Settling into the rhythm of Mompós is always easy, it requires a profound respect for frequent siestas and slow walks once the sun is not at her most savage, but this aside, it’s also about discovering the new and the unknown in such a carefully contained package that is this UNESCO World Heritage Town. Until this week, I had never visited the famous Isla Verde located at the far end of the Cienega de Pijino in Magdalena across the waters from Mompós.
Why is Isla Verde famous? To me it was just a faraway island in the wetlands with an unimaginative name. But, Isla Verde harbors secrets. Isla Verde belonged at one time to Henry Loaiza Ceballos. Who is Henry? None other but the infamous and terrifying narcotraficante often only referred to by his pseudonym El Alacrán or the Scorpion.
Found guilty of co-authoring or masterminding a massacre of 42 townspeople in Trujillo, Valle de Cauca in 1990, with known links to paramilitary groups and as boss of the Cali Cartel, meeting El Alacran is an unattractive proposition. He currently resides in a high security prison in Giron, Santander.
It will take decades for Colombia to overcome the Escobarian image that is presented of her in the media in this post cartel world. This will forever be a struggle. The narco architecture and access to easy money have left an indelible stain on the country’s economy making it almost impossible to run a business without someone suspecting you of laundering dollars or having some nefarious links to a criminal gang or another.
And here we are, 30 minutes outside of Mompós struggling to motor our boat through the tarulla floating plants to get through the pre-Columbian channels out into the lakes. El Alacran’s presence is soon felt. We motor round the western side of Isla Verde until we reach the long and raised cement dock. Nothing like this can be found anywhere else in this region. El Alacran built his island holiday home here.
There is decay of course and there has been looting but the authorities have been attempting to keep some order and now a family reside here as grounds men. The rooms and the buildings resemble a 1970s holiday retreat, their low ceilings offering a smothering respite from the relentless sun and the air conditioning units are the boxy and space usurping kind. If they work at all now, there will be sounds of spluttering and chugging all night long. Undulating roofs warped by the sun seem to be full of termites.
The fridge is a walk in closet. It has long passed its warranty. There are two bars, of course there are, narcos have to have bars stocked with the finest liquors don’t they? The Jacuzzi with unrivaled views of some of the most beautiful wetlands lies empty. A dry relic of more affluent times. Two tired looking pool tables are located beneath a woven palm canopy and Monty my dog jumps into the pool and does a couple of laps. He loves it here. I just feel morose.
A local lottery salesman named Jose Mejia hunts me down each Friday when I am Mompos to sell me a losing ticket. Mejia was one of El Alacran’s chaluperos or boat drivers. On occasion, when he takes a break from pounding the streets in an attempt to find buyers for this dream, and hoping for a generous tip should they win, he’ll settle back in a rocking chair in the Casa Amarilla and tell tall tales of parties on Isla Verde with all kinds of whiskies, women and dollars. Now, guests to Isla Verde can pay 7000 pesos (US$3.50) to use the pool out here on an island in the end of a lake.
We seem so far from the big cities and the scourge of the narcotraficantes, but, even out here there remnants are on display. The cienega also bares her scars.