Magdalena, a river that courses through the heart of Colombia, connects a violent past with the country’s uncertain present. British writer Michael Jacobs struggles to reconcile his love for the land and its people with the dangers that both still present.
Determined to eliminate modern conveniences from his journey, he begins traversing the river by tugboat. He makes an exception for a cell phone that maintains a sporadic signal at best, in efforts to keep in touch with his mother suffering from deteriorating health. Jacobs cannot help but notice the irony of his mother’s dementia and his travels through Colombian townships with the world’s highest incidence of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
While navigating the mysterious river and unfamiliar territory—both emotionally and geographically—Jacobs comes across Gabriel Garcia Márquez, whose own faltering memory shows a growing obsession with the Magdalena River of his youth. When Jacobs and his companions are apprehended by FARC guerillas who turn out to be as quirky and affable as they are intimidating, life begins to imitate the magical realism of Márquez’s signature works. Shortly after being released from captivity, the FARC camp is bombed by the Colombian air force, leaving no likely survivors among his oddly likeable captors.
Exploring themes of adventure, endings, and “the utter pointlessness of it all,” Jacobs can only forge onward in his reflection of the mystical river.