“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it” (Gabriel García Márquez)
I once met Gabriel García Márquez’s biographer, who assured me (over a questionable plate of unagi) that Colombia’s best-loved writer was, in fact, the world’s best-loved writer. If we include, he told me, every country in the world in a survey, rather than just the major literary nations, then Gabo comes out on top. He has carved out a reputation as not only a literary genius, the ‘inventor’ of magical realism, but as a down-to-earth champion of the left, a real Colombian. You only have to read his Nobel Prize speech from 1982 to see how dearly he values this continent.
Colombia is his birthplace, and the inspiration for his work, from iconic novels like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, masterful novellas such as Nobody Writes to the Colonel, and wonderful autobiographical works like Living to Tell the Tale.
So where can you go to follow the García Márquez trail?
Gabo’s birthplace and, some say, the true inspiration for Macondo, the iconic town whose fortunes rose and fell throughout the narrative of One Hundred Years of Solitude. In fact, a referendum to change the town’s name to Aracataca-Macondo in 2006 only failed to pass due to low turnout.Two museums dedicated to García Márquez can be visited, and walking tours to see the train station, the statue of Remedios the Beauty, the author’s birthplace and his first school can be arranged through the main hostel in town, The Gypsy Residence. This is where the García Márquez trail should begin for any serious enthusiast, as it began for Gabo himself, 85 years ago.
How to get there: it is easiest to come from Santa Marta, where a direct bus will take about 1 ½ hours and cost around $10.000.
Often inaccurately cited as the setting for the 1981 novella, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Mompox (or Mompós) remains a step back in time, a living reminder of Gabo’s Colombia. This sleepy, riverside town on the Magdalena River seems to embody everything García Márquez wrote so passionately about. Whilst the Magdalena may not still be the river of crocodiles and singing manatees so evocatively portrayed in Living to Tell the Tale, Mompox is about as close as it gets to the old Colombian bayou towns where the boats that carried Gabo from his coastal home up to Bogota used to make port.Isolated, peaceful and welcoming, Mompox is a travellers dream, and especially so for someone whose imagination has been captured by the work of García Márquez.
How to get there: It is satisfyingly challenging to get to Mompox. Those wishing for a touch of the romantic can take bus from Cartagena to Magangué, and then a short boat journey up the Magdalena to Mompox.
1985’s Love in the Time of Cholera is set in an unnamed coastal city, one which is clearly Cartagena. You only have to read the loving descriptions of the colonial architecture and narrow streets to see Cartagena in your mind, and the good news is that the old walled city remains much as it was in Gabo’s day. The author retains a house here within the city walls, which will be pointed out on any walking tour of the city. You can also see the fortresses and cannons which used to keep out the ‘pirate’ Sir Francis Drake, often mentioned by the author in his descriptions of Colombian history.
How to get there: Regular buses travel to Cartagena from all over Colombia, and there are also flights available. Book early and they can be cheaper than the bus from Bogotá.
García Márquez lived in Bogotá in the 1950’s and worked for the newspaper El Espectador. Whilst not a fan of the city (the costeñoGabo was not fond of the rain and grey skies), some of his earliest work was written there and he was also present at one of the cities defining moments, the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, and the subsequent wave of violence that filled the city, known as the Bogotazo. You can visit the place where Gaitán was fatefully shot, and imagine the scene as García Márquez describes it in Living to Tell the Tale. You can also visit the Gabriel García Márquez Cultural Centre in La Candelaria to see what exhibitions they have on.
How to get there: Bogotá is the capital city of Colombia and is therefore the easiest city to travel to. Arrange a Bogota tour, either walking or cycling in order to see the places mentioned.
So these are the main stops on the Colombian García Márquez trail: all very different places, yet they all have a part to play in the Gabo story. They encompass many sides of Colombia, just as the author himself still does.
If you’re interested in any (or all) of these tours, don´t hesitate to contact See Colombia Travel.