The Journey Matters.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
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Trip End Dec 31, 2018


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Where I stayed
La Casa Amarilla Mompos
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Colombia  ,
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

T. S. Eliot once famously and concisely wrote,

"The journey, not the arrival, matters."

Mompos (Sometimes called Mompox), Colombia was all about the journey.

Mompos is a little visited, right off the tourist radar, river port. Once it was a thriving and important Port on the Rio Magdalena, where all merchandise crossed to the interior of the country from the coastal port of Cartagena.

Mompos is now stranded, physically, because it is on an island between two branches of the very wide Magdalena River and stranded, in time, - circa 17th - 19th century. Left in isolation, when the branch of the river used for the shipping, silted up towards the end of the 19th century, the imposing warehouses, shops, mansions, churches and squares stayed as is, other than whitewashing and painting, and are still used today in all their decaying glory. The Port of Mompos has a UNESCO World Heritage gong, so we set about finding out how we were going to get to see Mompos for ourselves and there begins a tale of a journey….

Leaving our hostel in the city of Medellin just as dawn was breaking; we caught a cab into the bus station to begin our complex journey. The first stage was to the city of Sincelejo, a 9 hour journey in a reasonably comfortable bus. We had hoped this was to be a lot less than 9 hours as we wanted to only transit in Sincelejo and be on our way, but we found ourselves at an awful, decrepit bus station at around 5pm and realized we were going to have to find a bed. We had worked out that the next stage, which involved catching a shared taxi, then a boat then another shared taxi (or collectivo) was going to be at least another 3 to 4 hour journey. We are trying hard not to be travelling at night for safety.

So the bus station at Sincelejo, well hardly a station, rather a sort of shelter over a few ticketing offices with lots of dodgy touts and sellers around and what seemed like a million taxis and collectivos, offered no hope of a solution. Nor could we see anything remotely like an OK hotel in our 360 degree vision. We went to the nicest looking bus ticketing office and tried to communicate our desire to find accommodation. Our luck was in. A lovely girl with just a smidgen of English was stunned we were in a place like Sincelejo and with NO SPANISH. "You cannot speak at all?" she said in English with a shocked look on her face. “It is not safe for you!” She immediately set about calling up hotels to find us one and once achieved, she wrote down the name and price. Then she wrote down a message for a taxi driver to take us there for the right price and a message for the hotel. All the while as she worked to help us she had this amazed expression on her face that said “We don't get people like you here! Especially with no Spanish!” She also wrote down that we should come back at 8.00am to get a shared taxi to take us to Magangue, our next place in our convoluted journey to Mompos. We tried to offer her a tip for going so far our of her way to help us but she laughingly refused.

The hotel was perfect, except no hot water which is quite normal for the more northern parts of Colombia. After settling in we went for a short walk up the street to find ourselves some takeaway chicken for tea then settled in with some English TV that had been subtitled into Spanish instead of dubbed – a rare treat!

Next morning the fun of our journey began in earnest. Despite our helpful girl from the previous night not being there, we managed to get across our desire for transport to Magangue, and found ourselves in a small car with two other passengers for the 90 minute journey along rough, muddy potholed roads. In Magangue we were taken to the river port where small boats called Chalupas ply the waters, taking passengers to destinations up and down the river. We climbed aboard and then had a lovely 20 minute journey, albeit squashed in like sardines, motoring up the fast flowing river, through massive lily patches to Bodega.  At Bodega, heaps of touts accosted us before we had even got off the boat. With the touts trying to help in retrieving our packs from the roof of the boat, we managed to settle on a driver (always hoping, as you do in “Kidnapping Central” that we haven’t chosen badly!).   

The last stretch to Mompos was again on seriously damaged muddy roads. At one place where a bridge was under construction an earth moving backhoe had slipped into the water of the river, and workmen were feverishly bailing to try to dry the motor and recover the machine. Finally at around noon we were delivered to the door of our chosen hostel.

What a journey!

Our room was in one of the old Spanish colonial buildings, so common in Mompos, with big shuttered windows opening out onto a central courtyard and a ceiling fan to move the air.

A sticky somnolent air engulfed Mompos as we walked out to get some lunch and a feel for the place. Strolling along the fast flowing river bank, we were soaked in sweat within the first five minutes and it became obvious that most of the town was sensibly sequestered for siesta. We found a lunch place open however and enjoyed some locally caught river fish.

Mompos is a place to just wander, admiring the Spanish Colonial architecture of a bygone era. Horse and carts are still common transport. As the slightly cooler evening air comes in, people move outside again and are to be seen sitting out the front of their houses, rocking in beautiful old wooden rocking chairs. The lifestyle is unhurried and calm.

The lady running our hostel was able to communicate that there was a bus leaving the next day at 5.30 am for Cartagena, our next destination, so we decided 1 day in Mompos was enough. We had pretty much walked the town in its entirety, so headed in for an early night and set an early alarm.

It seemed an interesting concept that we could catch a bus out when we knew Mompos was on an island, but at 5.30am we bought our ticket and thought, let’s just see what happens here. We should have known better! Well it actually took way longer than if we had retraced our taxi, boat, taxi scenario. We travelled quite away, then, were loaded onto a small privately run ferry, which proceeded to travel down the river for a whole hour, but ended back at - Magangue!! So by bus and ferry we had taken 6 hours to get back to Magangue. Yesterday the Magangue to Mompos leg had taken us about 2 hours.

One of the reasons the time was blown out, was by the loading of the ferry which was a circus of immense proportions. Almost 2 hours were spent in shouting and maneuvering the various vehicles that wanted to travel downstream, until every square inch of the ferry was covered. Our bus had to go on and off quite a few times until finally reversing on at a strange angle that the ferry man was satisfied was in the best place that he could then squeeze one more vehicle on. As the ferry docked and the bus drove off, and we realized we had only got as far as Maganue after 6 hours we were flabbergasted. The redeeming feature was that it WAS much cheaper than the taxi, boat, taxi version! The rest of the trip was uneventful and we finally arrived in our last destination in Colombia, Cartagena.

Travel Note: In Medellin we stayed at Hostel Casa Blanca (The White House Hostel) and happy to recommend as being good value for money. Phone 011 574 586-5149 Email hostelcasablanca@gmail.com.

Footnote: Historic Centre of Santa Cruz de Mompox is UNESCO World Heritage listed.

My Review Of The Place I Stayed



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