500-years ago, the Magdalena River’s rushing current transformed the Colombian island town of Mompox from a dusty village into a bustling commercial center. For years it thrived until times changed and the businesses moved to more accessible cities upriver.

For Mompox, the Magdalena River became a bittersweet jailor that constricted its growth while preserving the town’s colonial charm.

Guidebooks often compare Mompox to Cartagena without the tourists (and the dollars that flow in their wake). Unlike Cartagena where hustlers hassle visitors every five feet, Mompox’s quiet streets offer a glimpse of Colombia’s past and present coexististing: old doors (some restored, many weeping with age), stately lamps perched outside stucco buildings, streets lined with grand courtyarded mansions or a deeply tan, leather-skinned man leading his donkey through town on his way to market add to this timelessness despite the buzzing cars, three-wheel motorized rickshaws (just like the ones in Thailand and India) and blaring salsa music.

Talk of bridge construction has happened here for years, but until that day comes the slow life will remain, trapped by the river’s rushing current.

(If you’re reading this in your E-mailbox, be sure to click on the above headline to view the photos.)

And for more about Mompox, the cockfight I attended, and Mompox by night, click here.