Filigree is a delicate kind of jewelry metalwork, usually of gold or silver, made with twisted threads and tiny beads in combination arranged in artistic motifs. The technique was originally brought to Mompox by Spanish colonists, and many families have practiced it for generations. There are dozens of artisan workshops in Mompox producing and selling exquisite hand-made earrings, bracelets, and other knick-knacks for prices varying as low as 15,000 pesos (~$5) and up to $200 depending on the complexity and weight of the item.
The horse-drawn carriages are the icon of Cartagena. First, it was a way of transport strongly related to the people of power, e.g. the members of the inquisition; it also became popular among the wealthy residents of the city. As time went by, carriages became more and more democratic: first as middle-class people’s mode of transportation and then, finally, since 1945, as a tourist attraction. Which is lately considered to be a controversial one.
Where do perfectly happy momposinos get their rocking chairs from? In Mompox there are probably 20 carpenter’s workshops. And the business is going well: workshop owners sell the chairs to momposinos, to residents of other towns (e.g. Baranquilla) and to the tourists who come here from all the parts of Colombia. In the workshop where I meet Hernan, they make 200 chairs per month. And they sell them all out easily.
The only mosque in Cartagena is situated somewhere that even many locals residing here for so many years couldn’t identify on a map or had never heard of. After swinging between the idea of going to Sector Marlinda Calle Segunda in La Boquilla where the mosque was supposedly located, and not opting to go because nobody was sure if a mosque were there at all, we eventually hit the road and took a taxi to go to the place which eventually turned out to be a wonderland.
The district is undergoing gentrification so that it can function as a more well-liked tourist haunt, but the architectural pattern is still preserved and the colonial legacy is silently there. However, you don’t find so many cathedrals or museums in Getsemaní, enchantingly present everywhere in the city, underlining, as many of my local friends told me, the piety and strong religious integrity of the people in Latin America.
Mompox, officially Santa Cruz de Mompox, sits on an island with the Magdalena River, Colombia’s famous river flowing gracefully at its feet. Once Colombia’s mineral vault, Mompox continues to represent a living exhibition of colonial architecture that has been jealously preserved over time. It doesn’t, however, come as any surprise it earned a UNESCO world heritage status.
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.