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San Cipriano, unconventional transport, river

Ridden atop a ‘chiva’ bus? Check. Clung to the back of a speeding jeep? Check. What about riding a ‘little witch’? Travelling backpacker style can often mean some unconventional transport but the ‘brujitas’ in San Cipriano near Cali are in a quirky league of their own.

In this teeny tropical village near Colombia’s Pacific coast, canny locals have devised their own ingenious means of travel called the ´little witch`, or brujita. Half moped, half wooden side-car, these home-made moto-carriages fit snugly onto the nearby railway tracks. Built to ferry goods and people between the main road and the village, they have become a hit with curious travellers, too.

We hopped on a bus from Cali that’s heading to the busy port town of Buenaventura, and after two hours driving through some of the gorgeous greenery of the Valle de Cauca, we were in Cordoba, the jumping off point for San Cipriano.

It was a half-hour walk downhill from the main road along a dusty village path to the railway tracks where a few guys were already fitting the famed brujitas onto the tracks. We joined a group of waiting extranjeros and locals and were soon ushered onto one of the waiting carts. We sat down gingerly on the wooden plank that made for a seat and, after negotiating a $8,000 peso return journey, we were on our way.

With six people per carriage it’s a cosy ride but, as the brujita gathered speed along the winding tracks, there was a cooling breeze and tropical jungle scenery to enjoy. It’s only a six kilometre journey but there’s time enough to mull over the creativity of the villagers here – and feel rebelliously happy the brujitas haven’t been crushed by some health and safety jobsworth. Although the illegal witches share the rails with freight trains coming to and from Buenaventura, we were told there are just two scheduled trains a day and the brujitas are safely lifted off the tracks long before the train thunders by.

The brujitas have been the sole means of transport to San Cipriano for more than four decades but the motorbike is a recent addition. The originals were basic wooden platforms with small wheels that slid along the tracks. The driver would gather speed by pushing a long stick into the ground as though punting down the river, using his flip-flops for brakes. Flying along the tracks their punting sticks resembling brooms, it’s no surprise the carts earned their witchy nickname.

There’s a $1,500 peso entrance fee for San Cipriano as the village is part of a nature reserve but it’s a small price to pay for a dip the village’s refreshing crystal clear river. Free of cars, the main village street is lined with lush plantain palms, basic wooden shacks for shops and a choice of rustic restaurants. We soon found ourselves a simple cabaña to stay in for the night and after dumping our bags, we rented giant rubber inner tubes from one of the restaurants and headed straight for the river.

We ambled upstream for half hour or so before taking a dip and the shallow waters flowed at just the right speed for a pleasant float combined with the odd adrenaline-rush rapid.

Floating along, dwarfed by an enormous inner tube, life suddenly seemed a whole lot more fun-filled, serendipitous and carefree. Finishing our float back in the village, we immediately started walking back upstream to do it all again. This time, mid-journey, our inflatables were accosted by a bunch of village children playing on the riverbank. Squealing in delight, they jumped into the river and hung on to our rings like cheeky pirates, steering us through some of the faster currents before giving us a helping hand out of the river. As the afternoon turned to dusk, we decided on one final round in the twilight and this time we had the river to ourselves.

No visit is complete without sampling the local spirit – a rough and ready campesino cane liquor called viche - and enjoying a Pacific-style dinner of plantain fritters, rice and fresh-water river prawns in coconut sauce.

 



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By Esme McAvoy
An environmentalist with itchy feet, I suffer carbon creation guilt with every flight so try to travel by bus, bike, foot or chiva as much as...
23 Nov 2009


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