I had planned to travel north from Bogotá by bus, stopping at a World Heritage Site called the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia on my way to Mompox and then Cartagena on the north coast. But I decided to give the coffee a miss; cultural landscapes are not very easy to visit by public transport and this one is rather spread out, making it hard to work out where I should go. This left a very long bus journey which I chickened out of and instead flew to Cartagena.
Mompox is on an island in the wide multi-branched River Magdalena. This is the principle river of Colombia and a major waterway into the centre of the country and at the moment is very high with low-lying surrounding land under water. I’d been sold a direct bus ticket there on a service which turned out not to be running, so having taken a bus to the town of Magangue 30km or so away, the last part of the journey was by boat on a small water bus. This was a lovely journey: exhilarating outboard powered speed on the wide open sections and bird-life viewing opportunities on the bits where we were picking our way carefully through the submerged trees and rafts of weed.
Mompox, founded in 1540, is now a quiet, somewhat rundown small colonial town but was once an important hub for communication and trade between the coast and the interior highlands. It was the base for a small number of affluence merchants but had no real source of wealth itself, the area not being particularly good for farming or ranching, so grew only slowly. Mompox’s fortunes declined in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as this branch of the river silted and its course shifted away from the town’s port.
Unlike other Spanish colonial towns, this one was not built around a central square but instead is spread out along the riverside, protected from the high water by a river wall. Many of the streets have areas of standing water which is hardly surprising when looking over the wall and seeing the river is at the same height as the road surface.
The large old houses were built in a single storey around central patios and I stayed in a hotel in one of them. Through breezed through unglazed windows and open canework furniture all help the inhabitants cope with the heat. I was also grateful for the much less traditional swimming pool and air conditioning.
I had been tempted to build my Lego model of the wonderful sixteenth century church of Santa Barbara:
but didn’t think I could render the tower balcony at all well. So I built a typical house:
You will notice the similarities to models I’ve previously built for sites in Cuba, Guatemala and elsewhere.