Going gaga for Gabo on “The Cartagena of Gabriel García Márquez” audio tour
May 30, 2011
CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA – It’s not surprising that the author most often associated with the literary style of magical realism, Gabriel García Márquez, got his start in Colombia’s crown jewel on the Caribbean, Cartagena de Indias (aka Cartagena). The historic old city–with its balcony-and-bougainvillea-lined streets, bright colonial architecture, constant pulse of heart-pounding percussion, and heavenly Caribbean breezes–is certainly a place where the real seems magical.
The city of Cartagena inspired numerous works of García Márquez (known affectionately in these parts as “Gabo”), most notably Love in the Time of Cholera. He came to the city as a young journalist, won national acclaim as a reporter for the local paper El Universal, and began the manuscript for his Nobel-winning tome One Hundred Years of Solitude within the walls of the old city. However, until recently there was no tour or marker that honored the considerable connection between the author and his muse.
Luckily, I happened to be visiting Cartagena in January when a new audio guide, “The Cartagena of Gabriel García Márquez,” had just hit the streets. The guide is the result of a years-long collaboration between scholars at the local Universidad Tecnologica de Bolivar and the author’s family and friends. Tierra Magna, a tourist office in the Plaza Santo Domingo (just to the right of the entrance to Santo Domingo church), rents the audio guide (available in five languages) complete with corresponding map for COP 65,000 (about $35, totally worth it–be sure to bring an ID to leave as collateral too).
Setting out on a sweltering afternoon armed with hat, sunglasses, audio guide, and camera, I was swept into the realm of Gabo and the superstition-filled history of the city that provided a blueprint for his brand of magical realism. As you navigate the narrow byways, the guide meanders through tales of Gabo’s work as a journalist and novelist here, points out places that appear in his novels and shorts stories, and considers his impact on the city.
Some highlights include Plaza San Fernandez de Madrid, where in Cholera the main character Florentino Ariza famously sat to catch a glimpse of the object of his obsessive affection, Fermina Daza; the Parque Bolivar, where Gabo slept on his first night in Cartagena in 1948 because he arrived penniless (later, it would appear in Cholera as the Arcade of the Scribes); Plaza de la Aduana, sight of the gypsy fairs that figured prominently in the opening of One Hundred Years of Solitude; and the modern manse that Gabo built in 1990 in the north end of the old city with a view of the sea (he hasn’t lived in it for years).
It was a wonderful, informative way to while away an afternoon and to get a fuller picture not just of Gabo’s life but of the history of this dreamy city. Just a couple of non-magical wrinkles: the “extra information” option on the guide (you could supposedly hit a button to get more historical background at certain stops on the tour) didn’t work, and the two hours they allotted me with the handheld equipment wasn’t quite enough to hit all 35 stops on the map comfortably. I returned the equipment 15 minutes late, and they were all up in arms. Make sure to ask for extra time before you start if you want to have a chance to rest and enjoy a tropical drink or iced coffee in a café along the way. Also, I recommend going early morning or late afternoon, as the heat of the day is positively uncomfortable.
For an even more complete experience, you might want to end your tour with a meal at La Vitrola, a gourmet Cuban restaurant inside a historic home that is a long-time favorite of you-know-who’s when he’s in town.
Calle de Baloco No. 2-01