The Journey to Mompox

Trip Start May 2006
Trip End Aug 17, 2006

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Friday, August 11, 2006

This morning I had planned on either going to a waterfall or gold mines, that supposedly werenīt too far. The catch was that we had to take a boat that only left at noon. I woke up at 7 and rousing Fernando proved impossible, so I walked around and discovered that both interests would take several hours to and from. I contemplated staying the extra day in Santa Rosa. However, I had to renew my passport in a few days and this could only be done in a Departamental capital. Right now, were were about as far as you could be from one.

We had some time, so we went down the mountains to Simiti, another storied village. When we got there it was brutually hot, silent, and full of concrete. Luckily it bordered a large swamp/lake. Dozen of fisherman were gliding along in small canoes. Some rowed, others prepared fish, using the paddle as cutting board, while others cast fishing nets. Each canoe has two men, and is about 20 feet long, and barely displaces water, making it easier to move. Most of them are carved straight out of tree trunks, so some leaking is inevitable and water has to be removed every so often. All of the fishermen wore hats with at least a front brim and they seemed to bunch in groups, though they rarely remained still. I wondered how the pairs for the canoes are chosen, family, random, do you always fish with the same person?

The boat trip today was the longest by far, over three hours, and the river had split into two arms, and the one that we travelled was still larger than the entire river when we first saw it in Honda. We stopped in the occaisonal hamlet, and among the things that entered the boat was a live chicken. Itīs owner kept it by her feet, where it only occaissonaly squawked. The main thing I noticed was abundant waterfowl. Some of them would race the boat, often beat us, and then fly away.

In El Banco, even before we docked, men were shouting at us, offering us motorcycle rides to Mompox. I guess they could spot tourists from far away, and it meant that it was somewhat common for them to come here, though still, I had not seen another foreigner, let a long another traveler since we began. We ignored the mototaxistas though, as their prices were very high, and we figured there had to be bus. At lunch, two od the men remained on our tails and tried to persuade us while we were eating. We asked them to leave and so they stood outside the restaurant, waiting, and staring at us. The waiter told us there was a bus, and I was a little worried they would be angry when we still didnīt take there offer and chose the bus instead. Evidently they had nothing better to do. Yet, when we left the restaurant, we said no thanks again, and they left without protest. We went to where buses were supposed to be, but alas, there were none. The only way of getting to Mompox from here was by moto. We started asking around, and of course, within a minute we were swarmed by offers.

We figured we should reward those two persistent men, and luckily they were right in the mix, so with no questions they brought their bikes, I strapped on by backpack, and sat on the back. I was glad to be getting out of this noisy dirty town, yet I knew it was pretty risky to ride with two random dudes, who could if they wanted to, do anything they wished with us. They put gas in their tanks, and we were off, the road lost its pavement almost immediately. I did my best to snap photos, though I held on either to a metal bar in back of me, or gently to the waist of the guy in front me. He was the only one of 4 of us to have a helmet. I figured this was a good sign, not because it would protect me, but it meant he had some sense of safety, though it also probably gave him a false sense of security. They wore long pants and boots, we had shorts and sandals.

Initially, road had plenty of construction, which meant ruts, mounds of dirt, and puddles where the ruts were biggest. We passed by trucks, swamps, pig families, and cows that felt entitled to use the road at least as much as humans. There were also campesino huts and at one point begging children held up a christmas light wire in order to make us stop, but a mere glance from our moto-chaffeurs was enough to scare them away. After about 45 minutes, we suddenly turned around and caught up with another cyclist. Fernando switched drivers, as his lived in El Banco, while the other guy in Mompox. The new driverīs bike looked better, and I thought he would drive faster, and my guy with his shittier bike would try to keep up. Truth is though, my driver either kept up and sped ahead. The condition of the roads didnīt allow him to go more than about 50 miles per hour, and often we would have to break to a near stop to avoid or lessen obstacles.

I saw a sign for a Mompox ferry, and we turned toward that way. In a minute, we were by the river again. I had forgotten that Mompox is on a large island inbetween two arms of the river. The motos and the four of us were loaded onto a large canoe along with two paddlers. Our noisy, dirty, fast motorcycle experience had hit the eye of the storm. All we heard was the river, and I dipped my hands into the cool water and washed the dust off my face. As quickly as things had become tranquil, they returned to a greater furor, as the road now was flatter and straigher, yet swampier and dustier. We now cruised well past 60 miles an hour, hitting bumps that made my rear end, weighted by the backpack fly up into the air. On several occaisons, we went so far ahead of Fernandoīs motorcycle that we couldnīt see them, so we slowed down, let them catch up and then sped ahead again. I had to wipe off the dust from my 1 dollar sunglasses, because I couldnīt see. They were my only form of protection. Truth is though, the sun was settting directly in front of us so I couldnīt see much anyway. The visibilty was further reduced by the dust storm that allowed the horizontal light to penetrate in fractured forms. I was surprised I wasnĻt choking and I was simultaneously thrilled and scared, trying to keep my mind from thinking about all the things that could go wrong. I figured at the very least, given our speed and my lack of protection, death would come instantly, though the dirt road was certainly more forgiving than a paved one, and more likely death would be tortously slow, or even worse, an agonizing survival.

We finally did arrive at pavement, which I was thankful for, yet now I figured this meant we would go 120. Actually, it meant we were in Mompox, and after a few moments we were dropped off at a hotel. We paid them at total of 18 dollars for lift and the 2 1/2 hour experience and of course took a photo. Our skin was caked in dust, our hair and our beards had lightend considerably. It was though we had been bured alive and then resurrected. My legs ached as though I had been riding a horse. But we were in Mompox, a colonial city, that Bolívar loved more than almost all others. Little did I realize, that since Bolívar, the town had changed little.
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