Mompós: Week 254

Weathered Colonial architecture and motorcyclist in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

The first thing people tell you about Mompós (or Mompox), is that it’s beautiful. The second thing they tell you is that it is difficult to reach. Difficult is even the name of a little vereda you pass through on the way to Mompós.

The Magdalena River that created Mompós in the mid-1500s was also the cause of the wealthy town’s downfall. The river that once brought economy to the inland island began silting up in the 1800s and forced large boats to divert their routes. The town was forgotten and later off-limits to tourists because of narco-terrorism.

Weathered Colonial architecture and paint detail in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

At a Brasilia bus station in Ciénaga, a small town just outside Santa Marta, we talked to the ticket agent about the best way to get to Mompós. After a few phone calls (Oye – I’ve got some foreigners…), the ticket agent passed me a slip of paper with the name Fabien written across it. “Get off the bus at Bosconia and Fabien will drive you to Mompós.”

Good on his word, Fabien rushed us off the bus in Bosconia and began the long drive deep into the country. The dry fields were periodically striped with green grass. The communities were collections of dusty one-room houses with thatched roofs. Fabien took corners like he wasn’t anticipating any other traffic.

When we arrived at the Magdalena River, Fabien repeatedly honked his horn at the ferry. The ferry was large enough for only one normal-sized vehicle, and someone else had beat us to the punch. They slowly putted across the river on a platform made from welded metal plates and powered by a motorized canoe attached to the right.

Colonial architecture and main street in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

It took about 25 minutes, but we finally crossed the river alongside a motorcycle carrying a family of five.  It was only ten minutes more till we reached the center of town. Mompós only receives a handful of tourists, so it very much felt like a sleepy, parched, riverine outpost forgotten by time.

View of canoes on the Magdelena River in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

In the morning, we walked along the albarradas – the brick barricades that protect the city from flooding. Men in blue canoes were in the middle of the Magdalena River, singing, calling out to each other, and bobbing in and out of the water.

I asked an older women what they were doing, and she told me they were panning for gold. She pinched her fingers together to demonstrate the size of the tiny flakes. Then she shook my hand and wished me well.

The afternoon heat was intense and sent most people indoors. Barret and I continued on in search of the Museo Cultura de Arte Religioso. It was closed, so instead we headed to the cemetery. The heat radiated off the bright surfaces and we began to wilt in the sun. The languid chapel cats had the right idea; it was time to find somewhere shady.

Stray cats lounging the in cemetery chapel in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Detail of a memorial plaque in the town cemetery of Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Mompós is a UNESCO listed site because of the preservation of the buildings and that fact that most are still used for their original purpose.

Detail of Colonial architecture in Mompos. Entrance door: Mompox, Colombia

In the morning, if the shutters of the residential homes swung open, Barret and I peeked in. Through the decoratively barred windows and the cracked doors (and even the keyholes if one were so inclined) were glimpses of massive entrance rooms and sunny courtyards.

Weathered Colonial architecture in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

The furniture floated in the middle of the tiled room, like a dinghy lost at sea. Family portraits and religious paintings hung at eye-level and exaggerated the height of the ceiling even more.

Mustard yellow Colonial architecture in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Patio of Colonial houses in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Colonial architecture in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

In the evening, people moved their chairs out onto the brick sidewalks. There were lots of mosquitoes, but they seemed to only be bothering me. Bats swooped overhead and attended the evening service at Iglesia de Santa Bárbara.

Iglesia de Santa Barbara in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Eventually the time came to leave Mompós. True to its reputation, it was a bit of a challenge. After our taxi ride ended at an unexpected picket line, we gathered all our luggage and walked around the wood, used car tires, and picketers blocking the road. We weren’t the only ones doing this, but we definitely stood out the most.

On the other side we each jumped on the back of a motorcycle and flew the rest of the way to the docks at Bodega. With the two backpacks he was carrying, Barret looked like a turtle wearing safety pads.

Motorcyclist riding near Colonial architecture in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Of course no one had helmets, so the early morning breeze felt fantastic blowing through my hair. Even though I was wearing a dress, it never occurred to me to sit side saddle. In my attempt at modesty when getting off the bike, I burnt my calf on the exhaust.

At the dock we were handed life vests with the number 17 on the back before the little fiberglass boat jetted to Magangué. From there we boarded a collectivo door-to-door van service. These, of course, do not leave until they are full. So while we waited, I watched the busy intersection – the street touts and the horse driven carts carrying massive soda step pyramids.

Many hours later we made it to Cartagena. Our trip had been delayed by engine problems and Barret suffered the brunt of this because he was seated in the back without any AC. Along the way, the woman next to him grabbed his knee in a weird fit before passing out on her daughter’s shoulder.

I, on the other hand, sat in the passenger seat. The driver and I exchanged stories, shared snacks, and he reenacted a near collision he once had. I don’t think anyone in the van noticed the point in the story where we drove on the other side of the road.

It wasn’t the smoothest journey we’ve been on, but it was one of the most memorable and Mompós is definitely worth the trouble.

About: Mompós UNESCO inclusion

About: Mompós

Weathered Colonial architecture in Mompos: Mompox, Colombia

Salamina: Week 238

The busy main street of the colonial town of Salamina, Colombia

Salamina is a beautiful little colonial town in the coffee-growing region of Colombia. Unlike other colonial towns, such as Salento, Salamina hasn’t quite been discovered. This was apparent to my friends and I as soon as we got off the bus and started walking down the busy main street.

On a Saturday afternoon Salamina was filled with families pushing strollers and old men with white hats and traditional ponchos thrown over one shoulder. Instead of clusters of tourists, there were locals hanging outside their doors and chatting to their neighbors from their balconies.

There were no shops along the main street with personalized mugs or ironic beer bottle openers. Salamina was a slice of everyday life- from the guy with a microphone promoting an upcoming election, to the antique trucks still in rotation, to the vendors with metal display cases (of a color I’d affectionately named Soviet mint) who patiently waited by the curb with their carefully arranged lollipops, gum, and chocolate.

An antique truck driving down the colonial streets of Salamina, Colombia

Culturally, the food in Salamina and Manizales is similar, but I did try a regional specialty called masamora. It’s a corn-based drink that has the consistency of gravy and chunks of cooked corn at the bottom.

The masamora was also served with a cube of sugary cube of bocadillo which was meant to be mixed into the drink. I ate them separately though and maybe that’s why I found the flavor to be a bit bland. While the drink wasn’t terrible, it was a bit too wacky for me. I don’t think I would recommend it.

A street in Salamina that looks like it drops off into a valley: Colombia

After lunch we strolled through the town taking photos. Because the heart of the city rests on top of a mountain, there are streets that look like they just drop off into the blue sky and valley below.

Colonial buildings with ornate balconies in Salamina, Colombia

I also fell in love with the architecture. The large, sturdy structures were balanced by the delicate woodwork adorning the windows, doors, and balconies. Every now and then an open door offered a glimpse of a cool, dark hall and the promise of a bright courtyard at the end.

Red and yellow colonial buildings in Salamina, Colombia

A religious house number marker in the colonial town of Salamina, Colombia

A street view of the colonial town of Salamina, Colombia

A man walking home in the late afternoon in the colonial town of Salamina, Colombia

A horse loaded with goods in the quiet streets of Salamina, Colombia

It didn’t take long to notice that Salamina truly was a working coffee town. When we stopped for ice cream, I noticed a man on the other side of the road who was loading up his horses. His son played on the light post until the horses were ready and then they set off down the quiet street, the sound of clicking horseshoes trailing after them.

Coffee purchasing shop in the cafetera: Salaminas, Colombia

A few blocks further we passed the storefronts where growers sold their dried coffee beans. Large scales sat in the middle of a concrete floor and coarse brown sacks were neatly stacked to the side. There was a faint smell of hay in the air.

Grand entrance to the cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

The last bus back into Manizales left at 6pm, so we decided to visit the cemetery before we left. It was only a few blocks down from the main square and on the edge of the mountain. Across from the gates were massive trees laden with moss.

Clothes drying outside a colonial house in Salamina, Colombia

Trees filled with moss in Salamina, Colombia

Just outside the cemetery gates was an elderly woman resting in a white plastic lawn chair. The only thing she had in her hands was a piece of string that trailed along the sidewalk and eventually terminated around the neck of a sleeping grey cat.

Late afternoon at a cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

Plaque in Spanish at a cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

The cemetery was small and empty. While we were strolling through, I heard the sound of a metal gate closing and realized we were being locked in. Barret, Andrea, and I ran over to the gate and found the cemetery keeper and his little daughter on the other side. He unlocked the gate and apologized for not seeing us. Then he asked us if we were enjoying Salamina.

The sun was setting and unfortunately we had to get back to the bus station. While it is possible to make a day trip to Salamina from Manizales, I realized it is best to spend the night. Having the extra day would have also been a nice way to break up the six-hour roundtrip bus ride.

With a second day in town it is possible to tour a coffee finca or even the production of panela (a traditional non-alcoholic drink made from sugar cane). Since going to Salamina, I’ve also gotten a tip on a beautiful old B&B named Casa Carola that recently opened.

A woman cleaning her window in Salamina, Colombia

There is so much to see in Colombia that I don’t usually like to revisit places, but Salamina is charming and I don’t feel that my four-hour meander did the town justice. I will definitely be back and next time I am staying the night.

About: Salamina

How to get to Casa Carola: Carrera 7 No 5-42, Salamina

Bondi to Bowling: Week 187

Overlooking Bondi Beach: Sydney, Australia

The Bondi to Coogee walk is one of the most iconic routes in Sydney. At 6km in length it packs an impressive amount of scenery in such an easily accessible trail. When my mom’s friend came to Sydney for the first time, I immediately knew this was the best way to start the day.

The walk traditionally starts in Bondi and ends in Coogee, but it can be done either way or in sections. Before starting the trail we stopped for breakfast at an outdoor café in Bondi. After our meal we sipped tea and watched the sunblock and beach towel-toting crowds pour in. Over the weekend the trail is inundated with thousands of sunbathers, joggers, families and tourists. It’s a little bit quieter during the week, but in summer the crowds are ever-present.

The walk starts on the southern end of beach overlooking the Bondi Baths. This iconic saltwater pool first opened over a hundred years ago. Its dramatic location along the cliff is hard to beat and only costs $6 for entry into the pool.

Beach volleyball courts at Tamarama: Sydney, Australia

From Bondi the trail heads up and around the Hunter Park peninsula and mustard colored sandstone cliffs. Blue waves splash against the coast and the plants that cling to their precarious real estate are verdant and flowering.

The trail winds around the hot beach sand and volleyball courts of Tamarama Beach and continues on to Bronte Beach. Bronte is at the base of a grass-covered hill that families and picnickers flock to. In summer the southern side of the beach has a small kid’s train and Zorb ball rentals. The three of us stopped for a drink at the beachside café and take in the view from under the shade of the trees.

Overlooking the Waverly Cemetary on the Bondi to Coogee walk: Sydney, Australia

After our break we continue through the Waverly Cemetery, which must have one of the most stunning views in the world. The peaceful hillside is dotted with weather-worn marble and bright yellow flowers.

A tombstone at the Waverley Cemetary: Sydney. Australia

Around this point in the trail Barret spotted a splash and the tip of a whale’s tail dipping below the sapphire water. We scanned the ocean for a few more minutes but did not see the whale resurface.

Clovelly Beach: Sydney, Australia

Clovelly Bay, our next destination, is one of my favorites. The beach itself is very small, but the narrow bay has a concrete ledge built along both sides for sunbathing and easier access into the bay. We bought ice cream and watched people jumping in and out of the water. My favorite sunbather was there with his newspaper, tanning his skin into a tough leathery hide.

When the waves are more aggressive, the ocean water rocks above and below the concrete platforms and the whole thing reminds me of a kid sliding in a giant bathtub. Clovelly Bay is also a fun place to snorkel.

Gordons Bay- a quiet stop on the Bondi to Coogee Walk: Sydney, Australia

Of all the sights along the walk, Gordons Bay is one of the quietest destinations. It attracts snorkelers, divers, paddle boarders and fishers. Its tiny patch of beach is mostly covered with overturned fishing boats and out in the bay is a 600 meter underwater trail marked with concrete drums and steel plaques.

Coogee Beach on a summer day: Sydney, Australia

Coogee Beach is the last stop on the walk and is the second largest beach after Bondi. From here the three of us headed for the unconventional yet thoroughly Australian pastime of lawn bowling. Like all bowling clubs in Sydney, you have to be a member to use the facility if you live within a certain distance from the club. If you live further out you just have to sign the membership register.

Barret at the Marrickville Lawn Bowling Club: Sydney, Australia

There was a busy bar, pokies in the back, and a table covered in meat trays for the weekly meat raffle. From the small, dark ‘Bowls Secretary’ office we picked up a bag of lawn bowls and headed outside. The grass was warm from the sunny day and most of the lawn bowling groups were off the side of the field drinking.

The weighted balls flew down the lawn as the tired sun set and after the girls were declared the incomparable winners, we headed over to a local pub for dinner. I don’t think we could have gotten more Australian if we tried. The Bondi to Bowling walk is not exactly well known, but I think I’m on to something here.

Marrickville Lawn Bowling Club

About: The Bondi to Coogee Walk

About: Bondi Baths

About: Scuba diving in Gordans Bay

How to get to the Marrickville Bowling Club: 91 Sydenham Road, Marrickville NSW 2204

ANZAC Day in Canberra: Week 163

Veteran placing a poppy on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial on ANZAC Day: Canberra, Australia

At this hour, on this day, ninety-nine years ago, the Australian and the New Zealand Army Corps, at Gallipoli, made immortal the name of ANZAC.

By 5:30 in the morning the crowd for the 99th anniversary of the ANZAC landing had swelled to 37,000 pairs of quietly shuffling feet. Although one could sense the size of the gathering, it was eerily silent. The squawk of cockatoos filled the pauses between odes and reveilles, their white feathers faintly illuminated in the night sky. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were fuzzy shadows outlined by the light of the moon.

When Chaplain Peter Willis began the Lord’s Prayer, a baritone rumble filled the outdoor amphitheater. The solemn ceremony ended before sunrise and people poured out as quickly and as quietly as they had arrived. Those who remained waited in line to place a poppy on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or on a series of tablets with the names of fallen soldiers called the Roll of Honour.

By 8am the Olims Hotel was filled with military personnel and civilians with inherited war medallions on their jackets. Barret and I hadn’t slept well in the YHA dorm the night before, so we bypassed the free-flowing beer (some places started serving beer at 4am) in favor of coffee and a shotgun breakfast- eggs, toast, tomatoes and sausage.

I was about to fall asleep in the warmth of the room when I saw a veteran sitting alone with the morning light striking the side of his face. I went over to take his photo.

ANZAC Day gunfire breakfast at Olims: Canberra, Australia

Ken was from Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe) and had fought in the SAS for 12 years during the Rhodesian Bush War- a civil war which led to the Zimbabwean independence and the election of Mugabe in 1980.

Ken was part of the estimated 60% of the white population that emigrated after the close of the war. Because his bank account had been frozen, he only had $100 when he arrived in Australia. During his first four years he worked three jobs. His fortunes changed though and now he is building a new house in Kiama.

The only time Ken’s accent was noticeable was when he was in agreement. “A reindeer-pulled sled ride? Your vacation in Norway sounds amazing. ” “Oh jaaaa!”

A quiet suburb in Canberra, Australia

It was 11:30am when Barret and I walked away from the parade announcements echoing down the wide, sprawling streets. Despite being the seat of Australian politics, the city of Canberra is notorious for being quiet and sleepy. Its current location was chosen because it wasn’t Melbourne and it wasn’t Sydney and it was equally out-of-the-way for both cities.

View of Lake Burley Griffen from the National Gallery of Australia: Canberra

We walked along Lake Burley Griffin, named after the American architect who designed the city, and through the sculpture gardens of the National Gallery. Unlike the streets, the path along the lake was filled with activity: joggers, dog walkers, and bicyclists.

National Gallery of Australia: Dadang Christanto's  "Heads From The North"

By 2pm we were fishing in our pockets for the $5.50 fee to join the Canberra Returned Services League. It didn’t matter that we weren’t Australian and hadn’t served in the military, we had our membership for the year and could stroll inside the gates to play two-up.

Two-up was the gambling game of choice amongst the Australian diggers in WWI. Because of its connection with the troops, ANZAC Day is one of the few days in which it’s legally allowed to be played in pubs.

The rules are simple; two coins are arranged on a plank of wood (called the kip) and then tossed into the air. The ringkeeper is in charge of the coins and of announcing the results while the boxer paces about the ring to facilitate the betting. In order to participate, you have to find someone else in the audience who wants to bet the same amount as you.

If you bet heads, tap your money against your head until someone takes up your bet. If you want tails, then look for someone tapping their head or shout out your bet. Tails is always the person who holds both bets. This is a good system for people who are too drunk to remember what they chose.

Ringkeeper waiting for the coins to fall: Canberra RSL gathering on ANZAC Day

The receptionist at the YHA told us we wouldn’t have a good time here unless we were, “18 and looking to get pissed.” However, she underestimated how much fun it is to watch drunk guys yell at shiny objects spinning in the air.

“Are we ahead?” Barret asked as the afternoon wound down.


“Are we behind?”


“Sounds like the perfect time to leave.”

How to get to Canberra: Murrays direct bus service

About: The National Gallery of Australia

About: ANZAC Day at the Australian War Memorial

ANZAC Day at the Australian War Memorial: Canberra

Wellington Botanic Gardens: Week 69

It might have only been a short distance from the retail shops on Lambton Quay, but as the cable car made its first stop at Talavera Terrace, Barret and I were suddenly transported to a quiet hillside suburb filled with green gardens.

Tring tring.

I have been thinking about how to describe the Botanic Gardens, but I am sure you have already seen some form of vegetation in your life. Just imagine what that looks like, multiply it, and don’t forget to include beautiful weather. It just happened to be one of those rare sunny Wellingtonian days that motivate people to go outdoors and enjoy the lush green winter foliage. Truthfully, it is a little difficult to find something to write about when everything went according to plan.

We set up our meal amongst the thorny spindles of a cactus garden because it felt vaguely reminiscent of home and shared swigs from a water bottle filled with sauvignon blanc. Our food was delicious and surprisingly enough I didn’t drop any of it on myself. Once again the stars had aligned and there was nothing disastrous to report- except… a barefoot woman tiptoed past us, supported by the arm of her date. I know, right? After lunch we stumbled out of the cacti garden and followed the winding path down the hill.

The last garden we passed through before reaching city center was the Bolton Street Memorial park; an old cemetery for the early Wellington colony. The weather-worn marble tombstones were sprouting soft tufts of green moss and looked completely out of place straddling a busy highway.

By the time we reached the end of a pedestrian bridge the alcohol had worn off and I was thinking about my new job starting the following morning. Since we were in the vicinity, Barret and I walked past the building and counted up ten floors to where my desk was waiting for me. It might not be interesting to write about days that run smoothly, but I really hoped Monday morning would be as unexceptional and well-run as our picnic.

How to get to the Botanic Gardens:

There are many entrances to the Garden including from Glenmore Street, Salamanca Road, Upland Road and the Cable Car. The only public vehicle access is through Centennial entrance on Glenmore Street.

Wellington Cable Car:

The line runs between Cable Car Lane (near Lambton Quay & Grey St) and the Botanic Gardens (at the end of Upland Road).

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