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Last Updated: Monday, 19 November 2007, 07:43 GMT
Seeking Garcia Marquez magic in Colombia
Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the best-known writers in the world and his 1967 masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude, has sold millions of copies.

Another of his major novels, Love in the Time of Cholera, has now been made into a film which has just opened in the US. Richard McColl travelled around Colombia in search of the places that have inspired Garcia Marquez:

Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Benjamin Bratt in a scene from Love In The Time
The film brings an epic tale of unrequited love to the screen
I alight in the humid town of Cienaga some 35km (21 miles) from Santa Marta, former home to the United Fruit Company in Colombia and scene of a massacre of banana workers that Gabriel Garcia Marquez details in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

This is the heart of Colombian magic realism country and the start of my search for Macondo, the fictional setting of the novel.

Not a palm frond stirs, a dog pads by, a mesh of sea birds undulate in the sky above.

My guide Iliana Restrepo begins what can only be described as a ridiculous anecdote from the Colombian Caribbean coastal region.

map

However, given all that I see here, it is not hard to imagine. This is Garcia Marquez territory and ordinary events take on a superstitious and charmed form.

"Somewhere in a forgotten backwater town," she begins, "a family, unable to care for their senile and infirm grandfather while at work, have taken to attaching him to his favourite rocking chair and hoisting him up into the nearby ceiba tree in case the river should rise and wash him away."

Real people

Further inland, beyond the marshland and mangroves that provide the coast with their natural barrier from the ocean, the next stop is Garcia Marquez's hometown of Aracataca, on which Macondo is said to be based.

Garcia Marquez and his wife Mercedes Barcha arrive at Aracataca in May 2007
Macondo is not a place but a state of mind
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I am in the company of Eduardo Marceles Daconte, academic, author and Catacero, a native of Aracataca. He is also an acknowledged expert on all things Macondian.

The idea is to soak up some of the atmosphere that has inspired the Nobel Prize-winning author through his career and to try to understand some of the idiosyncrasies of the coast.

Garcia Marquez has consistently said that his characters and images, although embellished, are based on real people and events.

If the tale of the grandfather up a tree is anything to go by, Aracataca will not disappoint.

Colonial gem

Mr Marceles's expertise does not stop at the academic. He says that he is related to one in almost four of the 50,000 people who live in Aracataca.

His family are remembered fondly in Garcia Marquez's memoirs, Living to Tell the Tale, as those who introduced the young boy to the joys of cinema.

Unfortunately, the cinema no longer exists as one of Mr Marceles's cousins sold the building, a fact which annoys him to this day.

Train passes through Aracataca, Garcia Marquez's hometown
Colombia hopes tourists will visit Garcia Marquez's hometown

"He sold it on and now there is nothing left, just this market," he says waving dismissively in the direction of the new shop.

There has been a push to market tourism in this part of the country as the Garcia Marquez experience to coincide with the release of the motion picture Love in the Time of Cholera.

The beautiful colonial city of Cartagena, where most of the film was shot, is already Colombia's top tourist destination and receives thousands of day-trippers from passing cruise ships. But one wonders how sleepy and inoffensive Aracataca will fare.

Museum

In May, after being away for 24 years, Garcia Marquez made a triumphant return to Aracataca in the maiden voyage of the Yellow Train of Macondo, a new tourism venture.

Javier, the station guard, said several thousand gathered to see Aracataca's most famous son arrive. The scrum of journalists and well-wishers far exceeded the numbers expected.

A mother and children in Aracataca
What version of Aracataca /Macondo awaits visitors?

I asked Javier how he had coped. He looked overwhelmed and bemused and then stated as if reading from the next chapter in a Garcia Marquez novel: "Oh, that day, on that day I did not come to work."

What will the more intrepid and literary traveller encounter upon arrival in Aracataca - will they find the Macondo of the novel's central characters, the Buendia family or the Aracataca of Garcia Marquez's childhood?

The Colombian authorities have been rebuilding Garcia Marquez's family home in Aracataca with a new museum.

Here there is undoubtedly a version of Macondo but possibly not the complete picture.

Perhaps the visitor would be better served understanding that every town along the Colombian coast contains an aspect of Macondo.

As Gabriel Garcia Marquez said: "Macondo is not a place but a state of mind that allows one to see what one wants to see and how."

SEE ALSO
Garcia Marquez home to Colombia
31 May 07 |  Americas
Nobel laureate in Colombia talks
12 Mar 07 |  Americas
Gabriel Garcia Marquez turns 80
06 Mar 07 |  Americas
Marquez town rebuffs Macondo name
26 Jun 06 |  Americas
Country profile: Colombia
03 Mar 07 |  Country profiles

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