Having spent two nights in the Colonial town of Mompóx, located in the Department of Bolivar in the northern half of Colombia, we drove towards La Guajira in search of the Caribbean Coast and during our onward trip, my mind drifted back to the town we were leaving behind. A town lost in time, which was crucial during the liberation campaign led by Simon Bolívar.
Mompóx was the first place to declare independence from the Spaniards on the 6th of August 1810. Due to the enormous support Bolivar received from the locals during the liberation campaign, Símon Bolivar dedicated the following verse to them: “To Caracas I owe my life, to Mompóx my glory.” A powerful message, written below a statue of Bolívar located in the centre of Mompóx. Mompóx is a town full of beautiful old crumbling colonial houses, squares and balconies, where monkeys run wildly upon the rooftops, a town where merchants would meet to exchange their goods. A town of illustrious sons and one of the ports used by the Spaniards to disembark slaves.
A town full of churches and chapels, where the locals were preparing the Easter processions. A fascinating town, of enormous importance in Latin American history and yet, one which has been sadly left abandoned by the rest of the country.
We headed towards the Caribbean Coast, following the unfinished road to the coast, appropriately named “The Route to the Sun”. After several hours and having crossed different departments of Colombia, all of a sudden, we came across a sign for Aracataca. When I told the other families who were travelling with us in convoy that we were making a detour, I received a barrage of abuse …“What….? You are stopping in that dusty, god forsaken town? Don’t be so Irish and come on up to the Coast”. It well may be a dusty god forsaken town, but it is the birth place of Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel Laureate of Colombia, the birth place of magical realism, where Macondo came to life, and in my opinion an obligatory stop.
We approached Aracataca, crossed the railway lines and drove around the town’s square, which is lined by palm trees and enormous rubber trees. Amazing but true, Gabriel García Márquez’s house is not sign posted, you get there by asking “La Casa de Gabo?”
When we opened the car doors, we felt a sudden heat wave taking over the town, we never sweated like we sweated that day in Aracataca.
Our visit to Gabriel Garcia’s house was magical, yes magical. In the different passageways and rooms, I imagined seeing all the different characters of his books coming to life. I imagined seeing Aureliano Buendia having siesta on the wicker rocking chair. I imagined Juvenal Urbina teaching his parrot to speak in French. I imagined seeing Tranquilina Iguarán serving up chicken broth at the table. I imagined seeing García Márquez’s grandfather, Don Nicolás Márquez sitting by his bed side, telling stories to his grandson. Amongst the butterflies and beneath the trees, I could smell the guayabas and almonds. The son of the telegrapher started his life here, in this house and in this town.
It was a very moving visit. I felt that all the phantoms from his books had come to pay homage that day and fill the house with laughter, tears, dialogues and memories. It felt as if, on that particular day, a celebration was taking place.
Before bidding farewell to Macondo, we stopped for a cold drink in the local billiards bar, appropriately called Macon- do, where its owner told us about the last time Gabriel García Márquez had visited his home town, that famous visit covered by the world media, when he arrived by train on that well-known train track which transported many tons of plantain up to the port in Santa Marta and one which inspired many of his books.
Just as I left Mompox feeling nostalgic, I left Aracataca thinking that it was so sad to think that both places, very different one from the other, but bound to two great figures, Bolívar and Márquez, were so abandoned and forgotten.
Two days after our visit to Aracataca and whilst on a beach in La Guajira, I received a message from my mother in Ireland, telling me that Gabriel García Márquez had passed away. From the land of James Joyce, who played such a fundamental role in shaping Márquez’s literature, I received the news about his death.
The stars were aligned; I had the amazing opportunity to symbolically bid farewell to Gabriel García Márquez and to his literature.