Mission to Mompox
North of Bogota are beautiful colonial villages by the district-load. White-washed walls and red tiled roofs, cobblestone streets and more character than you can possibly stomach. Go on and take another photo of something gorgeous. I visit the famous Salt Cathedral in an underground-mine converted into a stirringly lit church quite remarkable in its grandeur. No ornate frescos or gilded altars here just tombs and chambers grafted into the Earth. Incredible.
On some hefty recommendation from another traveller I pull into San Gill and am instantly disgusted by the place; traffic, no colonial charm, nada. WTF are people recommending this place to me for? Ohh I see it’s a gringo hangout for all those wanting to white water raft and hang-glide and tick-boxes on all those adventure type sports you can do anywhere. I heave and leave early the next day for who knows where but not there.
The Mission to Mompox.
It turns out that not really having a destination can be a bit troublesome I discover when touring round and round the suburbs of huge city Bucaramanga not really wanting to venture into the city but not really finding anything on the outskirts. So eventually I have to concede to the traffic and slog it out for a hostel bed in a not-unpleasant city after all. Which sets me up nicely for an early morning city-departure for what promises to be a rather long and interesting day. Haha, little did I know.
It was all going fine until the road had a river in it. Any cavalier thoughts about fording were washed-out in what was clearly seasonal flood water rushing by at over 1 meter deep and it kinda seemed like that was going to be the conclusion of a rather short day’s mission. Backtracking down the road I realise I’d ridden past a bunch of locals all hanging out and waiting for small boats to come and go with passengers and goods, obviously a pretty normal kinda thing in these parts. I make some new friends and debate how much I really want to get to Mompox after I see a few tiny motorbikes man-handed out of canoes wondering how on earth I’m gonna get my bike onto anything other than a vehicle ferry.
And then the fun starts.
6 dudes and one steep riverbank and a 200kg motorcycle all coalesce into what’s known in the industry as a clusterfuck while I stand-by hopelessly waiting for Aroha to tip into the river, oops there she goes, no wait, close save.
And remarkably the next thing you know we’re riding high though the bayou, insanely unstable with a nose-full of motorcycle ballast tied to the deck up-front, but hey all good right. At the destination township it’s all in reverse, but now it’s like, 8 dudes hauling the bike out of the boat, and a dock unload which actually goes fine, and while I piece all the panniers and luggage back onto Aroha I have a supportive audience of at least 40 men all crowding around me, laughing, or jeering, while I try to act cool and like someone who you don’t mug.
So the river-dingy captain and I just need to swing by an ATM to close-out our transport transaction and I can be on my merry way. That is, right until I get collared by the local constabulary and walk-escorted round the corner to the Police station for a thorough searching. Thorough. As in they make me strip everything off the bike and go through ALL of my gear. All of it. I’m in for a hefty bride here I’m thinking as I sweat through my shirt and make a good attempt at sweating through my motorcycle jacket as I try to keep everything in sight and within arms reach as about ten cops stand around scrutinising me and my gear as it's spread all over the floor of the station. Eventually, miraculously, or maybe because I played just the right balance of friendly-cooperative-gringo and bitter-hard-unbribeable-gringo I am let away and boy do I spin the tires and get out of town. Thinking and laughing to myself it’s been quite a day already….
….up until I get about 5km down the road to another washed-out road. This one has a 'footbridge' over it precisely 2 side-by-side planks-of-timber-wide and 40-feet long and one-foot above 1.5 meters of swift gushing current. So how do I feel about this? I am absolutely shitting. Because there is simply no way in hell I can ride that.
And it turns out I don’t have to, luckily, as the locals are doing a roaring trade pushing motorbikes over the bridge, some of them walking in the water alongside holding the bike upright while others push across the narrow planks. So we cross and I gladly pay the men and ride off. 200 meters. And repeat. And ride off. 300 meters. And repeat...
And ride off. Until I get to another washed out road. Which a local guy in a passing truck tells me isn’t that deep and just follow his tracks through it which I do and it only just comes up over my boots even though it’s a freaky 50 meters of muddy unknown surface condition. And I ride off until the other river-ford which again is sweet I’m told just follow my tracks and this one comes up about mid-calf. And the inevitable third ford is suspiciously deep, like, are-you-fucking-serious deep. But after I watch two fellas on 125’s cross it successfully without requiring down-stream-river-rescue I concede I will just have to suck this one up and look straight ahead and just plow through …with water up over my knees and my heart in my mouth and Aroha wondering if I have rocks in my head.
The friendly truck driver who’s been pseudo-guiding-me-along tells me the next one is actually impassable and to go round the back of the village where I find, incredibly, two guys and a dugout canoe. Ready and waiting to cross the river I’m told, for the final time. A dugout canoe.
Yeah and the two guys artfully manage to wheel Aroha aboard and I’m pushing us away from the bank with a stick and we’re sailing through the glades in the beer-golden afternoon sunlight with a head-full of how-did-all-this-actually-happen-in-one-day and I’m stoked.
Mompox rewards. This old-time forgotten-about savannah-town where kids jump out of trees into the muddy waters and I join them for afternoon swims and walk stunning colonial streets while drinking fruit-vendor milkshakes and to top it all there’s a delight of a hostel and new friends.
The mission to Mompox. Worth every single zig and zag.
The river swamping the pathway right next to town in Mompox. Who knew it was flooding season round these parts? Sep 2010 - cjG.