Before I left for Colombia in July 2017, I read a travel memoir by Michael Jacobs, Robber of Memories. He travelled along River Magdalena during the turbulence of civil war where he traced the memories of Gabriel García Márquez, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, just like his mother. In his captivating tale, while I cannot remember the exact story, I suspected it was a combination of his descriptive narration and my wild imagination which made Mompox, a town in Colombia strangely appealing to me.
Mompox – the town that was under the radar
Mompox inscribed as a UNESCO heritage site in 1995 for the significant role it played during Spanish colonisation. Today, it was pretty much a forgotten town where time stood still.
When I expressed interest in Mompox, I met with many surprised looks from the locals. Often, with a question that followed, “Why?”
But, why not? Most that I spoke to have yet visited the place and through our conversations, I was under the impression that it was an unfavourable, boring and hot-weathered town.
Really? For someone who was born and raised in the tropics, the hot weather was not a deterring factor. Nothing can stop me from a getaway to Mompox as I was keen to go over a weekend just to satisfy my curious mind.
Weekend Getaway to Mompox
When I realised that Bernard and Ronaldo are doing a getaway weekend to Mompox, I shamelessly asked if I could tag along. Well, the more the merrier!
So, I did zero research embarking on this journey. In case you don’t know me, I don’t like to do extensive research beforehand because it builds expectations and takes away any surprise element. I like to book just the essentials and go with an open mind.
I was optimistic about the adventure! Subconsciously, I was expecting Mompox to be more of a village, with rundown zinc roof houses and dirt roads. Throw in some free-roaming chickens, cattle and pigs the villagers rear.
Bucaramanga to Mompox
We set off on Friday evening on an overnight Copetran bus from Bucaramanga bus terminal. The entire journey took us 9 hours with a brief stopover at El Banco before arriving in Mompox at 6 in the morning.
We hopped off the bus and made our way into town; straight to the riverbank of Rio Magdalena where we saw the rising sun. I was in amazement when I saw how beautiful those white and yellow colonial houses amidst the solitude of an unwoken town.
Watching the sunrise got me filled with emotions. It was a feeling that was indescribable, far beyond surreal. All it took was a book for me to cross continents and by opportunity made it here.
Then after, we headed back to our separate accommodations to check-in. I booked a different one from the boys as they already booked their hotel before I decided to join them. Mine was a hostel that was 10 minutes walk away from the town centre.
The town was already bustling with life when we rejoined back for breakfast. A part of it reminded me of home. Um, the heat and humidity (part).
The First Morning
We stumbled upon a street food stall that was selling local snacks which seemed popular with the locals. The food was made on the spot and as soon as it was ready, it was gone within minutes!
We had good feelings about it. True enough, their relleno which was potato stuffed with minced beef was very tasty. It was probably the best thing I ate in Mompox. While I had no photos, I know they would not do justice to the breakfast we had.
Then after, we explored the picturesque streets and checked out beautiful photo spots under the cloudless sky. It got to a point where the heat was too unbearable that we sought refuge in the boy’s hotel which was right in the heart of the town. It has a spacious Spanish colonial styled common area where I drifted into a siesta on a hammock.
Sailing along Rio Magdalena
We boarded a boat to sail down one of the most important rivers in Colombia, Rio Magdalena. It was beyond my wildest dream to cruise down the river. I felt like I was reliving a part of Gabriel García Márquez and Michael Jacobs, in a commercial way.
The landscape of the river, greens and blue sky were incredible! We went past nearby islands, villages and animals.
Occasionally, other local boats would pass by. Along the way, the guide would explain certain sights to us in Spanish. Sadly, I could only understand about 20% of the things he said. Hey, I tried!
Sometimes, our boatman would head to the front of the boat with a long pole to clear the path from the overgrown plants as though we were sailing on unchartered waterways.
As we stopped by a freshwater lagoon, we immediately took the chance to jump into the water to cool off from the heat.
It was such an epic expedition. We watched the sunset from the boat as we journeyed in darkness back to the dock with a faint lamp and millions of stars guiding the way.
A Dark and Dead Town
For dinner, we settled for a random restaurant for pizzas and beers by the plaza. We had high hopes to find a bar with salsa, reggaeton or even vallenato music to dance to and have a drink in. Because what good is a Saturday evening if we are not having a good time?
Unfortunately, the idea of partying was bleak. The town seemed to went to sleep after sunset. It was dead quiet with many of the shops closed as the locals returned home except for some establishments serving dinner.
We eventually walked past a bar which looked like we entered into a different era, the 1960s. It was empty and we were not vibing with the place. Disappointed with our only option, we called it a night and went to bed early.
Early Morning Exploration
The incentive about sleeping early meant I could wake up early the next morning to explore on my own. Right before the town stirred into life as locals busied themselves with their daily activities.
The early morning was a good time for photography with the soft natural sunlight. I immersed myself into those present moments as I wandered around anonymously before the boys arose from their dreams.
When the boys were ready, we returned to the same street food stall where we had breakfast the previous day. It was too good to pass!
After filling our tummies, we began another day of exploration on foot. Then we reckoned that renting bicycles sounded like a better option. Having bicycles meant we could go further and discover more places under the sweltering sun.
We began to move away from the town centre and headed to the residential area. We exchanged hola with the excited children and observed how the locals live their lives while looking for the infrequent traffic along the road.
Eventually, we arrived at the large Mompox sign that one cannot miss, located at the “entrance” into the town.
Flashback to Singapore
Before we returned the bicycles, we stopped along Rio Magdalena. There were some agile boys who were climbing a tree to the branches that were above the river. They jumped fearlessly into the river and would drift with the current for several metres before getting ashore to repeat it.
Immediately, I drew a parallel back to Singapore. That scene reminded me of the First Generation sculpture by Chong Fah Cheong along Singapore River. I felt as though I travelled through space and time back to Singapore. Into the yesteryears where early immigrants worked, lived and played along Singapore River. It was a common sight to see children jumping into the river just for fun, like these kids in Mompox.
I felt like I relived a part of our history through these children. Singapore developed rapidly over the past two centuries while Mompox stayed timeless. I knew this was one of the moments far too precious that I wanted to remember for the rest of my life.
We crossed the river to the other side of the riverbank for lunch. Together, we ate in the open under a parasol which was under a shady tree with the company of lazing iguanas. Thankfully the iguanas kept their distance from us as I am not a big fan of reptiles.
When we got back to the hotel, we gave in to food coma and took a nap. Being in a town like Mompox, taking naps are only right because they make the time past faster and we should indulge in what the locals do before going back after the weekend. It is a luxury that we hardly afford in our hectic city life.
The Bus That Left Early
Mompox’s “bus terminal” was a small post along a byroad which was just 10 minutes walk away from the town centre. With only one bus parked in front of the post; it had to be ours.
We were early, earlier than the time stated on the ticket anyway. The driver who had the phone in his hand told us that he was about to call and check if we were coming. We wondered why he was so impatient, only to realise that we were the last to board the bus and the whole bus was just waiting for us.
Having travelled a fair bit within Colombia, I can safely say that most buses were never on time. They will usually arrive and depart later than the time stated on tickets. For the first time in Colombia, a bus departed 15 minutes earlier than expected. With that, it spelt the end of a getaway weekend to Mompox.
The forgotten UNESCO town of Mompox still retains its timeless charm that I secretly hope it would remain a hidden gem. I selfishly pray it would stay like this forever as I am afraid. Afraid that it loses its magic when the town awakes. Now that I have satisfied my curiosity, I can check this off my bucket list.
Here’s the guide to Mompox to learn more about this treasure in Colombia.
Do you think this place should remain a classic timeless town too?
Disclosure: If you are keen to get a copy of the book which got me all fired up to visit Mompox, you can click on the affiliate link to make a purchase where I receive a small amount of compensation that is of no additional cost to you.
*some of the photos are courtesy of Bernard as I lost a junk of photos from my mobile phone.