This tiny village close to the Pacific coast in Colombia is another world. Because I was somewhat tired of city life and wanted something more adventurous than concrete and street vendors in Medellin and Cali, I decided to head to the strongly Afro-influenced San Cipriano, which is an up-and-coming circuit on the Colombian backpacker trail.
I met Tanya, a German in her early 30s, at Hostel Caelum in Cali the day before. We spent a few hours together walking around the city and when I told her about my trip to San Cipriano, she decided to join along to my delight. I had considered only doing a day trip for safety purposes but since she was tagging on, we decided to spend the night. We packed our daypacks and headed the bus station at 9 a.m. after a delicious (hostel-included) french toast breakfast. At the Cali bus station we simply asked the first guide who approached us for the appropriate company for San Cipriano. We knew this would be en-route to Buenaventura, which is the port for most Pacific coast destinations, so we paid the 20.000 COP and confirmed with the driver where we wanted to get dropped off at. I knew from previous blogs that this would literally be at the side of the road, so I was expecting some confusion and uncomfortable feelings on my part once that happened.
The two-hour bus ride turned into two and a half (hello, Colombia time) and Tanya and I were lucky to get assistance from another bus rider who knew exactly what we were trying to do. He got off with us at the ‘stop’ and directed us to cross the highway bridge as well as a close-by river bridge to find the ‘brudjera’ that would take us to San Cipriano. What’s a brudjera, you ask? It’s the only way to access the village and a makeshift way of transport via old railroad tracks with motorbikes and wood benches. It’s one heck of a 25-minute ride through the jungle, along the river and past primitive houses. We hopped on with Andres, our 18-year-old driver, on the moto after bargaining for a 10.000 COP trip (you shouldn’t pay any more than that) and were on our way. But because it’s only one-way, it’s a war when two come together in opposite directions on the tracks. We had to hop off twice on our way to let other cars through and even ran out of gas at one point. Eventually, we made it to San Cipriano.
We were quite confused when Andres told us we arrived. We understood this was a rural village, but a few houses on either side of the tracks alongside two large trash piles wasn’t quite the sight we were expecting. Andres sensed our confusion and after telling him we needed a bed, he told us he would take us to a place to stay. We were lucky to have him. He took us to the park entrance where we paid 2.000 COP and share our ID numbers. Peeking at the visitor list, I saw we were the only non-Colombian or Australians for quite a while. After entering, we followed Andres to a close location where we bargained yet again with the hotel owner for 15.000 COP each for a bed. We had to agree to eat at the restaurant downstairs, but we were fine with the compromise considering there weren’t too many options and we were only there for a few meals. We sat our packs down in the one-fan, two-bed room and headed down for almuerzo with the hotel owner’s family, two younger guys and Andres. Our Spanish was a constant point of confusion during the two days, but we eventually talked to the group and figured that Andres would come with us tubing in the river while another would take us hiking tomorrow.
Heading deeper into the village, Tanya, Andres and I stopped at the closest tube-rental station and picked up our tires for the wet ride—a 5.000 COP rental each that we would pay later. Andres led us along the main dirt road for a ways before we turned off at one of the many river exits. Following the path down, we
crossed the rocky beach and plopped into our tubes and into the river. There were a few families swimming and enjoying the water as well, but we continued on for a ways between calm and rough waters. It was my first river tubing experience and I loved every minute. (Tip: If you go, be careful of your booty as the rocky river bottom can surprise you in a few spots.) But our trip was cut short thanks to an unexpected thunderstorm. It was a complete downpour and we were stuck in the water, so we jumped out, swam ashore with hearty laughs and became soaked walking back to our room. After drying off, we pulled up chairs and read, wrote and chatted about our country’s differences while watching the village’s boys play soccer in the muddy field across the road.
That night, the two guys from the restaurant came back and asked if we wanted to drink the local drink with them. Thanks to my bad memory I can’t recall the name, but we tried two spirits that night. One tasted like pure alcohol (which is a real possibility) and the other was made from bananas and nuts, creating a thick and creamy masterpiece. You can guess which one I preferred. We hung out with them, once again struggling at conversation with no common language, but had a great time. It was fascinating to learn from Fernando, 26, and Jose, 19, who were born in the village and grew up with so little. (Enter the part where I truly felt grateful for everything I have.) They told us about some dancing down the road, so we headed to a small restaurant/bar/grocery/discoteca for all sorts of entertainment from the locals.
The next morning, we got our things together and went to the restaurant for a bland breakfast of eggs, rice and plantain. This is essentially their every meal with substitutes for carne, pollo or eggs. Again, the gratefulness for variety and deliciousness sparkled in this moment. We then met up with our waterfall and hiking guide for the morning—the same guys from lunch and the night before—and began the same trek we took to tubing. Instead of getting into the water, we crossed the entire thing and boy, was it strong. Luckily I wore my chacos instead of my hiking boots so I had no worries crossing. It wasn’t a hard hike per say, but certainly challenging and quite muddy terrain. Over the rivers and through the woods we went until coming to a natural waterfall. We spent some time there, I took a quick dip to cool off and the two guys took more photos than us girls did. To our dismay the rain started pouring as we took our first steps back to the village, but it was still a great ending to our quick trip to San Cipriano.
San Cipriano from Cali via bus:
20.000 COP bus ride
10.000 COP brudjera from road to San Cipriano
15.000 COP room for one night (at a very minimalistic hotel)
7.000 COP one meal
8.000 COP guide to waterfall (necessary)
10.000 COP brudjera back
20.000 COP hitchhike for bus to Cali