San Cipriano

Trip Start Nov 24, 2007
Trip End May 15, 2008

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Saturday, February 16, 2008

The most beautiful thing in life we can experience is the mysterious. - Albert Einstein.

Escaping Cali for the day, myself and Sarah, another good-natured traveler from the States vacationing from an english teaching job in the great country of Argentina decided to head a few hours west towards the Pacific coast over the Cordillera Occidental to check out a small, entirely afro-colombian community (decendants of 16th -19th century African slaves) called San Cipriano. Through the grapevine we heard it was an excellent day trip from Cali.

We traveled by bus along the windy road that connects the largely undeveloped Pacific coastline to the rest of Colombia. I was amazed at how much military security blanketed the road. Historically a paramilitary and gorilla conflict zone, in recent years the government has really begun to control the region and it showed. Nearly every kilometer, armed forces were staged to protect the troves of big trucks hauling goods to Buenaventura for exportation to the rest of the world. The numerous bridges and tunnels we crossed along the way were each protected by sand bag bunkers on either side. Having passed through too many roadside military checkpoints to count since I entered Colombia, I wasn`t the least bit concerned when our little mini-bus stopped midway through the trip for yet another routine pat-down, ID check and bag search. This time however, maybe because we were heading towards one of the more poverty stricken and so-called lawless cities of Colombia, things turned out a little different than I expected. After exiting the mini-bus and getting searched for drugs and the rest of that jazz, I was absolutely blown away when a young baby-faced teenage boy, maybe 16-17, pulled out from his jeans a FULLY loaded silver revolver like it was ordinary to pack heat at that age in these parts. Nonchalantly unloading the gun like he`d been handling it since he was five years old, he handed it over to the military officers and then casually kissed his girlfriend like he was tired of having to go through the same motions every time he crossed checkpoints. Not more than a few minutes of army conversation over the radio later, the young boy was given back his huge silver revolver on the spot and proceeded to fully reload it 'shooting' a glance over at me with the most sincere `Hey friend, I`m not going to hurt you one bit whatsoever-you wanna come chill with me in Buenaventura` smile on his face. I think he wanted to impress us as not many tourists ever travel to Buenaventura. I smiled back and figured if worst came to worse, he`d probably be the one kid to help me out in a back alley. 

Giving a goodbye smile to Billy the Kid and his girlfriend, our stop finally came and we hopped off the bus only to be hoarded in an instant by a group of the nicest, gun-less teenage guys I think I have ever met before. They of course were the drivers of the crazy auto-mechanisms which we were about to ride on. As we walked down the hill they asked us a tons of questions about `America` while tried to sing a few Tupac rap songs along the way when they found out Sarah was from California. Being business men that they were and recognizing an opportunity they told us that they had started a newly organized "Brujita" cooperative and that the price is set at 80,000 pesos a ride including return. By the time we had walked 10 minutes downhill to the train tracks we had bartered them down to 12,000 each w/ return included. We were soon on our way, flying past banana trees and wood houses express-style towards San Cipriano.

Cruzing along the tracks at a hyper-speed of about 35 kilometers, we couldn`t help but laugh out loud at how outrageous of a transportation system we were riding on. In simple terms (because it is definitely not too complicated) a brujita consists of a large piece of wood laid flat with four ball-bearing rollers on the underside to move it along the track, a wooden bench for the passengers to sit on and taking up the right side of the board, positioned with a metal brace at an angle was a small motorcycle which is slightly elevated so that the back tired rides on the top of the right rail and when throttled, gives a damn good forward propulsion!  While I am not too sure how safe it is or how it stayed on the track so well but the only big complications along the way that we had were when we encountered other brujitas making the opposite trip. A standoff in which either us or the others, depending on size, load, and priority lifted the brujita off the track in order to make way for the other. It definitely was a good time and a overall a great transportation system to the remote and car-less little community of San Cipriano.

Disconnected from the rest of Colombia, San Cipriano probably has about 800 people and was nothing more than one main drag with lots of little wooden shack houses and ton of little kids dancing and playing soccer in the streets. While some were bashful little youngins one little hoodlum ran up to me and said "what`s up muthafucka" in english that was hardly understandable but insanely hilarious at the time. I don`t think the 4 year old boy had a clue what he said meant, just that it was a really cool way of saying `Hello` to an obvious foreigner before smiling, waving and running back to his older sister. Once in the little community, we met a good kid who rented us some inflated tires and then we proceeded up past town to explore beautiful clear creeks, idyllic swimming holes and of course leisurely floated down the Rio Cipriano, a gorgeous river banked by green vegetation, huge trees and the surrounding jungle hills above. Definitely a stunning area to take in. It's also hard not to find yourself awed by the simplicity of life in a place so remote and the happy. When all that graces the pages of how Brittany Spears is going off the deep end back stateside and Cali, just two hours away seems like a trip to another hi-tec world, you can`t help but think just how different this planet is on so many different levels. At the very least, a trip to San Cipriano only shows you the great diversity of Colombia and the drastic changes one can experience in only a matter of hours. A truly memorable adventure!
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