Mompox: UNESCO world heritage site or sultry swamp town?
Sure this quaint little river town might sound like a disease, perhaps a disease of time lost or does time even matter here? It felt like a time and place warp, if there is such a thing, I kept feeling like I had stepped into the swampy marshlands of Mississippi or Louisiana rather than a UNESCO world heritage town in Colombia. Life here is dictated by the Rio Magdalena which apparently floods 8 months of the year. Why did I want to visit this tiny town on the banks of the Magdalena river? Again I will blame it on Gabriel Garcia Marquez as apparently this town is the setting of his book Chronicle of a Death Foretold. And yes, it's also a UNESCO worked heritage site; a whitewashed, photographer's dream and also was quite an adventure just to get there.
From the Cartagena bus station, Dayna and I took a colectivo style van for 4 hours to the small town of Magangue where we were then directed to take a chalupa. What's a chalupa, you might be wondering? Clearly it is Spanish for toy boat which we paid for then ventured off to find a bano (where we were stared at for our huge bags and somehow managed to fit in the small space and with no running water chased water after ourselves!) and then lunch which caused us to miss one chalupa and almost the next. The language issues continued, could've sworn I ordered no meat and somehow ended up with a huge plate of plantains, beans and rice with a meat soup, the usual, sorry to say, unappetizing Colombian meal. Ok, clearly I found good food in Colombia, mostly from other nations, seriously, have you ever seen a Colombian restaurant anywhere in the world???
Finally, we made it to the river crossing and there was just enough space for Dayna and I on the 20 minute ferry. Then we were directed to both squeeze into the front seat of a sweaty cab ride for 40 minutes and proceeded to teach the cab driver English words for animals, of which he thought the word for burro was hilarious, kept repeating chonkey instead of donkey, which we found hilarious.
Arriving at la casa Amarilla, literally the yellow house, was super nice, Carmen was too, at first, but then no mas. We had reserved a private room with air con but upon arrival, were told there were dorms too so we thought we'd save some dough, only $8 but only fans no air. BIG mistake. After exploring this swampy climate for only two hours the next day, we desperately wanted that air but it came at a cost as we gave up the private room with air and it was going to be more expensive now to be in a dorm with air so we decided mañana we would spring for the air con. Yeah that didn't happen. We slept 12 hours in our underwear with windows open, we just didn't care in this kinda climate. Dreams get weird in this kinda heat, no idea what went on in mine per usual but Dayna reports weird ones too.
The first full day, we ate yogurt and a pastry at mompox pan, had to eat there because of the name. Then we toured the famous cemetery and could only handle being outside for 2 hours which felt more like the whole day and returned to our hostel to recover for 2 hours before venturing out again this time for lunch along the river. Lunch didn't look like much but turned out to be one of the best meals where I was inspired to order fried chicken (again... are we in the south?) with plantains, coconut rice, and tomate de arbol juice, which tastes something like melon juice. Then on to the hotel with a pool but we were rejected, trip advisor lied, this was only for guests and it was so damn hot even the guests were hiding out in their rooms. A total ghost town during the day, only tourists stupid enough to step out of their (if they're smart) air con filled room. After another two hours in the heat, we returned yet again to our hostel with dreams of air con and here's where the communication issues began: another girl is in our dorm room and we have to get her to agree to pay extra for the air. Thought I talked to the right girl apparently not but we had air con for a few blessed hours. But the girl who was really in our room was not even the typical cheap backpacker, no Susan lives in a commune in a liberal part of Germany, and is vegan with dreadlocks so guess what? Yep, not interested in air con. Holy mother of, this must be a lesson of simplicity for me, although it felt like suffering and have to admit I resented the poor girl at times. Lesson learned, when visiting Mompox (i.e. The hottest place I've ever been in my life) it would be better enjoyed with the comfort of air-con.
The owner of La Casa Amarilla, Richard, fed us with the kind of stories a Gabo fan lives for: two elderly neighbors showing to the outside world they are just friends and upon death, a universal bedroom was found in the back, the front constructed for appearances only. And El Gato: the man who was so in love with cats during his life that he had El Gato inscribed on his gravestone and the whole town didn't want him to be lonely in death so there is always cat food so a mad amount of cats are always in the cemetery. Takes the cat lady concept to a whole other level.
Mompox is about who might just invite you Into their home and the next day a man did this to me, took me by the hand to show me the inside of his house by the river which is where the money is. Beautiful garden inside, again the similarities between New Orleans and the swampy south continue and the beautiful rocking chairs Mompox is famous for were demonstrated in this impeccable house. Very nice man.
Went out for average crepes, pizza juice then a beer with the girls at cafe tinto, an outdoor cafe where karaoke was going on in this otherwise quiet night and what a great way to reinforce /learn Spanish. We wanted to do a pub crawl, a mini zona rosa but one beer practically put us to sleep in this heat.
After another long strange dreamy existence of sleep, we went in search of food and took our goods to the park just outside the cemetery again, searching for el gato on the tomb. Instead of my usual 2 or 3 naps a day and 2 or 3 showers (cold, the only way to go) to exist in Mompox, I took the time to write while sweat dripped all over me.
Then our not so lovely host asked for a favor ten minutes before our tour along the river, to move rooms into a room with 3 beds and 2 weak fans. Dear god, I'm not impressed, kinda resentful of this German girl at this point. Never cooling off can turn you into a beatch. Ok I will survive. Have to leave at 5 am the next day so that's only 14 more hours, I kid you not, it felt like a matter of survival in Mompox, maybe it is a disease after all. The river seduces you in a strange, dull, tranquilizing way, we kept running into people we knew: like the juice maker, the man on the bike that said hola y adios every time we saw him.
But then we went on the river tour and it was cool, temperature and otherwise. It was a eildlife spotting fest of sorts: iguana spotting as well as the birds and fauna. Then we transferred to a well, a donkey. El burro even though it's name was el paisa, he was constantly referred to as el burro, the four of us sat on a wood plank as the donkey drove us through a village of sorts and on to the swamp. We walked over cracked mud to the next boat while two boys and another man had to push us out of the mud before jumping in. And they spotted the wildlife for us until we arrived at isle de Leon, an island inhabited by one family and a million farm animals, yes, I was thinking of George Orwell's utopia Animal Farm. We saw monkeys (which the family transported there, weird), turkeys, roosters, sheep and so many wild pigs and piglets, cute!! And then ate mangoes washing it down with a cerveza. How idyllic, what a simple life. Watched the sunset as the others took a not so refreshing dip in the swamp. I claimed I was a princess when they asked me to get out and help push the boat to land as we got stuck in the mud :-) so basically we took a sunset swamp cruise :-)
After my tenth shower of the day, we strolled back into town for dinner which was again a slice of pizza in one of the plazas along with fruit juice, this time Zapote, a type of yummy red avocado, which tastes again like melon and it was so refreshing, possibly my favorite fruit in Colombia.
We then packed and off to bed early, again in as little clothing as possible with yet another shower to cool off as it was an early morning coming up: 5 am bus back to Cartagena. And this way back was just too easy, only took 5 or so hours, the only interesting portion was the bus expertly managing a space backwards onto the ferry. Super happy I got to experience the more adventurous journey on the way there.
Mompox goes down in my books as synonymous with the hottest place I've ever been, the nicest people ever even if I could barely understand them and a sleepy, swampy culture that has to be preserved because of the difficulty in getting there. Ahhh, I survived Mompox!