Yipao Parade: Week 239

Yipao-Parade-Jeeps-with-Furniture: Armenia, Colombia

Parades are the kind of public events that often sound promising, but can easily turn into masochistic affairs. There are many ways this can happen- perhaps there are too many people, or the traffic is horrible, or it is absolutely impossible to see the parade.

Perhaps you find a good spot, but just before the floats pass, a few hundred late arrivals rush out in front of you. Of course these latecomers are all armed with massive iPads which not only block your view, but are also filming videos that no one will ever watch.

And on top of all that, your legs are probably tired because the parade is running late and you are roasting under the sun. This has happened so many times to Barret and I that when I told him about the Yipao Parade in Armenia he looked quite skeptical. “You sure you want to go? You know what parades are like.”

Yipao-Parade-Jeep Festical Driver-with Dog and Furniture: Armenia, Colombia

Truthfully I wasn’t expecting too much either, but I had seen some beautiful photos of the traditional “Willys” Jeeps overloaded with household furniture and I was a little bit enchanted. Barret and I finally decided to catch an early morning bus to Armenia. From there we took a taxi directly to Parque Aborigenes, which is the starting point of the parade.

It turned out to be the best decision we could have made because not only did we get there right when the parade began at 1pm, but we were in the shade of a cluster of trees and there was hardly anyone around. We could take as many photos and get as close to the Willys as we wanted.

Yipao-Parade-Jeeps loaded with plantains: Armenia, Colombia

These antique jeeps arrived in Colombia during WWII and were very popular in the mountainous coffee-growing regions because of their handling and cargo capabilities. Since then, they have become an endearing icon that is celebrated every October in Armenia.

Although, the Yipao Parade is just one part of Armenia’s week-long annual celebration (called the Cuyabras Festivals). There were many other events that took place that Saturday such as a massive artisanal market, a beer and gastronomy festival, and a book fair. All of the events took place in different locations, so after receiving multiple bad directions, we found taxis were the best way to go.

Of all the events though, the Yipao Parade was the big attraction of the day. There were four principal categories, with one of my favorites being the Trasteo Típico.

Yipao-Parade-Jeeps piled high with antique furniture: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade-Jeeps piled high with furniture. The driver-and- his family: Armenia, Colombia

This is the category where, traditionally, families moving from one finca to another would pile all their possessions onto a jeep. Everything from furniture, to paintings, to bedpans, to plates and dishes were elaborately stacked and tied to the jeep. Cages filled with chickens, ducks and pigs were tied just above the rear fender.


Yipao-Parade-jeeps piled high with furniture. View from the back with a little piglet: Armenia, Colombia

I couldn’t figure out why this was the preferred location until I realized that if the animals went to the bathroom, their waste would just drop onto the ground. Good idea.

Yipao-Parade-Hood-Ornaments on a Willys: Armenia, Colombia

Another category with just as much creative decoration was the Categoría Libre. In this group Willys were decorated with everything from recycled bits of plastic to dioramas of traditional industries.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep decorated for coffee roasting: Armenia, Colombia

And the dioramas weren’t just static either. The coffee roasting jeep was actually roasting some small batches out back. There was another jeep that had some sort of volcano on the roof, and that too was smoking as it drove past.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep decorated for coffee roasting: Armenia, Colombia

There were brick-making, basket-weaving, fruit and vegetable displays. Some were very professional and others were just lucky their car was even operating under that much weight.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep decorated with produce: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep decorated for brick-making: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep decorated for basket making: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade decorated Willys Jeep: Armenia, Colombia

The word yipao specifically refers to the competition where Willys are loaded with as much cargo as possible. So the third category, Productos Agrícolas, is perhaps one of the most important for the parade. This is the group that loads as much weight as they possibly can onto their jeeps. The types of individual cargo categories could be things like coffee, plantains, or yucca.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeeps loaded with plantains and potatoes: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep popping a willy and loaded with cargo: Armenia, Colombia

The most impressive jeeps were the ones that spent the most time on two wheels. Sometimes the weight was so much though that the passengers had to get out and sit on the front fender so that the jeep could drive in a straight line. One driver had even modified his jeep so that his chair was where the roof should have been.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep popping a willy and loaded with cargo: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep decorated with KFC sponsorship: Armenia, Colombia

Of course there were also sponsored Willys that passed out freebies to the crowd. Cristal, a brand of aguardiente, was pouring free shots to people who ran up to their float. I thought this was particularly interesting as the floats that followed were in the most dangerous group – Piques.

These jeeps in Piques were loaded with just enough weight to make acrobatic feats possible. At first I thought the jeeps just spun in circles, but then I realized that the driver actually got out of the car.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep in the acrobatic group with driving jumping out: Armenia, Colombia

Just imagine a crowd of people surrounding a spinning car (with corporate sponsorship) and no protective barrier between them. Then, in the middle of the spin, the driver gets out and jumps onto the front bumper. He leans back and scrapes his machete along the ground. It was absolutely nuts.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep in the acrobatic group and driver hanging off the front bumper: Armenia, Colombia

It was also totally captivating. Confetti and scratched roads were left in the wake of the acrobatic jeeps.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep in the acrobatic group and driver hanging off the front bumper: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep in the acrobatic group and driver back in the car adjusting his gloves: Armenia, Colombia

Barret and I actually ended up following the slow-moving parade along its route just so we could see some of the jeeps again. The nice part was that even in the busier parts of the route, it was still easy to get around and find a good view.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep loaded with furniture and a sleeping child: Armenia, Colombia

The Yipao Parade was definitely the best parade I have ever seen.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep loaded with fruit and people in traditional costumes: Armenia, Colombia

About: The Yipao Parade and Festival Program 2015

About: Armenia

Salamina: Week 238

The busy main street of the colonial town of Salamina, Colombia

Salamina is a beautiful little colonial town in the coffee-growing region of Colombia. Unlike other colonial towns, such as Salento, Salamina hasn’t quite been discovered. This was apparent to my friends and I as soon as we got off the bus and started walking down the busy main street.

On a Saturday afternoon Salamina was filled with families pushing strollers and old men with white hats and traditional ponchos thrown over one shoulder. Instead of clusters of tourists, there were locals hanging outside their doors and chatting to their neighbors from their balconies.

There were no shops along the main street with personalized mugs or ironic beer bottle openers. Salamina was a slice of everyday life- from the guy with a microphone promoting an upcoming election, to the antique trucks still in rotation, to the vendors with metal display cases (of a color I’d affectionately named Soviet mint) who patiently waited by the curb with their carefully arranged lollipops, gum, and chocolate.

An antique truck driving down the colonial streets of Salamina, Colombia

Culturally, the food in Salamina and Manizales is similar, but I did try a regional specialty called masamora. It’s a corn-based drink that has the consistency of gravy and chunks of cooked corn at the bottom.

The masamora was also served with a cube of sugary cube of bocadillo which was meant to be mixed into the drink. I ate them separately though and maybe that’s why I found the flavor to be a bit bland. While the drink wasn’t terrible, it was a bit too wacky for me. I don’t think I would recommend it.

A street in Salamina that looks like it drops off into a valley: Colombia

After lunch we strolled through the town taking photos. Because the heart of the city rests on top of a mountain, there are streets that look like they just drop off into the blue sky and valley below.

Colonial buildings with ornate balconies in Salamina, Colombia

I also fell in love with the architecture. The large, sturdy structures were balanced by the delicate woodwork adorning the windows, doors, and balconies. Every now and then an open door offered a glimpse of a cool, dark hall and the promise of a bright courtyard at the end.

Red and yellow colonial buildings in Salamina, Colombia

A religious house number marker in the colonial town of Salamina, Colombia

A street view of the colonial town of Salamina, Colombia

A man walking home in the late afternoon in the colonial town of Salamina, Colombia

A horse loaded with goods in the quiet streets of Salamina, Colombia

It didn’t take long to notice that Salamina truly was a working coffee town. When we stopped for ice cream, I noticed a man on the other side of the road who was loading up his horses. His son played on the light post until the horses were ready and then they set off down the quiet street, the sound of clicking horseshoes trailing after them.

Coffee purchasing shop in the cafetera: Salaminas, Colombia

A few blocks further we passed the storefronts where growers sold their dried coffee beans. Large scales sat in the middle of a concrete floor and coarse brown sacks were neatly stacked to the side. There was a faint smell of hay in the air.

Grand entrance to the cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

The last bus back into Manizales left at 6pm, so we decided to visit the cemetery before we left. It was only a few blocks down from the main square and on the edge of the mountain. Across from the gates were massive trees laden with moss.

Clothes drying outside a colonial house in Salamina, Colombia

Trees filled with moss in Salamina, Colombia

Just outside the cemetery gates was an elderly woman resting in a white plastic lawn chair. The only thing she had in her hands was a piece of string that trailed along the sidewalk and eventually terminated around the neck of a sleeping grey cat.

Late afternoon at a cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

Plaque in Spanish at a cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

The cemetery was small and empty. While we were strolling through, I heard the sound of a metal gate closing and realized we were being locked in. Barret, Andrea, and I ran over to the gate and found the cemetery keeper and his little daughter on the other side. He unlocked the gate and apologized for not seeing us. Then he asked us if we were enjoying Salamina.

The sun was setting and unfortunately we had to get back to the bus station. While it is possible to make a day trip to Salamina from Manizales, I realized it is best to spend the night. Having the extra day would have also been a nice way to break up the six-hour roundtrip bus ride.

With a second day in town it is possible to tour a coffee finca or even the production of panela (a traditional non-alcoholic drink made from sugar cane). Since going to Salamina, I’ve also gotten a tip on a beautiful old B&B named Casa Carola that recently opened.

A woman cleaning her window in Salamina, Colombia

There is so much to see in Colombia that I don’t usually like to revisit places, but Salamina is charming and I don’t feel that my four-hour meander did the town justice. I will definitely be back and next time I am staying the night.

About: Salamina

How to get to Casa Carola: Carrera 7 No 5-42, Salamina

El Peñol de Guatapé: Week 230

View of the man made lakes and El Penol: Guatape, Colombia

The route between Manizales and Medellín winds heavily along rivers and mountain ridges. Despite the narrow shoulder, houses, restaurants, and truck stops cling to the entire route. It is a beautiful drive, but not one you are able to appreciate if you prone to suffer from carsickness.

At the South Terminal in Medellín we caught a taxi to the North Terminal and from there we caught a bus to Guatapé. In front of us was a small group of tourists from Britain. All three were dutifully planning their next move in their travel notebooks, but they had absolutely no idea when they needed to get off the bus. Their heads poked up like gophers anytime traffic slowed.

Town shield and zocalo detail: Guatape, Colombia

The bus station in Guatapé was right along the malecón. With the exception of the zipline, the land along the waterfront was undeveloped. Dirt footpaths led from the sidewalk down to the boat docks, which made a killing during their sunset outings. We bought some sausages from one of the numerous food carts and walked to the end of town and across a bridge to our hostel.

We had learned from out last excursion that it is important to have a reservation during a three-day weekend. The only problem, we soon discovered, was that our reservation was one of the multiple overbookings at the hostel. Knowing there would be nothing else available in town, the owner offered us a mattress in the reception area.

“And how much will that cost?” I crankily asked.

“Free!” He replied. “Qué pena.” How embarrassing.

Sleeping inside the hostel reception, Guatape, Colombia

The bed was narrow, but we were able to fit comfortably and just when we turned in for the night we heard a timid rat-a-tat-tat at the door. I opened my eyes and saw the silhouette of a group of people out the window. “Barret, please open the door for them.”

Barret tossed off the sheets and unlocked the door. Our bed received a few curious glances, but then the next thing Barret knew he was helping people tally their beer from the fridge at the foot of our bed.

Colorful plaza: Guatape, Colombia

The long journey was worth it though. The following morning, once the rain stopped, Barret and I went into town for breakfast. Not many people were awake, so we had the streets to ourselves and a soft morning light for taking photos.

Guatapé is famous for its zócalos, the decorative boards the skirt all of the buildings. While the origin of zócalos is Spanish, the people of Guatapé have made them uniquely Colombian. The images cover a range of topics from local political events to traditional clothing and food.

Detail of an Avianca Airlines zocalo: Guatape, Colombia

Cobblestone streets with zocalos: Guatape, Colombia

Even the buildings on the outskirts of town were decorated. If not with zócalos, then at least with bright colors.

House with a horse zocalo: Guatape, Colombia

Block of colorful apartments next to a red rock: Guatape, Colombia

Row of painted houses with zocalos: Guatape, Colombia

Ticket stub for Penon de Guatape: Guatape, Colombia

After eating, Barret and I headed to El Peñol (aka Peñon de Guatapé). It is a massive, 200 meter high rock that towers over a landscape of man-made lakes and is also the most popular tourist destination in the area. While Guatapé had been quiet, El Peñol was a thriving mass of day trippers from Medellín. It did not detract from the experience, but it did make the climb up the zigzagging stairs feel like rush hour traffic.

Stairs leading up to the top of El Penol: Guatape, Colombia


Religious souvenir keychain from El Penol: Guatape, Colombia

There are a few things I feel like I can always count on in Colombia. The first is an abundance of religious trinkets and the second is a plethora of food stalls. On the summit of El Peñol I had a cup of salpicón (fruit cocktail) while Barret drank a Colombian michelada- beer with lime juice and a salt-rimmed glass. Together we shared sliced green mangoes covered in lime and salt. The steep ascent made us appreciate our refreshments all the more because we knew everything was carried up by hand. The mango we were eating had beaten us to the top by about 20 minutes.

One of the beautifully decorated tuk tuks that run to El Penol: Guatape, Colombia

Returning to Guatapé the cost for the tuk tuk (mototaxi) doubled, so Barret and I decided to walk the overgrown footpath back into town. Once we arrived we continued through the backstreets, which were just as decorated as the center of town, and out into the country on the way to a Benedictine monastery. The road was very quiet and the country views were peaceful. Had it not been late in the day, we would have continued all the way to the monastery. However, our feet were tired, so we turned back for dinner.

The backstreets of Guatape, Colombia

The cobblestone streets of Guatape in the evening: Colombia

The streetlights flashed on in the evening and warmed the cobblestone streets of Guatapé. Barret and I ended the night at a restaurant called D’Luigi. We sat in the back courtyard, which was filled with the scent of homemade pizza, and sipped a sweet version of mulled wine. The evening was perfect and the best part was that we had a proper hostel room to go back to.

Souvenir magnet from El Penol: Guatape, Colombia

How to get to El Peñol: From Guatapé it is a 15 minute tuk tuk ride or a 45 minute walk.

How to get to Guatapé: Hourly buses run from the North Terminal in Medellín.

Decorative fountain in the heart of the town: Guatape, Colombia

Gallinazo: Week 228

A man on horseback in Gallinazo: Caldas, Colombia

Gallinazo is a vereda, a very small rural town, on the outskirts of Manizales. If it weren’t for the nearby hot springs, it probably wouldn’t be on anyone’s map.

However, given its fortuitous location, Gallinazo is a popular weekend destination for traditional Colombian food. Of the three or so streets in the entire vereda, one is almost entirely dedicated to restaurants.

At the foot of town was a dessert stand. I knew we’d come to the right place because the vendor had the teeth of someone who has enjoyed a lifetime of sugary treats.

The arequipe was soft and delicious. It’s similar to caramel, but not as sticky or as thick. Arequipe can be enjoyed on its own or on top of something traditional like cooked figs. There were also several different versions of postre de natal, which is made by boiling milk and then continually skimming off the foam. The foam is collected in another cup and when it cools it almost has the texture of a rice pudding.

After starting the day with a healthy dose of dessert, we picked a popular restaurant for an early lunch. The food was delicious, but I made the mistake of ordering Bandeja Paisa. It is a regional dish that has steak, sausages, chicharrón, red beans, rice, plantains, a fried egg, an avocado, and an arepa. It is also often preceded by a bowl of soup. The food is great- but the sheer quantity of it is staggering. Barret and I once shared a smaller version of this dish and the two of us together couldn’t finish it. I don’t know what I was thinking; I need to start asking for a different dish.

Around about the time we finished lunch, Gallinazo was beginning to fill up with day trippers. Sunday morning brunch is not a popular concept, perhaps because of church, but lunch is king. And what better way to enjoy a meal than out in the country with a train of horses clip-clopping down the street?

How to get to Gallinazo from Manizales: At the intersection of Avenida Kevin Angel & Calle 69, catch a buseta in the direction of the Termales (hot springs).

Salento & Valle de Cocora: Week 227

View of Carrera 6 in Salento: Colombia

Colombia has a lot of three-day weekends. They are called puentes, which means bridges, and when my first one came up I leapt at the opportunity to get out of town.

So early Saturday morning Barret was squished in the back of a small buseta while I sat next to a woman in a blue cardigan and torn jeans. Ten minutes into the trip she pulled out a multi-colored rosary and began crossing herself every time we passed a church, went over a bridge, or stopped at a tollbooth.

She got off at a bus station in Pereira and on the way out of the parking lot I noticed a glass display case with the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus. It made me wonder who decided that was the right pose for a bus station statue.

It was mid-afternoon when Barret and I arrived in Salento. We ate at a restaurant overlooking the most popular and photographic street in the city- Carrera 6.

Architectural detail in Salento: Colombia

Only after our stomachs were full did we start the search for accommodation. The first guesthouse we visited was on the outskirts of town. The garden was filled with toys and sunflowers and the foyer was actually a living room with an overstuffed couch. It was an odd juxtaposition of private versus public.

The place was completely booked though, and the only thing they could offer was a tent on the porch with a thick sleeping pad and some blankets. Barret and I declined, but after a disparaging walk around the city, we quickly realized that the tent was our only option. If there is anything I have learned from traveling on a puente weekend, it’s that reservations are imperative.

We spent the first half of the evening watching a very untalented caricature artist and the second half in a small cafe listening to excellent live music. We weren’t in a rush to make it back to the tent, but when we eventually did, we slept well. The only exception being the return of a group of drunk Colombian tourists. Upon seeing a row of tents on the patio, one of the guys yelled out. Look at those gringos! What are they thinking?! 

Horses outside the trail head of Valle de Cocora: Salento, Colombia

The following morning Barret and I woke up very early to begin our hike to Valle de Cocora. From the main square in Salento, we caught a jeep to the trailhead. There was an option to hire horses, but Barret and I decided to walk the whole circuitous route.

Valle de Cocora: Salento, Colombia

Valle de Cocora is famous for its sweeping views of the wax palms- Colombia’s national tree. This is in no small part thanks to the herds of grazing cattle that nibble all the vegetation around the wax palms. The trees are already slender and insanely tall, but when viewed unobstructed, they are even more impressive.

Rutted trail through the Valle de Cocora: Salento, Colombia

Bridge crossing in the Valle de Cocora: Salento, Colombia

Several hours into the hike we stopped at the Aicame Natural Reserve. It was a small hummingbird sanctuary located at the end of a seemingly never-ending ascent. There was a fee to enter the reserve, but it included a beverage. We also discovered that the reserve had a very basic but insanely cheap lodge. Beds were available for something like 10,000 pesos (USD$5) and the cost included food!

Hummingbirds at the Acaime Natural Reserve: Valle de Cocora, Colombia

We weren’t prepared to rough it another night, so after viewing all the hummingbirds we double-backed and continued walking the full circuit. An hour or so later the trail came to a head at a lookout point named Finca La Montaña.

The lookout point had a flower garden and a small building with a covered porch. An open door led from the porch into a small dark kitchen where a woman was making traditional Colombian hot chocolate over a wood-burning stove.

Woman making hot chocolate at the Finca la Montana: Valle de Cocora, Colombia

In its raw form, the chocolate comes in hard blocks that are dissolved inside a metal jug. Once prepared, the hot chocolate is served with a thick slice of queso campesino (a soft, spongy, and slightly salty cheese).

Hot chocolate and cheese at Finca la Montana: Valle de Cocora, Colombia

I was initially reluctant to drop cheese into my hot chocolate, but it actually tasted delicious. The cheese softened and the saltiness balanced well against the sweetness of the chocolate. I felt like that was a good metaphor for the weekend- the salty frustration of lugging our backpacks around town in search of a room was tempered by the charm of the city and the beauty of the valley. Having the one makes you appreciate the other so much more.

How to get to Salento: Direct buses are available from the bus stations in Armenia and Pereira.

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