Tag Archives: mompos

Hotel Complaints…people are strange!

It’s no secret to anyone who has followed this blog for a short while that we are the proprietors of the Casa Amarilla Hotel in Mompos and of course we are in it for the thick and thin of it, complaints, warts and all. So, when I was recently shown a list of the most irregular and unusual hotel complaints in Wanderlust Magazine, I thought I would skim through some of the most bizarre complaints which we have received in the past few months. Here they come in no particular order.

Fawlty

At times, I am sure I behave like Basil Fawlty

  • The heat in Mompox it is very, very hot and humid

Hint: it’s hot in Mompos, in fact, the whole region is hot. Cartagena is hot, Monteria is hot, Valledupar is hot, Santa Marta is hot…it’s the Caribbean. Every author of every guidebook to Colombia writes of Mompos’ soporific heat, how did this escape their notice?

  • Nosotros llegamos Un día antes de la fecha de la reserva y no hubo nada de interés para ayudarnos

“We arrived a day before our reservation and no one wanted to help us.” Actually, we called seven hotels, and bear in mind that this was during high season, and none had space. This makes me remember of one guest who arrived 10 days after his reservation and was angry with us.

  • Se fue la luz, entonces, nos quedamos sin aire acondicionado

“The electricity went out and so there was no air conditioning.” Yes, take it up with the crooks at Electracaribe please, we live and die by this company on a daily basis. We do our best with a generator, but, what can you do in the middle of nowhere?

  • Un poco alejado del centro pero en mompox todo está cerca

“The hotel is a little outside the centre of town but in Mompos everything is close.” Then pray tell, why the hell did you write this?

  • Al estar al lado del río, el calor es insoportable

“Being beside the river, the heat is insufferable.” Actually, most will agree that there’s a breeze by the river and it is in fact cooler. I thought this was common knowledge?

  • La mayoría de los libros disponibles en la pequeña biblioteca, están escritos en inglés

“The majority of the books available in the little library, they are in English.” This is due to more English-speaking readers prepared to exchange books. I suppose this is cultural, hardly something you can complain about.

  • The staff was friendly enough but it seemed as if they were only being friendly because it was a learned behavior, not because they genuinely were happy to help. 

…speechless.

 

I am glad though to have never received any of the complaints listed below. Although, we did receive hate mail from a person who was too fast to  reserve online on Booking.com and not actually read the large text about where we are located, we are in Mompos, not in the Dominican Republic? She accused us of trying to cheat her out of her money.

 

Basil doing what he does best

 

The sheets are too white
The sea was too blue
Ice cream too cold
Bath was too big
Girlfriend’s snoring kept guest awake
Guest’s dog didn’t enjoy his stay
Hotel had no ocean view (in Mayfair, London)
There was no steak on vegetarian menu
Waiter was too handsome
Mother of groom wasn’t given the honeymoon suite

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Morales, Bolivar, ground zero as to why Colombia is not at peace

A great deal has been written about regarding the Colombian Government’s peace dialogues with the FARC guerrillas. I have spoken at length about this moment and indeed written a good many news articles about the topic and while I wholeheartedly embrace these immense steps that Colombia is taking towards becoming a country without a conflict with the FARC, there are fully justified doubts and worries which continue to ripple across the nation. The town of Morales and its surrounding regions are central to my concerns about the present and future problems and challenges facing Colombia. Perhaps more so, having now seen it all up close.

Travelling with a child to Morales, Bolivar

Travelling with a child to Morales, Bolivar

So, this last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the town of Gamarra, Cesar for the second or third occasion (I wrote about watching the Colombian military press-ganging local adolescents) and from here, cross the river to the Sur de Bolivar and the head to the town of Morales. It is here in places such as this, that the peace dialogues and their outcomes will continue to remain a mystery and distant to the local population.

Why did we visit Morales?

Not only is the area of interest to me both academically and professionally, it happens to be where my wife Alba has family. She had not visited in close to 15 years and it was an opportunity to show off our little son James to his great grandfather. There are numerous uncles, aunts, cousins and more and since our Casa Amarilla hotel in Mompos was completely full over the long-weekend it made for the perfect excuse to skip town for a couple of nights.

James with his 97 year old great grandfather Hippolito in Morales

James with his 97 year old great grandfather Hippolito in Morales

Where is Morales?

Morales, arguably has more in common with the neighbouring department of Cesar to the East just across the Magdalena River, Santander to the South and Antioquia to the West over the Serrania de San Lucas than with Bolivar’s capital of Cartagena 464km to the North and inaccessible directly from here. This is hardly unique in Colombia and one wonders what it would take to connect this town and the area within its Department, or cede it to another. Political minds in Cartagena probably are only marginally aware that Morales exists and is under their jurisdiction. Morales was actually under the political auspices of Mompos until 1845. How times have changed, but the river remains just as important to these communities.

Crossing the Magdalena River from Gamarra to Morales

Crossing the Magdalena River from Gamarra to Morales

The town of Morales

After a 10-minute boat crossing from Gamarra, we hopped on the back of motorbikes to head to the family finca some 15 minutes from the river. Here, we enjoyed a swiftly made sancocho and then later took further motos another 20-25 minutes to Morales. The roads were mainly dirt until we reached the entry to the town where it was then paved. Many parts of the road had been destroyed by floods from previous years and had it rained recently, the passage would have been a different prospect altogether. Right now it was dusty, but manageable. As always the Plaza de Bolivar of any town is the centerpiece and here we alighted to take a short stroll. On the river side of the plaza, and you cannot miss it, is a brutal example of what the long-running conflict will do to a town. The central police station is a hulking low-centered building covered completely in a metal grill providing much needed protection from ELN guerrilla attacks. As my father in law – who grew up in the area said: “The guerrilla would fire cylinder bombs at the police station from the other side of the river. Aqui fue cosa seria.”

the police station in Morales

the police station in Morales

Even today, the town is far from free of these issues affecting contemporary Colombia. Only in March the military had to securely detonate some explosives left close to the town center by the ELN (National Liberation Army). And just 30km away in the town of Micoahumado (literally: smoked monkey) a leader of the ELN was captured in June. In January, 17 fishermen were kidnapped briefly by the ELN’s ‘José Solano Sepúlveda‘ front. The list goes on the further you investigate.

There hasn’t been a FARC rebel influence in this area for a number of years but now, according to my moto driver, what is generating more fear is the presence of the criminal gangs or armed organized groups. Previously, these were known as paramilitary groups and they found their origins as self-defense units protecting their lands from the guerrillas but now are deadly criminal outfits with their hand in anything profitable.

The Brazo de Morales section of the Magdalena River

The Brazo de Morales section of the Magdalena River

Last week a young man accused of being a drug addict and cattle thief was summarily executed along an empty stretch of dirt road near to Morales. There is a “limpieza social” currently taking place in Morales at the hands of the criminal gangs. This horrific act referred to as a “social cleansing” is designed to instill fear in the local population and show people who exercises the real authority here.

So, in the region of Morales, it is clear that the criminal groups are involved in extortion – as it’s a profitable area for cattle farming – and taking cuts from both legal and illegal mining in the Serrania de San Lucas where there is gold, amongst other precious substances.

The problem as I see it

What we have in Morales and around is not only an issue regarding the legal or illegal extraction of gold, nor merely an exploitation of the land and wealth in terms of cattle farming but also as it’s region so disconnected from its political center at Cartagena and with little or no land communication possibilities. That one realistically can only get here by crossing the river at Gamarra between 6am and 6pm severely limits the State’s ability to reach Morales in a hurry – should they wish to. Outside of these hours, it’s anyone’s for the taking making it a wild west scenario. This was all too evident in Morales, as it was clear that there was money being spent. Just about every second establishment was a Billar or Pool Hall or drinking establishment and they were all well-equipped.

well-stocked and attended pool halls in Morales

well-stocked and attended pool halls in Morales

Money skimmed from the mines towards the town of Norosi (1,5 hours away up into the Serrania de San Lucas) was being spent and probably laundered here. Take a flight over the Serrania and you can see the scars from mining visible with just the naked eye. This is an area of untold natural and mineral wealth but has had so little interference from the Colombian State that there is a completely separate rule of law. No doubt there are decision-makers and influencers high up in the Government and in the Colombian elite who do not wish this area to open up to democratic processes, but, if Colombia is to move forward then it must do so.

the ferry back from Morales to Gamarra

the ferry back from Morales to Gamarra

Further Reading

In fact, my most recent Colombia Calling Episode (146) is a conversation with one of the Lonely Planet Colombia’s authors Alex Egerton discussing what a peace agreement means for tourism in Colombia.

Do you want to read proper in-depth reporting from Colombia? Then back my campaign on Indiegogo to produce an annual Colombia Calling Magazine.

PS: remember, this is all or nothing. If we don’t receive the minimum $15,000 by the end of the 60 day campaign, the project doesn’t happen and you aren’t charged.

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The Guaqueros of Mompos

Guaquero – person who plunders graves or other archaeological sites

As the waters of the Magdalena River continue to drop due to an alarming water shortage brought about by the ongoing effects of the climatic phenomenon known as El Niño, the widening banks around Mompos’s ports have provided an unexpected source of work for some of the more enterprising locals.

Guaquero

The Guaqueros of Mompos

The Guaqueros of Mompos are hard at work and are reaping the rewards of toiling in the blazing sun.

Digging into the dark alluvial deposits as the river recedes, these Guaqueros make their money finding trinkets dating back to Republican, Colonial and even from the pre-Columbian eras.

Guaquero

Guaqueros washing through the grit

Guaquero

The tools of the Guaquero trade

Using implements which are not dissimilar to those used in gold-panning, one member of the team will be involved in digging down through the dark mud to a level expected to represent the actual water-level dating back hundreds of years and here, just perhaps, they’ll find something of value.

Gauquero

The Guaquero digging into the past

Of course, since temperatures have been soaring and routinely ensure that the mercury is close to the 40 degree mark, the first few feet of excavations require a certain degree of fitness and athleticism. Then, once this hard crust is broken down and bested, the moist dirt gives away more easily.

Guaquero

Some “treasures” found by the Guaqueros

In the above image you may be able to make out some of the that day’s finds. In the saucepan on the left amidst the fine sand and mud there are tiny slivers of gold. And on the right, you can see some of the more routine discoveries such as colonial era nails and fragments of colonial or pre-Columbian pottery.

More discoveries

More discoveries

Given the history of Mompos and the surrounding area and it’s importance not only to the pre-Columbian people that inhabited here and then it’s importance as a major port along the Magdalena River (the other ports being Cartagena and Honda), it’s no surprise that the dense soil around the river banks provides some insights into the life and times of the various communities here and the evolution of the town.

On this day the Guaqueros were not so successful, but their haul was of interest to me. They gladly showed me the snarled colonial nails, the broken pottery and other trinkets including a French era brooch and a small cannon ball. This wasn’t going to be a red-letter day in terms of earnings for them, but, when I return to Mompos I am invited to the family home to see their other discoveries and will potentially buy some antiquities from them.

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Rain Alone Cannot Solve our Water Crisis

We need rain say the people in Bogotá.

We need rain say the people in Santander.

We need rain say the people in Bolivar.

We need water say the people in Mompos.

Filling up plastic tanks to transport water to homes in Mompos

Filling up plastic tanks to transport water to homes in Mompos

El Nino is to blame. The outgoing Mayor is to blame. Everyone is responsible. But Mompos has no water save for the few with their own wells tapping into the groundwater.

The Brazo de Mompos River, ordinarily a fast flowing tributary to the Magdalena River is running dry. Playones or mud banks are fast appearing in the centre of the river and travel by any means now seems precarious.

The water situation in Mompos has been delicate for months. Rationing has not been put in place but is now a naturally established phenomenon. Those of us with wells have been pumping up water to gift to other families and homes not as fortunate. My Casa Amarilla runs a hose out into the street to fill up tanks from our well for others.

Filling up a tank of water for families in Mompos from the well at the Casa Amarilla

Filling up a tank of water for families in Mompos from the well at the Casa Amarilla

Motorbikes, the ubiquitous form of transport in town, can now be seen free of passengers, instead now balancing plastic containers and buckets as the drivers today make their living taking water to outlying and dry barrios.

Each container filled with untreated river water costs 5000 pesos. And the cost of the transport is another 1000 pesos.

How and why did this happen?

motorcycles are now transporting water tanks more frequently than passengers

motorcycles are now transporting water tanks more frequently than passengers

Mompos was born of the river and as the river gave so shall she take away. Mompos’ decline was brought about by the change in direction of the Magdalena River and indeed by exhaustive cattle farming further to the north. Now, we are asking the same questions.

How could this have been avoided?

Five years ago the banks of the Brazo de Mompos burst, causing more widespread damage (although not as economically disastrous for obvious reasons) than the disaster in New Orleans. Today, we can walk across the river with the muddy swell only reaching as high as your waistline at the deepest parts.

El Nino was always going to affect us. But, there could still be water in our treatment plant and flowing from our taps if we had prepared in time. There are countless engineers, labourers and landowners in Mompos who could have all risen above the politics of this environmental and natural disaster to come to the aid of the people.

One family uses the tricycle transport to ship water to their neighborhood in Mompos

One family uses the tricycle transport to ship water to their neighborhood in Mompos

But, politics won out.

And the people suffer.

It’s thanks to a chain of events that we find ourselves here.

Administration after administration has done nothing to improve the situation. It’s far too easy to blame the most recent and inept mayor but this dates back to when mayors were unelected officials in Mompos.

You are all to blame.

So, in a combination of events stemming from over farming, over grazing, El Nino, exaggerated increases in the cost of electricity (you are thieves Electrocaribe), the failure of the town’s water company to pay their electricity bills resulting in them having the power shut off at the treatment plant in mid-December, and a lack of political will to plan in advance, Mompos has run dry.

Rain alone in the interior of Colombia cannot solve the water problems.

What will we do when the wells run dry? Who then will be to blame?

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