Mompox

Trip Start May 2006
1
18
28
Trip End Aug 17, 2006


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Flag of Colombia  ,
Saturday, August 12, 2006

This hotel, like the one in San Pablo, was also ¨new.¨ The tiled floor was covered with plaster and while we were gone during the day they installed the ceiling. There was a balcony facing the street witout any railings and there was no water during the evening, though we far from from a desert (though it was coming). We had arrived just early enough though to decoat ourselves with unheated water that was still warmer than the hot water in Bogotá. After a rest, we walked the Momposino streets at night. Churches and plazas at every corner, and I was looking forward to some variety in diet as this was the first tourist town we had come across. There were only locals but we found pizza.

During the colonial epoch, Mompox was arguably the third most important Colombian city after Bogotá and Cartagena. It was a resting point between the two along the Magdalena River and its location kept it safer from attacks from the coast and from the highlands. Momposinos helped Bolívar achieve his first victories and Mompox declared independence from Spanish rule before anywhere else. On his last journey, Mompox was the first place Bolívar stopped since he began in Honda. In The General in his Labryinth¨ by Garcia Márquez, Bolívar says, ¨Mompox doesn´t exist. At times we dream of it but it doesn´t exist.¨ To understand what this mean, you have to experience the town for yourself, but I will try to explain it.

The reason people come to Mompox is the view the preserved colonial architecture, mostly vacuum freeze dried churches. The buildings are usually in pastel colors, very solid, and in remarkably good condition given their age. Where there is a church, there is a plaza, and there are so many, that the town lacks a center, a heart. The streets are narrow and corridored. There is a functioning hospital that was founded over 450 years ago. It has a large courtyard surrounded by waiting and exam rooms, a rather pleasant environment for a hospital.

Fernando had been talking abouto Mompox since we started traveling, but now he seemed bored and in a bad mood, not having opinions about anything, and not eating. I thought he was trying to quite smoking, as he had tried to do at the beginning of the trip, but by midday he smoked his first cigarette. We walked along the river, which was fairly narrow. The banks were filled with debris and people seemed to use the area for defacating, given the smell. Still, there were we nice tall trees, and a beer stand, so we sat down an played domino, a ubiqutous game among males all over the Caribbean.

The fact that the buildings have been preserved is the just the supercial aspect of Mompox. It`s geographical position simultaneously allowed it to prosper and be very isolated. It sits on a large island in the river, the highest point in a vast area of depressed swampland. Throughout Colombia`s sea of violence, it has been an oasis of tranquility. I stoppped by the library an flipped through a history book, published not that long ago. The history book stops after independence and I realized, this is exactly how I feel about about the town. In the last 150 years, it has had little reason to exist, and so it has not changed, and so people visit it for its uniqueness, so it exists for this sole purpose, in this endless dreamlike cycle, just as Bolívar said, with Gabo´s hindsightedness. Yes now there are are created in the same manner as in the 19th century. I felt that when I left, Mompox would cease to exist.

We discovered a botanical garden, not anything organized, but nevertheless interesting, pretty, and useful plants scattered over about an acre of land. It was located behind an ugly half painted metal wall. It owner was a haggard man, who lived in a hut and cooked food using wood. Despite his poverty, he was probably the most learned man in the town, telling us about every plant we came across, trees, fruits, etc. regional and worldy. Fernando snapped out of his bad mood, and took photos of almost all the plants. Though, he is very smart, his is young, 21 years, and his situation has not peritted him to leave the world of European philsophy and Colombian politics. All related issues, such as ecological and environental, have still escaped him. This was his introduction.

The garden reminded me a bit of Punta Mona in Costa Rica, an ecological floral haven. This man had never traveled but had become wise through books. He was the first person I came across that understood my vegetarianism. What he had done was a microcosm of what the whole region could be like, a land of variety, health, and plenty, an Eden, instead of the endless cattle pastures. It reminded me how ugly most of human devleopment has been.
To creat these ranches, the jungle had been cut down, rains eroded the land, which poured into the river, rendering it unnavigable. Each cow requires a ton of land and food, which requires fertilizers, etc. to grow the grass, which spills into the land and water. These ranches are owned by a few wealthy land owners, so most people have no property. This is one reason why the guerilla came into existence. Unfortunately, they mostly extorted money from the landowners, as opposed to enacting land reform, so in response the landed hired independent thugs, the paramilitary, to hunt down the guerillas and the campesinos that were supposedly helping them. Then the state got involved, on the side of the landowners and terrible violence has occurred. Why do these ranches exist? Money. People need food and what do they eat out of habit and ignorance, meat, two or three times a day.

In this day and age, to eat meat regularly (note, i am not saying ever) is the same is burning down your own house. With exponential population growth, diminishing resources, health care crises, abundant highly nutritious plant food from all over the world, exponential knowledge growth, more inclusive universal morals, eating meat more than once or twice a week should be a crime. Of course, the human mind is infinitely illogical, habitual, moldable, and there are many people that will chomp on a hamburger while watching watching their house burn, and people who enjoy the idea that their food came from bloody violence. In the US, the destruction from high meat consumption, though blatently obvious if you look, isn`t quite as obvious as it is in Colombia. We have more land, and the economoic ability (though diminshing)of exporting violence (military conquests) in order to import what we lack, the energy needed to grow this meat (fossil fuels). Anyway, this will be my one rant during this trip, just because traveling has yet again made it so obvious.

So in Mompox, industrial meat eating, along with plastic packaged goods prevails, just like in the U.S. We haven´t suffered as much yet for it, but in Colombia poverty is ubiquious. This garden man though is an example of poverty stretching its supposedly narrow limits of knowledge, realizing shit is fucked up and trying to do something about it. He said the townspeople have ignored him, and continue frying everything, since the African Palm is next after the pasture land. Big business, ingrained habits and laziness dominate. But as I said, these people are no different from Americans. I am not so different either, only difference is i have had the privilige of opportunity and the luck of having the desire to pursue it.

Ironically, in Mompox I had my first salad of the trip, at the nicest hotel in town, which was so empty we had to wait 10 minutes for a waiter to show up. I should mention, we finally did see our first tourists, a Colombian couple.
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