As a cynical European, I always understood Magical Realism as crazy Latin American folklore, a literary device that had no real connection to the world. My British skepticism couldn’t grasp the concept, the idea of magic being present in the mundane, real world, of normal, realistic settings going hand in hand with the extraordinary and unbelievable. Yet at times in Colombia, Magical Realism seems all too genuine. And nowhere more so than in Mompox.
The town exudes magic, history and wonderment, stories abounding in every corner, every stone, every street. In fact, Mompox’s history is inextricably linked with Colombia’s past, with many people here claiming that Colombian independence was achieved in Mompox, rather than Bogotá. Bolivar himself once said “If to Caracas I owe my life, then to Mompox I owe my glory”.
Yet due to its geography and the fact that the Magdalena River split, Mompox was left stranded and isolated, an island in the middle of a vast river, giving rise to an incredible time-warp town, perhaps Colombia’s last remaining truly colonial outpost. Mompox is completely lost in time and, while this is a phrase that is often used to describe Colombian towns, it is nothing short of a perfect description of Mompox.
If you’ve ever read any Gabriel Garcia Marquez books, you might be familiar with the fictional town of Macondo and the Nasar family. Well, step through the streets of Mompox and you will feel and breathe Macondo, wandering the squares and streets that Marquez described, giving you the surreal feeling that you are actually in one of his books, such is the descriptive power of Colombia’s most famous literary hero. And as for the Nasars, they were real Mompox residents who had to flee to Cartagena after the townsfolk started to believe what was in Marquez’s books.
The feeling and character of Mompox is almost impossible to describe. On the banks of the awe-inspiring Magdalena River – take a boat trip and gaze in wonderment at the wildlife and the isolation – with history flowing through its very core, locals sitting in the stifling evening heat on their traditional wicker rocking chairs, this is a place that is at the same time unique and (thanks to Marquez’s books) so incredibly familiar.
Head to Mompox if you want to feel history and magic. Learn about the town’s important role in Colombian independence, visit the cemetery where many famous generals and politicians are buried, step back in time in one of Colombia’s oldest universities or simply marvel at the soporific and laid-back attitude of one of the most historically and literarily significant towns in all of Latin America.
It might not be the easiest place to get to, although there are some direct buses/cars from Cartagena, Santa Marta and Valledupar. Be sure to ask the wise folk at See Colombia Travel (that’s us!) for advice. However, the extra travel is definitely worth it to visit Mompox, where Magical Realism is much more real than magic.
P.S. For a great place to stay, check out Casa Amarilla, beautiful, relaxing and comfortable!