An Itinerary for Tourists

“Santa Marta, where Simón Bolívar died penniless in a borrowed shirt, is the oldest town in Colombia. In the past few years it has become a resort, but the expensive hotels are outside town, away from the bars and pool halls. The town makes strenuous claims to being Bolivar’s shrine, and like every other town of size in latin America it has an impressive statue of the liberator. There is a corrosive irony in this Bolívar-worship, but it is quite in key with the other misapprehensions on the continent. Bolívar came to Santa Marta because he was in danger of being assassinated in Bogota. He was regarded as a dictator in Peru, a traitor in Colombia, and in Venezuela — his birthplace — he was declared an outlaw. For setting Latin America free, his reward was penury and vilification. The monuments are an afterthought, and the words chiseled onto them are the battle cries he uttered when the revolution seemed a success. Which town council could raise a subscription to engrave his last judgments on any of these marmoreal plinths? ‘America is ungovernable,’ he wrote to Flores. ‘Those who serve the revolution plough the sea. The only thing to do in America is to emigrate.’

— Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express