Our trip to the town of Mompós has not disappointed.
Its relaxed setting and beautifully preserved Spanish colonial architecture, brimming with wooden-doored houses and bright flowers peeping through ornate wrought iron railings, are believed to have inspired Nobel prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez.
So, on the way over I duly flick open one of my A-level Spanish set texts, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, to get in the mood (hey, they even filmed parts of the 1980s film version here. Starring no other Latin lothario than…erm..Rupert Everett).
The story recounts a grisly “honour” killing in a small backwater village community.
And no sooner have we pulled up a straw chair at a cosy restaurant beside the Magdalena River to sample some freshly caught bagra fish, than a small boy carrying fishing wire and a hook dangling from a thin branch shyly sidles over.
We chat a bit about his catch that day and his home – the restaurant owned by his grandma.
It’s all very amicable until our new friend suddenly declares: “You know, I saw a dead body the other day, over there.”
He points at the riverbank to the left, as Phil and I raise our eyebrows at each other.
“It was a man. He’d drowned. But they are saying he was strangled first and then thrown in.”
Clearly there may be a darker side to the faded charm of this romantic little place.
Thankfully, it didn’t reveal itself to us and our overriding impression was of the town’s very real warmth.
On the taxi ride over, two girls on their way to a friend’s wedding tore out a piece of paper from a diary to compile a list of Colombian dishes we HAD to try before leaving.
All the talk of delicious food got the driver interested too and he helpfully shouted out various suggestions over his shoulder and the cumbia music blaring out from his radio.
In the process he managed to narrowly avoid driving head first into a large ditch where an abandoned digger lay, a victim of the sudden road collapse after heavy bouts of rain.
After a deep, comfortable sleep and a stroll around the town and its pretty churches, we got to sample our first of these platters, thanks to a lovely couple who came to our rescue on the journey back.
Álvaro and Marcela bought us water on the boat, helped us figure out onward travel among the inevitable, overwhelming hoard of greedy touts and unhelpful bus company employees, and eventually bundled us into a cab to take us to their nearby home for dinner before accompanying us to the bus station.
Despite both having work the next day, Marcela made us the very moreish dish of patacones – squashed, fried green plantain – sprinkled with grated cheese, while Álvaro popped out to buy some roast chicken before crafting a divine accompaniment of hogao – a rich tomato and onion sauce.
Many people we had met talked of this selfless, open-hearted and welcoming nature that is typical of many Colombians, even ones you may have only just met.
They don’t just offer to help travellers, they positively take them under their wings like family.
Taking our leave, we ask how we could ever repay their kindness. Álvaro grins: “Just tell your friends Colombia is a good country!”
And from our experiences, it certainly is.