Garcia Marquez feted in homecoming

ARACATACA, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez returned for the first time in more than 20 years on Wednesday to the home town that inspired him to create his most famous novel, “100 years of Solitude.”

Nobel Prize writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez greets people after his arrival in Aracataca May 30, 2007. REUTERS/Fredy Builes (COLOMBIA)

Thousands packed the town’s streets to greet the 80-year-old patron of Latin America’s magic-realism style, with cheers, shouts and applause for the man known fondly as Gabo on a visit 40 years after his most famous novel was published.

Dressed impeccably in white, the 1982 winner of the Nobel prize for literature stepped out of the tourist train that brought him to Aracataca as people screamed out “Long live Gabo,” and “Gabo, welcome home.”

Like a politician on the campaign trail, he signed autographs, posed for photographs and clasped hands with his admirers, who had waited outside for his arrival undeterred by the blazing sun and dripping humidity.

“It wasn’t as good as I expected but it was OK,” Garcia Marquez told Reuters ironically about his homecoming after a train ride through the steamy banana-growing region.

“We love him, we want to touch him. Garcia Marquez is ours,” said one man in the crowd as the writer climbed into a horse-drawn vehicle guarded by armed police and soldiers.

Born in the town on March 6, 1927, he lived in Aracataca until he was nine with his grandparents and three aunts.

When he was 23, he returned to the town to sell his grandparents’ home and his imagination was fired to create Macondo, the land where generations of the Buendia family lived out the marvels of his novel.

Worldwide, 30 million copies of the work have been sold.

Among his other noted works are “Love in the Time of Cholera” and “The General in His Labyrinth,” which reconstructs the life of South American liberation hero Simon Bolivar.

The writer and journalist has not escaped Colombia’s tumultuous politics.

During the 1980s, he went into exile in Mexico after he was accused of links to the M-19 guerrilla movement and later helped negotiate talks with the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

On Wednesday, after being feted along the way to the town with thousands of people lining the railway tracks waving handkerchiefs and red, yellow and blue Colombian flags, Garcia Marquez’s visit was tinged with sadness.

The town of about 53,000 inhabitants, like many in Colombia, has a poor water distribution system and only basic services at its only hospital.

“Every day it’s worse,” he said.