a team. A community. You take care of each other, encourage each other and share things that come up for you. You are everything to each other for these few days in the mountains.
Meaningful conversations come out of these connections. When you share this immersive experience, free from our typical distractions and stressors, you more quickly break down any barriers, and in doing so, are able to have deep conversations about things that matter. You talk more about your “why’s” in life rather than your “what’s”. Your why is your foundation, your values, your purpose and sometimes your pain. These conversations are at the heart of what really matters. You may find it easier to have engaging and challenging conversations about your organization’s work. People feel more comfortable with each other and being solely in nature where the distractions and stressors from our busy world dissipate, people’s minds free up.
Being a part of something bigger than yourself
The Sierra Nevada Mountains are so vast and expansive that when you’re in them, lost in a trance of your own thoughts and you pause to take a look around you, you have this sense of being a part of something beyond yourself. This is a powerful feeling. It can give us a sense of purpose and connection that we crave. As an organization, you can create this experience for your community through a charity challenge. And having personally trekked La Ciudad Perdida in Colombia, I can’t imagine a better destination for this type of deep personal connection and community building.
Now that you have my personal take on why plan a trek to La Ciudad Perdida for your next charity challenge, explore the what – the day to day of the journey. Click here for Elevate Destinations’ La Ciudad Perdida Trek itinerary.