The whistle of the train interrupts every afternoon in Aracataca, a noise that enchants foreign people, but passes unnoticed to the ears of many children who play cheerfully, barefoot in the dusty streets of their neighborhoods.
They do not care about their homework, they enjoy the long days while living in a society where they know everybody, even Tim, the foreign guy who watches them while he reads, thinks, writes and photographs every corner of this magic town that inspired the Nobel Prize winning Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to create his work masterpiece: One Hundred Years of Solitude.
It has been so long since Gabo came along with his relatives, from Santa Marta, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the BuendÃa family. On May 30 2007, he climbed on a yellow train, and in the midst of the jubilee, in front the television cameras, the ephemeral project was born to revive the Santa Marta â Aracataca tourist route. This involves a brand new tour of forty places appearing in his novels, gastronomic tasting and craft samples. All this with the support of the Government of Magdalena, Aviatur, ‘el fondo de promocion turistico’ and Ecodestinos .
It feels like I’m ready Gabo himself. Gypsies used to come to Macondo with a great uproar of whistles and noisy words to publicize their new inventions. Well, they sold all their pots to ignorant people, and left them with some instructions to manage their new things, something that deeply impressed a dreamer like JosÃ© Arcadio BuendÃa. Time passed on, and there was no sign of these modern “magicians”. However, an illegitimate son of the Buendía´s saga was born to defy history and resurrect the literary spirit that lives in Macondo.
The new member of the family is Tim, a young Netherlandic guy who arrived four years ago to Colombia and calls himself Tim Buendia. One day he moved to Aracataca, opened The Hostel Gypsy Residence and decided to embrace the historical memory of this town. Tim is a lover of the region, his favorite plates, “Cayeye” and the “cat’s head” (two dishes based on green banana) give him enough energy to fight hard for the healing of the collective awareness. Macondo has a great legacy that needs to be shared.
Tim believes that Aracataca has many touches of magical realism. Recently he witnessed a Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Painter and artist of Macondo, Luis Agame, whom he met on the streets, passed away. Everyone in town knew that he was sentenced to death because of his bohemian lifestyle and his addiction to liquor. Tim says with sadness: “We are all sad, but we knew something was going to happen to him one day. The funny thing is that people already said that he had died while he still had another week to live.. So people were crying his death before he died. It is unbelievable!”
Reality surpasses fiction
Tim claims that Aracataca is a tourist destination that arouses much interest in Europe and other parts of the world. Only thirty percent of his clients are Colombians, the rest are foreigners. Lately, National Geographic made a documentary about Colombia and included the land of Gabo. In addition, the Bolivarian Journalists Foundation of America declared Aracataca “The Immortal Birthplace of Colombian Literature”.
Tim what is your favorite book?
One of my favourites is The Adventure of Miguel Littin, Clandestine in Chile, because of MiguelÂ´s ideas, his commitment with his community, as well as the dangers that concerned him. Of course I also love One Hundred Years of Solitude since it tells a magnificent cultural story of a region. I admire all Garcia Marquez’s work, interviews, chronicles, novels, screenplays and journalistic works. Gabo is the most important universal writer still alive. People around the world can identify themselves with his writings.
What character of Gabo would you have liked to be and why?
I have several favorite characters. First entrepreneur JosÃ© Arcadio BuendÃa, for being idealistic, scientific, stubborn and a believer. He would have given everything to make things happen. Second, Amaranta Ãrsula, she’s a dreamer, worker, traveler, lover and a beautiful woman …. Someday I will find my Ursula Amaranta and life will be perfect. Thirdly, Melquiades, Macondo’s largest benefactor, for being just that, a challenger to people’s sense of reality.
One day Gabo was asked when he would write more about all of them, but he answered that he would never again. It is time for new characters in Macondo.
If you were face to face with Gabo what would you ask him?
(Laughs) I have no idea. I’d like him to teach me how to perfect my sense of ‘mamar gallo’ (a regional expression for; making fun of, joking around, taking the piss, waste time, etc..). I would actually expect him to decide what would be important to say. He actually believe that he’d be interested in how I can stand the loneliness of Macondo and he might even be able to help me to understand it and overcome it.
What tours does the Hostel Gypsy Residence offer?
La Ruta Macondo introduces you to the traditional Colombian Caribbean life and culture. I will show you the real Colombia in the heart of Aracataca, and through Garcia Marquez’s life, explain the origin of Magic Realism. We offer you a one day tour or a quick two hour tour.
We serve a healthy breakfast while we get ready to leave the hostel at 9.30 for a Nobel Prize winning bicycle tour to learn about the history of the town and visit the places that painted the experience of GMM’ s childhood.
We’ll take you along the highlights of the legendary town where Gabriel Garcia Marquez was inspired to tell his greatest stories as well as through the barrios that look like they haven’t changed in 200 years, showing you the ways of the past. Through us you can discover the world famous landmarks in town: the train station, the statue of Remedios the beauty (the girl that was so beautiful and innocent that she ascended into heaven), the river, the house where Marquez was born, the house where his father used to work, the school where GGM attended and learnt his fine writing skills, as well as many other historical places around Aracataca. We will also see the tree that’s called Macondo.
Before midday we return to the hostel where we have a short break. For lunch we visit a restaurant with excellent and typical dishes from Macondo. After lunch you can visit the House of the Telegraph, the church where GGM was baptized, the main park and the museum house where he was born. Then we will go to where the legendary Buendia’s first halted on their journey; the Aracataca River and The Forest of the Magic Realism.
How did you come up with the idea of Melquiades´s monument?
Actually, I think we have to make dozens of monuments around the town. Initially I thought of a sculpture of that child of eight years old sitting at a table writing their first words; Gabito the child. However it was too expensive to make. Then, as gypsies have been so important in Gabo’s work, besides the Annual Theater Festival; GYPSIES IN MACONDO, there was nothing around that symbolizes them so we decided to make this monument to Melquiades who was that heavy gypsy that first brought a magnet to Macondo.
What advice would you give to the local authorities to improve the tourism in Aracataca?
Aracataca has the potential to be a world class tourist destination, but lacks several things starting with the social appropriation of the works of Gabo. People need to start reading so that everyone knows more about the unique heritage of Gabriel GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez, who was born and inspired here. We must also take care of the monuments we have such as the bund of the Almendros, which needs urgent maintenance, the sculpture of Remedios the Beauty, as well as the park by the canal, which is beautiful but very abandoned.
What about the Aracataca River?
The river is beautiful. It is surrounded by the forest of magical realism, made of the typical African Palm. However, it needs more visible paths and signs so that more visitors can take advantage of the walk along its banks. It also requires more vigilance due to its exuberant nature; it is solitary and can be a bit dangerous.
Can tourists find souvenirs in Aracataca?
The village lacks thematic crafts such as T-shirts, drawings, handles, mugs, GGM themed – mochilas (indigenous bags), etc. Investments is needed to inspire local people to spend money on tourism. Culture attracts tourists, tourism generates employment. There aren’t many jobs in Aracataca and so this is important.
Is there a cultural project coming up?
We thought the train station would be a great place for a permanent exhibition of the photographic work of Leo Matiz, who was born here too , yet we do not know when or how we can put it all together. We need more transparency from the authorities.
What is the Matiz´s project about?
The idea is to make a permanent Matiz museum in Aracataca, however there is a lack of information. I inquired at the governor of Magdalena’s office, but they did not give me a convincing answer. It is unfortunate because Leo is one of the photographers who renewed the scene of photojournalism during the first six decades of the twentieth century in Latin America, the U.S. and Europe. He was born in the village of Aracataca and was considered one of the top ten photographers in the world in 1948 yet we hardly have a single picture of his here. Government should give this responsibility to a single person that should actively work here until the project is done.
Aracataca must begin to read Gabo
After visiting Aracataca, Tim always encourages customers to tour Mompox, a city closely associated with the work of GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez. He also emphasizes the warmth of the cataqueros. Their brotherhood is something very genuine and nice, which Tim never expected to find here. Everyone knows each other and they greet him on the streets.
What do you think about the popular belief that says that Gabo has abandoned his little town?
I do not think there is abandonment, at least not from his side. People here would rather spend their money on beer, whiskey and women instead of investing it in their homes and children. The town therefore has many thieves and a low level of education and other problems.
Gabo is virtually sending us thousands of people each year from around the world as tourists, journalists, artists and researchers to name a few. But back home they are still waiting for the Nobel to afford everybodyÂ´s pension. On the other hand, they should learn how to take full advantage of this beautiful land and its rich history. Please Aracataca START READING!
What is the weirdest thing you have heard since you arrived?
(Laughs) I have always been a stranger in this land. Everyone gets suspicious because of a violent history and even the present times are testing. They do not trust a person they do not know. One of the strangest things they said about me was that I transported marijuana in my walking cane (which I use on the streets). However, I always receive many messages of support on facebook. People from Aracataca admire the work I’m doing. The way I post all my photos online has given the people a greater sense of belonging.
Do the Students know about the work of our literary Nobel?
The problem is that there’s no reading culture. It is sad that it happens in the land of the Nobel. Sometimes students know things about Gabo, there are some school competitions and all that, but they are not passionate about his work. Besides, the people hardly read the mandatory books at school. I would say that thanks to Facebook, the community is increasingly recognizing the importance of the work of Garcia Marquez around the world.
How do you see the new generation of writers, poets and painters from Aracataca?
I know several painters, poets and young musicians who are doing interesting work. The culture here inspires its people. You can see this in the quality of the work, the recognition they receive, and it is improving. Great artists like Antonio Jaramillo and Lucho Agamez (RIP) have inspired many young people and the community respects them. The cataquero respect artists immensely; unfortunately they do not understand the writers, because of their lack of love for reading.
Are you currently working as a volunteer to teach kids about Garcia Marquez?
Last year I worked alongside the City Hall on a project called “The history of an Imaginary Town woke up”. The aim was to highlight the history and culture of Aracataca, raise the young people’s awareness that this is the most well known Colombian and call them to reflect on how they could work with this theme. I also showed them a small video of photos with scattered garbage to try to create a responsibility for the environment.
And will you do it again this year?
It was a very good project that had a great impact. However, there was not a proper follow-up that I am aware of.
In addition to your admiration for Gabo, did you suffer a love disappointment or something like that, to end up in Aracataca?
I came here because I wanted to see the world. I am an adventurer, an idealist. This was the reason I start this great work I’m doing, and I love it. As a matter of fact, I do have bad luck with women though. For several months I have been dating a beautiful and intelligent lady who came to Colombia to teach English for a year at a school in Santa Marta, but she does not want to continue in that job, she would rather return to L.A I’m trying to convince her to move in with me in Aracataca. I’m not sure if I can convince her and I’m afraid i might lose her very soon. Macondo is great for visitors, yet not many people want to live here. There are no jobs, no theater or cinema, or a quiet bar. Everything needs to be done.
Finally, do you have any immortal words of Gabo that you love to remember or say?
Actually, I have two. For Europeans, South America is a mustached man with a guitar and a gun”.
“Macondo is a state of mind which allows you to see what you want and how you want to see it.”
English editor: JONO DURHAM,
Photos: Tim Buendia
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