Midway through a hangover-smiting-lunch post night out salsa dancing in Cali, the idea of going to San Cipriano was first floated. Though the thought soon became a reality, the name never really stuck, and our destination was referred to thereon in using whatever mildly similar word came to mind: San Cilantro, San Silencio, San Cítrico…
We arrived by bus, crammed into the aisles and driver’s cabin. The boys and their 1.5 litre bottle of aguardiente made friends with those up the back, while us girls crowded in beside the driver and tried to forget the
cramps that were boring holes in our bums.
The ride took twice as long as we’d expected (a trait that we would later take as a given in Colombia), and when we were finally left at the side of the highway, the day had blackened into night. The ten of us looked at each other.
Where were we? What was this San Syphilis place anyway?
At this point, a moment of gloriously coordinated organization took place, an event rarely seen on dark nights such as these; lost between towns and whimsically hoping to go forth into the world clutching a wholly untrustworthy bus timetable. It was a moment to be savoured: the boy the albergue had sent to take us into town was still there, standing under a single streetlight in the lightly falling rain, two hours after we had told him to meet us.
He showed us down a dark rainy road, and we arrived at the San Silicon departure point: the brujita station.
Arrival in San Cipriano is by brujita (little witch), basically a motorbike fixed to a wooden platform fixed to train tracks. All held together by a couple of metal pegs and pure blind faith, the contraption looks flimsy at best. Yet you, your friends and luggage will successfully be crammed onto the platform and rocket along the train tracks unchallenged, zooming by like the proverbial brujita‘s own broomstick. Zooming, that is, unless a train appears; at which point your transport will be disarmed, pulled off the tracks and replaced when the coast is clear.
QUIET STREETS, QUIET RESIDENTS
We arrived well into the night to a main street bathed in the yellow glow of streetlamps. The vast difference between the slight frenzy of Cali’s street markets, traffic and innumerable cars faded into quiet dustiness of this village: no more than a long dirt road separating two strings of houses and understocked corner stores.
THE DAYS, THE NIGHTS
Our mornings started with a house breakfast plate – rice, beans and patacones – and black coffee drawn through a fabric filter.
Later, we wandered the street. And talked to a few locals… though they seemed to prefer to keep to themselves.
As if from nowhere, most of the village turned out to watch its capture, mobile phones ready to record the moment. The snake was slid into a bag, ready for relocation.
WHERE THE WATER RUNS
A stream running fast and clear lies parallel to the village. Enormous brown ants negotiate the pebbles which line its shores, while over there on the other side a short wander takes you to a waterfall.
Other rock pools and smaller waterfalls decorate the humid rainforest surrounding the town. While exploring, your unsmiling guide is sure to encourage you to apply the abundant mud to your skin “because it’s good for you.”
RINSE, AND REPEAT
More patacones, rice, fish, beans and meat later, the pattern repeats.
A stodgy meal. A sit by the main road to watch the locals. A bit of a conversation with them. No more snakes. A visit to the stream. A hike. More rice and beans.
It was an odd sensation to spend time in a place as insular as San Cipriano. I’d often look around and feel that a spaceship had scooped us up and dropped us into this odd land where Africa and Colombia co-inhabited silently on a slice of land by a cool stream. By all appearances, the place seems to exist purely through sporadic tourism. We’d attempt to eat each meal at a new place to “share the pesos” with more than just the family running our albergue… but in doing so I sometimes felt like a white oppressor selecting who to benefit. Interestingly, we were not met with any sort of curiosity on the locals’ part – they didn’t seem to care to sell us anything, not even the meals they advertised – which was both a relief, and oddity in itself. The place seems to just roll along. Humble. Struggling? No one could really say. Receiving money largely through tourism, but always in an indifferent sort of “… oh, there you are,” way.
Visiting San Cipriano added a different taste…a bit of a new flavour to my Colombian experience. Like an odd sort of sauce that you didn’t entirely love, but are glad to have tasted.
POINTS OF INTEREST
- Reserva Forestal Protectora Rios Escalerete and San Cipriano has a population of just over 450 people and lies 100 kilometres outside of Cali, in Colombia’s Valle del Cauca province.
- From San Cipriano you can go on to Buenaventura – the closest city from where to get onward buses further north.
- As it’s a forest reserve, activities there are based around short hikes and forest walks. The villagers also heavily promote jumping in an inner tube and gliding down the stream.
- There isn’t really any food for sale there besides crackers, cookies and juice – prepare for a lot of beans and rice meals! Coffee abounds. It seems that the average person stays only a night and couple of days.