The incredible journey and Pablo Picasso

When I decided that Mompox was going to be my next destination, I expected it to be quite a journey to get there – and I was right. First, I spent almost an entire day purchasing bus tickets for this thirteen hour ride – cos, you know, everything is negociable. Helped by a local, I managed to find a night bus -for a discount price- that would leave at 8 pm and get me there the next morning around 9. Well, that was the official time at least. Also, this bus was one of the very few that would supposedly get me directly to Mompox – a sleepy colonial town along the Magdalena river in the Bolivar department, embraced by water and jungle.

Once on this bus, I found out that Colombians don´t have a blatter. Seriously – fifteen hours on the bus and I´m the only one who used the toilet. Three times. (One time every five hours – is that really so unreasonable?! One must keep oneself hydrated in that air con!) I felt bad waking up the lady next to me again and again, especially as she was holding a big box in her lap containing a… rabbit. A rabbit that was not so happy by being on the bus, I imagine.

In the darkest of night, I woke up from my sleep and felt something creeping up my right leg. Gruelling over this bizarre sentiment, I carefully leaned over to see what living creature was going to eat my leg, and found out that it was a big fat white rabbit. The lady had finally put the box down on the ground and her fluffy friend was already halfway on its way to freedom.

By the time the first rays of sunshine slowly woke up the passengers on the bus, I got wind up in a conversation with the Colombian guy sitting behind me, who turned out to be a PhD-student at Erasmus University in Rotterdam (more or less my hometown). He was on his way to visit his old mum and other relatives in his home town. His field of expertise? Water management (Dieter!!!). It´s a small world.

As perhaps was to be expected, the bus did not take me to Mompox. In the early hours of morning it spit me out in a village of which I still don´t know the name, its driver remaining rather unclear on what the **** I was supposed to do next. Still sleep drunk (I had just fallen asleep again) and overwhelmed by the excruciating heat, I stood by the side of the road in the sort of village (tropical! warm! colourful! dusty!) that was completely new to me, but that was everything that I envisioned when I was making plans to travel through Colombia. By the time I woke up from my drowsy slumber, I was already seated on the back of a motorbike (the most common way to get around these regions). It was when we were already driving that I realised this might not be the safest idea – I had no clue how remote my destination would actually be and who knows the guy on the front driving might be a complete lunatic! So when we pulled over for gas, I made sure to get my knife (sharpened by my lovely father in the garage in the mid of night before he drove me to the airport) out of my bag and into my pocket. Just in case. Comforted by the feeling of this emergency device in my right hand pocket, I surrendered into ridiculously enjoying this bumpy half an hour motor adventure. We drove over sandy roads, through miniature villages, passing by children playing by the side of the road and numerous other motorbikes, until I finally got dropped off on a square next to a beautiful colonial church… and under the merciless mid-day sun.

I soon learned that my arrival in Mompox coincided with a two-day festival, that made my quest for a hotel quite a pain. Close to desperation, after having walked around with my backpack for at least two hours and finding everything was full, I heard a magic voice whispering from the bushes. I was just ringing the bell of the last hostel I had set all my hope upon, when a guy on a bike tried to get my attention from the side of the road. In perfect English he said that he might know a good, cheap place with a room available. Half an hour later, I entered a clean, cool room in an old colonial house with wifi (the last one!). Angels do exist.

We met again later that afternoon, as Sam (the guy´s name, who btw turned out to be a New York artist) had found out I was carrying a big camera in my backpack, and he had asked me to take the portrait of a local who he had found looking like the twin-brother of Pablo Picasso. Happy that I could return the favor, I accompanied Sam a couple of hours later to the house of a brilliant man, a local doctor, named Marco Antonio (aka Pablo Picasso).

And I would not have wanted to miss getting acquainted to this wonderful man. Kind, intelligent, and extremely hospitable, the fella grew out to be a great friend over the next couple of days. Before I knew it, he had invited me to spend the Sunday with his family on the other side of the river.

And so I made my appearance at the doctor´s doorstep at 8 am, being welcomed by five gorgeous puppies who were trying to steal the fresh milk from the tank that Pablo had brought down from the farm that same morning. As soon as we had crossed the river and arrived at the finca, breakfast was served (yuca and fried fish, cheese, and café con leche). The rest of the day we pretty much also spent eating. And chilling out in the hammock, and listening to jazz and Colombian music, all in the company of my faithful lover turkey, who wouldn´t leave my side for only a minute, and numerous nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters that welcomed me as if I was one of them.

I´ve never in my life felt more white before than when we went for a swim that afternoon. The local kids were INTRIGUED and tried their hardest to communicate with me, despite my obviously muy gringo lingo.

During the five days that I stayed in Mompox, I found that the hospitality that I experienced that Sunday at the farm is typical for all of Mompox. Not only did I get invited into the houses of quite some Momposinos, EVERYBODY in the street was happy to make small talk or at least give you a friendly smile. By the time it was time to leave, I had gathered quite some people around the town to hug goodbye. Luckily, I´ll still have the photos.

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