My best, exotic Mompós

Mompox by Andres Tobon
Mompox by Andres Tobon

If it is raining heavily, my day in Mompós begins with a rescue mission and a prayer to the weather gods that the Magdalena River in front of my house won’t rise too fast. It sounds trite, but the sight of a rain flattened garden, flooded kitchen and puddles in the sitting room can take the sheen off an otherwise beautiful guesthouse in a colonial mansion.

Everything is order, it’s 6 a.m and Wendy arrives to start preparing for breakfast. I can hear her dropping pans into the sink as I sip my coffee on the balcony and watch the howler monkeys at play in the trees in front, I think of how this noise will inevitably rouse a few guests. Right now I don’t care. Perhaps it rained last night and the morning is fresh, I’ll tell the injured party that the ruckus they heard was the gurning and snarling of my primate tree-dwelling neighbors.

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Life starts early given the soporific heat and if we want to get good quality meat I need to be out and about before 6:30 a.m. Today, I don’t feel like it and instead buy cheesy almojabanas from a street vendor. He must be all of nine years and claims that these rings of doughy goodness come from nearby San Sebastian. I insist upon this. I don’t know why, but the ingredients from San Sebastian are so much better.

Monty, my three-year old Weimaraner, is threatening to dig up trash in the street and I have to decide whether to walk him through town or hop on the bicycle. If I am on the bike I can wear him out and avoid chatting to anyone and everyone on the street and get back to the job in hand of running the guesthouse.

Not to sound the Grinch, but there are times when small town living grates. So much gossip. Today I decide to walk. I chat to the neighbor, a stranger, someone who has been identified to me as a thief (this conversation is even more brief) and one of my wife Alba’s horde of relatives.

The walk and some rudimentary shopping done, I head back to Casa Amarilla via the old customs house. I love pineapple season, here docked where the boats that transported Simon Bolívar in his quest for South American independence from Spain along this waterway would have harbored is a long and narrow chalupa filled with hundreds of the fresh fruit. For under $1,800 pesos I pick up two and the vendor strings their spiny stalks together so I can carry them easily.

There is a comment within earshot that the “gringo” has a “gringo dog”. I presume this is due to Monty’s clear eyes. On a daily basis I feel the weight of history here; usually it strikes a melancholy chord with me when I see the abandon that some parts of the town suffer. Corruption, indifference and local idiosyncrasies have left Mompós in decay. This is changing though; the President was here in March and made many promises of infrastructure and progress.

My mood lifts. Back in the Casa, emails answered, guests attended to, perhaps regaled with a few tales from my own experiences here  that are as if plucked from the magic realism of García Márquez, I look forward to my siesta. The siesta is positively encouraged in Mompós, and I heartily sign on for this tradition. I swing in the hammock strung in my apartment, away from the guests, and catch up on some shut eye or reading. This is quiet time as the whole town is seemingly asleep as well. The fan just pushes the hot air around, but if we are lucky there might be a mid-afternoon breeze that will later usher in a rainstorm and bring the temperature down.

If no guests arrive before midday, it is unlikely they have travelled overnight from the interior of the country. I guess the fact that it is tricky getting here is a blessing as well, in that there are set timetables to the influx of tourists. This is also a perfect filter on the type of tourist we receive.

Around 3:00 p.m, the buses from Cartagena and Barranquilla are due and their arrival is signaled by the dozen or so mototaxis that chase them through town jostling desperately for business. I stand in the doorway and watch to see if any potential guests alight. In my experience, travellers don’t like to be harangued upon arrival, and the mototaxi drivers play into this trap almost ensuring that the Europeans and North Americans will walk this way just to avoid their thronging and touting of hotels.

After a certain hour there’ll be precious few arrivals. There are exceptions to the rule of course, such as the lone Israeli and his Danish girlfriend who arrived late one night and promptly asked if Mompós was like Bogotá or Medellín, “Mucha Rumba?” To this day I wonder how they got here; after all, you have to cross a river and then travel miles upon miles of unpaved roads. There is of course rumba, but this is not the attraction.

Perhaps I’ll have a beer with a guest or two on the roof terrace at sunset. Beforehand I make sure that any bookings are organized for the following day and then haul a floor fan up top to dissuade the more insistent mosquitos. This beer may lead to another but I have a rule that by 9.30 pm I limit my interaction with the guests. Hopefully conversations will have sprung up between new arrivals or even possible romances allowing me to take my leave.


Richard McColl runs the Casa Amarilla guesthouse in Mompós:



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