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Remembering Gabo

As the world mourns the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the people in his hometown feel especially close to him.
Last modified: 22 Apr 2014 01:07

ARACATACA, Colombia – I land at Bogota's El Dorado international airport, and the immigration official looks over my entry document and then asks me a straight forward question: "Where are you going in Colombia?"

"Aracataca," I respond.

"No, but where are you going in Colombia,?" he says back to me.

"Aracataca, the city, Aracataca" I repeat.

"That's your address in Bogota?" he asks again.

"No, no, Macondo, I am going to Macondo, you know.." I only half-jokingly say.

"Ah, OK, I see. Have a good trip," he finally concedes, with a smile.

A few hours later I find myself in a cramped, yellow taxi heading inland from the Caribbean coastal city of Santa Marta towards the dusty and scorching-hot town of Aracataca (population: 25,000), the place that was the inspiration for Macondo, the fictional village in Gabriel Garcia Marquez' epic 1967 novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

Along the way we pass fields of green banana plantations and little roadside restaurants where men slouched in plastic chairs are drinking bottles of Club Colombia and listening to Vallenato music.

When we finally arrive in Aracataca we meet Magdalena Bolanos. She's sitting on her front porch, not a care in the world.

Mrs. Bolanos is 97 years old, her memory is fading, but she can still remember when she was a teenager and worked as a nanny watching over a rambunctious little toddler named Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

"Gabo used to play with a ball all the time," she said. "But he was an envious kid. If he saw another child had something he wanted, he would try to get it himself."

Marquez was born in Aracataca, but left when he was eight when one of his grandparents who was caring for him died.

Mrs. Bolanos didn't go anywhere; she's been here ever since.

We then head over to Marquez childhood house that's now a museum, where we meet Marlys, 11, and Lorangi, 7. They are sisters, and are guides in the museum.

Marlys said she started taking an interest in Marquez books shortly after she could walk.

"I saw my father reading a book when I was 3 years old," she said. "And I was curious about it so I started reading it because everyone said Gabo was good, and I wanted to see for myself."

In Aracataca, the oldest generations and the youngest - separated by more than 80 years of life - both touched directly in different ways by the man known simply as Gabo.

Marquez only returned to Aracataca twice in his life after leaving as a child (some locals say he secretly made other trips as well). The place had a profound meaning for him. A mural in town quotes Marquez as saying in Aracataca he discovered that "between reality and nostalgia was the raw material for my work".

As for Mrs. Bolanos, she was never able to meet with Marquez on either of his trips to the town. By the time of his last visit in 2007, he was so famous he was greeted like a rock star and mobbed by well-wishers wanting to get close to him. Bolanos couldn't get through the crowd to reach the man whose diapers she changed more than a half century earlier.

But surely if Marquez was to write the last chapter of their story, they'll meet again. They'd have a lot of catch up on about Aracataca..and Macondo.

With reporting from Maria Elena Romero, @MarBrazil

Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter @elizondogabriel