San Cipriano and the Motobrujas

>

Wow, San Cipriano was one of the most interesting and amazing places I have ever visited. It is a town of about 250 people that rests deep in the Colombian jungle about an hour inland from Buenaventura. One must take a bus from Buenaventura to the town of Cordoba and from there take what are referred to as motobrujas. The motobrujas are some of the most ingenious and exciting pieces of machinery that I have seen. They are basically pieces of wood nailed together with axles that are rigged for traintracks and a motorcycle that pushes them forward. The rear wheel of the motorcycle rests ever so delicately on one side of the track and the people sit in front on a makeshift wooden bench. There are no safety precautions other than the cell phone calls between the locals to advise one another when an oncoming train is nearby.When we were in transit to San Cipriano we had to hop off the cart and pull it off the tracks so that a train could go by. The motobrujas pick up a lot of speed, especially on the dowhill sections where the momentum of the cart mixed with the greased bearings of thise rickity contraptions combine for an awesome display of speed and adaptation. We must have been going about 30 or 35 mhp at some point. I remember looking around scared shitless that we were going to fly off the track, but the nonchalant disposition of all the locals on the Motobruja made me feel like I was overreacting and unnecessarily terrified, which I probably was. Our young driver had muscles chisled from steel and I imagine it is from constantly having to take the motobruja off the tracks so other motobrujas can pass. It is funny because when two of the motobrujas come head to head the drivers sit and argue about who has priority and who has to remove their cart from the tracks. Whoever loses the argument has to remove their cart but on my journey the other driver still helped our driver pull it off the tracks. The motobrujas were one of my favorite activities that i have ever done, all for a $1.50.

When I arrived to San Cipriano my friend and I went to her aunt`s house where we chatted about Colombia, watched her dog lucas fight with the cat and then ate some yummy food before making our way down to the crystal clear waters of the nearby river for a much needed dip in the refreshing water. We spent the entire day there and headed back to Buenaventura later that evening. Her aunt invited me back to visit anytime if i wanted. It was an offer that I just might have to take her up on some day…

Buenaventura: “Barrio Escondido”

>


I have really been enjoying my time here in Buenaventura. I met some friends that live in the barrio of el Muro. I have been told that el Muro is another very dangerous area. When I told the receptionist at my hotel where I have been hanging out the past few days she gave my an incredulous look and told me that she never goes there. El Muro rests on the oceanfront and the houses are built on wooden stilts that rest slightly above the water. The water cannot be seen because there is a layer of garbage and debris that separates the open air and the ocean. From what I could tell the area is not serviced by any sort of public sanitation service, unless of course it has to do with busting some kid that is trafficking drugs. Everyone in this neighborhood shuffles their trash between the wooden floorboards under their houses.
We went to the market and bought 10,000 (5 dollars) pesos worth of fish. I offered to buy the fish and her aunt offered to cook it, being lost in this wondrous land I couldn’t resist the offer. When we arrived to her neighborhood she introduced me to every single person that we stumbled into. I must have met more than 15 or 20 family members and even more friends from the barrio. The people were all welcoming and a little curious as to who I was and what the hell I was doing in Buenaventura, let alone an area like el Muro. We got to her house and she scaled the fish while a stray kitten frolicked in the savory fish remnants. Meanwhile, I took a piss in the hole in the floor and watched it trickle down onto the heap of trash, shit, plastic bottles and scavaging dogs and cats. After that we enjoyed some fish and rice and spent the afternoon bouncing around her grandparents house accross the way and exchanging 2pac lyrics with the neighbors. I posed with many neighbors and friends from the area for photos, including the knife shank wielding youngster and the household 9mm pistol. I also attended a neighborhood birthday party and walked out on the rickety out to where I could see the beautiful sea come rolling in. I’ll never forget meeting her grandfather. He was old and frail and had a concerned disposition to his character that imposed upon me this notion that was always worried. Worried about his loved ones, worried about the crime, violence, drugs, and stomachs to feed. He appeared to have have lived a life that I would only snobbishly peer into from my privilege vantage point.

Iinside the neighborhood any presence of the military or police is virtually nonexistent, or any presence of the state for that matter. The heavily armed soldiers remain on the outside of such hidden neighborhoods. I am not sure if it is because they are afraid to enter or if they just don`t give a shit about the people inside; I suspect it is a combination of both. The area resides close to the infamous Lleras neighborhood that was described in the NY Times by Simon Romero as a no man`s land.

What the NY times described as a “no man`s land”
may be true for those that are not willing to see the humanity underneath all the hardship.  What I found here was not a no man’s land, but quite the contrary. The truth is that the people who inhabit these ¨no man`s lands,¨ and these ¨guerrilla strongholds¨ are human beings as well. They are not all combatants, they are not all leftist insurgents or right wing death squads or drug trafficking vagabonds who are only good for ¨dancing, drinking and killing.¨ They are friendly , warm and extremely welcoming Porteños. They represent a group of people who are largely ignored by their government and stuck in the grinding gears of a complex conflict.The childeren here represent the kinetic energy of thier country but are confronted with the crippling debilities of poverty and violence.

I was not very encouraged by anyone to visit Buenaventura who does not live there which was one of the reasons why I wanted to pay a visit to this place. I will not deny the reputation that this place has or my attraction to such exotic, dangerous places. I have listened to many first hand accounts of the violence that plagues this beautiful place. Most people quickly change the subject when asked anything about the dangers or the armed groups but I did manage to get some information about the reality that these people live. My friend told me about a very beautiful girl he was dating who was chopped up by the AUC because they thought she was a FARC informant. This same person also had a good friend who was caught in crossfire and shot in the bottom of the foot, the bullet exited his chest and killed him. Or the mother who was cooked her own child and told later that she was eating her own son because he was also working for the FARC.


It is a violent city and there are a lot of armed kids and narco-traffickers but to me they are not criminals, they are victims and should be treated as such. They should be treated with expanded social programs, not more intimidating soldiers. They need pipes that lead to septic tanks and books that lead to education. When the only viable jobs are induction into an armed group or to pilot a handmade submarine full of cocaine to Panama it is only obvious that people will fill the ranks of the underground economy. It doesn`t take a Phd in conflict analysis to figure out that people in desperate situations are forced to take desperate actions. Many times they are honestly trying to provide for their families through such underground, illegal jobs. It is true that poverty forces people to do unimaginable things, but I most certainly think that the movers and shakers of the system that creates such social ills do far worse in order to protect the status quo that they benefit so much from.
Is it any coincidence that the most violent areas in the world happen to be the most poor and the people with nothing happen to be some of the happiest? I hope people begin to understand why I enjoy visiting such ¨poor¨and ¨dangerous places and why it is so important that we work together to build bridges to and solidarity with people and communities that are marginalized.
Hasta la victora!

>A Warm Welcome to Buenaventura

For those who don`t know, Buenaventura is a city on the Pacific side of Colombia and its port serves as one of the main import export centers of the country with ships constantly arriving and departing at all hours of the day. The importance of its port has turned it into a focal point in the ongoing conflict in the country between the Colombian government, FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas and paramilitary groups. There are many internally displaced people here from the fighting in the countryside. I walked past the displacement center the other day too shy to inquire about information and saw it literally busting at the seams with people trying to enter in.

I arrived in Buenaventura six days ago unsure of what to expect from this place. When I arrived in the main terminal I was quickly greeted by one of the many young locals who was quick to pitch me all of his goods and services to the local beaches. Some people who you meet in the terminals you can tell right from the start that they are trying to hustle you or if they are someone working honestly and this guy turned out to be quite friendly and before I knew it we began talking about all sorts of different topics and our little friendship blossomed from there. He was getting off of work soon and invited me to go with his wife and little girl to the main park to walk around and see the city. Of course I agreed to the invitation and so off we went for a stroll in the park. Our friendship was treading on delicate groud because I was unsure if he set me up to try and gouge me for money afterwards. It turned out to be a really nice evening and he didn`t ask me for anything although i did buy him a grilled sausage and a pony malta for his hospitality.

The next day he invited me to come visit his apartment in a barrio called Firme. When he got off of work off we went into unexplored , exciting new land. Well, at least for me it was excited and unexplored. We went to his apartment and he took me to his roof where he gave me a blessing and prayed to God for me because he is a devout evangelical. It was a prayer that wether or not i believed in God, I could definitely use.

The neighborhoods of Firme, Viento Libre and Las Piedras were up until very recently disputed territory between the AUC (a paramilitary group) and the FARC. The FARC controlled Viento Libre and the AUC controlled Las Piedras. It was an area where it was almost forbidden to cross from one neighborhood to the other, if one did, they could be labeled informants and sought out by either group and killed. We met up with one of his funny buddies who dances just like michael Jackson and walked from Firme to Las Piedras to go visit one of his other friends. At the time I had no knowledge of the situation about how the neighborhoods operated and who controlled them. We sat in front of his friends house laughing and joking and I taught them how to use my camera. I remember seeing a very buff, Mr. T, Rick Ross looking man strolling through Las Piedras who gave me a glance as he passed by. I was told later that this man was the local AUC leader of Las Piedras. He told me all of this after we went to the area because he didn`t want me to get scared and not come visit his area. I told him it didn`t matter to me and that i would have gone anyways. However, it is an area that I would not venture into on my own. I had an amazing time and it was a very memorable night in Buenaventura. It was one an evening that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I truly belive that if you make friends first it is a lot harder to become enemies later.

>Salsa, Salsa, Salsa. Oh and Buenaventura

>I left Medellin almost two weeks ago and made a quick stop in Manizales for two nights before heading to Cali where I spent a week in what could arguably be called the Salsa capital of South America. Salsa, Salsa, Salsa…….. I attempted to dance at the famous Changos but was mostly laughed at by my new Caleño friends. I had an amazing halloween eve with some locals and met a really nice Peruvian guy named Jose who has been traveling for over two years and has visited close to 70 countries.

I left Cali three days ago and arrived at the notorious port-city of Buenaventura on a cramped and speedy bus in the sultry soaked evening where I was instantly greeted and helped by a friendly local named Jonathan.

Buenaventura is a story all its own but will have to wait for now. I will be back soon with some interesting stories amd hopefully some fotos.

To give you all a feel for Buenaventura, here is an article about the city that ran in the New York Times a few months back.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/22/world/americas/22colombia.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=buenaventura,%20colombia&st=cse&oref=slogin