Colombia travel blog by Mark Berman -
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In the latest edition of Lonely Planet a new destination in Colombia has been added, a place called Mompos. It sounded mysterious
and was off the beaten track - I was definitely interested. Someone in my hostel in Cartagena had just been and described the
journey to get there as horrendous and the blogs I read on the internet about this journey said the same thing but as I was to find
out for myself this was not the case at all, getting to Mompos was actually half the fun!
Cartagena Bus Terminal
I left Cartagena by taxi to the bus terminal
while the soccer world cup final was on - I figured there would be less traffic during this day. As it turned out I saw the game on a
tv while sitting at a restaurant at the terminal waiting for my bus to Magangue.
Split the Journey
I had decided I would split the journey to Mompos over
2 days. I would spend a night in Magangue then continue to Mompos the next day. The bus from Cartagena to Magangue took about 4 hours
but this included stopping a couple of times due to problems with one of the wheels, so it probably takes less normally.
Bus to Magangue
After leaving Cartagena and the ramshackle of the area near the bus terminal, we rolled down a rough dirt road for 10 minutes to get
to the main road out of town southward. The journey passed through the green countryside where animals graze in the fields and
farm houses are set amongst the shade of trees. We passed through various small villages including San Cavetano and San Juan.
I saw many donkeys and fruit stalls on the sides of the roads where people live in simple housing and make a living from the land.
We travelled through the village of San Jacinto where there are shops next to the road selling things like hammocks, colorful shoulder
bags, bongo drums, very colorful wooden parrots, butterflies and children's rocking horses and the black and white cowboy hats you see
a lot of in this area of Colombia - cowboy country. Just before passing through the village of Carmen De Bolivar I saw a road sign
that said La Ye 130km, Cerete 164kms and Monteria 178kms - for reference. The houses around Carmen are set on roads going off the main
road half washed away by rain. After passing through Carmen I saw a road sign saying Ovejas 23kms, Sincelejo 64kms and Medellin 528kms.
We passed through Ovejas where I saw a little plaza area which has a white church at one end. After passing through a police
checkpoint we came to the fork in the road where we turned left towards Magangue, in the other direction is Corozal 15kms and Sincelejo
25kms away. The bus was only about 40kms from Magangue now, we passed a vineyard called Palma de Vino before coming into the village of
Hatillo and continuing the journey through the vast countryside through Paloquemao and other villages as well as the odd checkpoint.
It was about this time the light began to fade and we started to have problems with one of the wheels on the bus and had to stop 2 or
3 times to fix it. A while later we arrived in Magangue where I was dropped off in the center of town.
Helpful People in Magangue
As soon as I got out of the bus a
strange man said he would show me to a hotel and picked up my backpack without asking me and carried it to a hotel that was twice as
much as I wanted to spend on accommodation that night. I said no thanks I would find my own place and left without giving him the tip
he thought he deserved. I walked across the road and found a room for $15,000 pesos ($8USD). I had a great feed nearby that night at a Chinese restaurant for less than $4USD.
In the morning I woke early, took some photos out of my 3rd storey room of the nearby streets and area and headed out to have a cheap
breakfast at one of the several street cookups. It consisted of soup, a rice, meat, beans and salad meal with drink for about $2USD.
I then wandered around Magangue for an hour or so taking photos and to find out about a boat towards Mompos. Magangue is a town full of
horses and carts, juice stands, people on motorbikes and of course smelly fish markets because it is located on the Rio Magdalena.
There is a nice church and plaza near to the river where I sat down under an umbrella for an ice cold fruit juice freshly made.
Boat Ticket to Bodega
I collected my backpack and guitar from the hotel and walked for 3 minutes down to the river area which was very busy. I found the little
blue shed where I bought a ticket for $6,000 pesos ($3USD) on a small boat to Bodega. They leave regularly when each boat is full with
passengers, all the luggage is tied onto the roof. It is not a long ride along the river to Bodega, it takes about 17 minutes and is very
pleasant indeed. The land along the banks of the river is flat and has cattle grazing and sheltering from the sun underneath trees. You
could very well also see cattle boats - boats with fences transporting cattle from one part of the river to another. I hadn't seen one
of those before.
Docking at Bodega
It was not long before we docked at Bodega where the last part of my journey to Mompos would begin, this would be
a 40 minute ride in a co-op taxi along a very rough (in parts) road. Luckily I got the front seat while 3 locals sat in the back, it cost around $8,000 pesos ($4.50USD).
Taxi to Mompos
The sign said 38kms to Mompos and off we went, the trunk of the taxi didn't close and was wide open. We passed swampy areas towards
the right and there were white cows on the side of the road eating grass. We passed through a community called Cicuco where many school
children dressed in uniform were walking home on the side of the road for their mid-day break. We passed a church called
Iglesia Cristiana Atrios de Dios. There were locals riding bicycles, motorbikes, pushing carts and selling things in roadside stalls.
Continuing on over a bridge across the river, past livestock on the side of the road and on the road (pigs, goats), houses and shrines.
The sign said we were aproaching Talaigua Nuevo 8kms with Mompos now 32kms away. The road was actually in very good condition in this
area with beautiful green trees overhanging the road with swamps and palm trees to the side. We passed many locals riding bicycles busy
doing their day to day business. As we came into Talaigua we passed by Hotel el Carmen before we hit the main street where the locals
were eating and selling goods at stalls. A pleasant little place where pigs and cows wander all over the road.
Road Gets Rough
The sign now said 4kms
to El Vesubio and 23kms to Mompos, this was about the time that the road started to get a little rough. It wasn't sealed and the rain
had damaged it. It now became important to drive around the water filled pot-holes in the road more slowly while also watching out
for animals standing in the middle of the road. I started to see more horses and cattle ranches around here with huge palm trees around.
The road continued to be gravely, unsealed and rough but it looked like bulldozers and steamrollers were working on various sections to
fix it up. We passed through Tierrafirme just before arriving in Mompos on the last part of the journey.
Mompos is hard to describe
but the first things I noticed were the deep roads and high footpaths with the houses perched high off the roads and painted in light
pastel colors and everything is a very square shape. There are many motorbikes being ridin around as well as bicycles. People sit on the
sidewalks outside their houses watching it all go by. After finding a bed for the night I went out to have a look around Mompos and take
Sights in Mompos
There are about 6 churches in Mompos, the first that I found was right across the road from where I was staying called Iglesia
de Santo Domingo, it is white and yellow. The plaza beside it is also very nice, people sit and kids play and in the evening a lot of food
is available. There is a cannon emplacement and a statue of Juan B Del Corral - Dictador de Antioquia y Liberador de los Esclavos in this
plaza also. Nearby is the cemetry which has many statues inside. I was enjoying walking around Mompos, the streets had a strange feel
to them, some kind of timewarp. I came to Plaza Bolivar where trees hang over seats where locals shelter from the hot hot sun, there is
also a statue. I walked to beside the river to Plaza Real de la Concepcion which was very empty, the building beside the river had taxis
sitting under it and was in bad shape. On the other side of the plaza is Iglesia de la Concepcion, white and pink in color. I walked up
the stairs of the building beside the river to take photos of the river and across to the church. Walking around in Mompos at times was
like walking in a ghost town with its big long empty streets, especially in the heat of the day. I found Parque de la Libertad which has
a monument in the center for the independence of Mompos from Spain on the 6th August 1810. I found Iglesia de San Fransisco and the nice
plaza beside it, all a red-brown color. There are many seats and it's a nice open area, the church has a clock and bell tower. Now as
I continued walking around Mompos I found my fourth church - Iglesia de San Juan de Dios, an orange and white color. Across the road
nearby on the footpath under a tree was a Zapateria - a man who fixes shoes. Mompos is well signposted in regard to where the parks
and plazas are.
The Main Event
As the light began to fade at the end of the day I was getting excited about
the main event for the evening which was to see the people of Mompos sitting on the pavements in their rocking chairs, which I did see a lot of. I was wishing I had one also at the
time. As night fell the streets and plaza turned into open restaurants where people gathered including myself to eat hot food. I sat down
at a table at the side of the street and ate meat, potato and salad
off a wooden board.
The Road From Mompos
The next morning I left Mompos the same way that I had got there - back along the rough road to Bodega and along the river by boat to Magangue.
From Mangangue the only way to Sincelejo was by co-op taxi. So after having something to eat I waited an hour for enough people to fill a
taxi to Sincelejo. Once at the bus terminal in Sincelejo I decided to get straight on another bus to Monteria and stay the night there.
After a brief 1 night stay in Monteria I travelled south to Medellin
where I ended up living for 5 months.