Channing Sargent | Fundación Gabo

Channing Sargent

Two teenage boys rap to a table of tourists. They take turns rhyming and passing a small toy boat between them. It’s their speaker, loaded with beats off of the internet. They slice the air with it as they punch their lyrics with heavy gestures, their shoulders bouncing, knees dipping. Patrons perturbed dart annoyed glances over their mojitos. But these boys are good.

Twice in three days I found myself navigating the Magdalena, first on a speed boat from the town of Magangué, a 90-minute trip, and next on a small riverboat with a local tour guide. The sheer girth of the thing is overwhelming. So much water. I live in Los Angeles. We do not have a river like this, though we often speak of ours as if it were once as grand, and ever as important. Flowing for a mere 51 miles, the primary significance of the Los Angeles River is its mismanagement, which now has it largely paved with concrete. Though I doubt such a calamity will ever befall the Magdalena, the threats it faces could be perceived as similarly damaging.

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