The real Macondo: Aracataca, the city in “One Hundred Years of Solitude

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Reality and fantasy are intertwined in Aracataca, Colombia, writer Gabriel García Márquez’s hometown

 

On the road from the Caribbean, yellow butterflies fly among banana trees and add color to the facades of shops. It’s a clue: in Aracataca, Colombia, they are the guides to the fantastic realism created by Gabriel García Márquez. From his childhood in the city, the writer used stories and characters that appear in One Hundred Years of Solitude, a masterpiece that’s celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017. The book narrates the saga of seven generations of the Buendía family. In the fictitious city of Macondo, flying carpets, ghosts and even an insomnia plague are treated like ordinary events. All this magic attracts fans from all over the world, who come in search of this imaginary scenery.

The tour starts at Casa Museo Gabriel García Márquez, where the writer lived with his grandparents and the references to One Hundred Years… are clearer. There you can still find the porch with begonias where little Gabito used to listen to the conversations of the women, especially his grandmother, Tranquilina, the main inspiration for matriarch Úrsula. From colonel Nicolás, his grandfather, he got his interest for reading and inspiration for colonel Aureliano Buendía’s goldfish and war stories.

 

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Gabo respected the search for reality in his work, but warned: he himself never found it. Rafael Darío, the museum’s director, says that, for the author, reality removed the fantasy from a book. Visiting Aracataca is to confront your imagination. At the train station, the cars no longer bring foreigners from around the world, just coal. Right next to it, a sculpture of the character Remedios the Beauty is also lovely, but not as radiant as in the book.

The locals, especially the elder, many of which have never read the book, hide the origins of the plot. It’s the case of Rosa de La Matta, who collects three decades of photos of Márquez. “People here don’t think of him as a Nobel Prize laureate – he’s just Gabito. And they don’t read his stories because they feel like characters,” she says. On the streets, everyone knows where real-life Petra Cotes lives or who was the Italian man who served as an inspiration for Pietro Crespi.

 

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In 2004, Aracataca almost became Macondo: there was a referendum to change the city’s name definitively. It failed to pass due to low turnout. However, there were more votes in favor than against. It’s a common feeling among the locals: they are from Aracataca as much as they are from Macondo. “Fortunately,” Gabo would say, “Macondo is not a place but a state of mind that allows one to see what one wants to see and how.” Somewhere between Aracataca and Latin America, Macondo exists.

 

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