Mechanical Mules

Transport, Happiness

In the coffee region of Colombia, the landscape is steep and the terrain difficult, and there are many people and agricultural products that must be drawn from the countryside farms into the cities. For hundreds of years, this work was entrusted to pack animals.

In 1946, for military purposes, the M38 and CJ-2A models of American Jeeps arrived in this region. The power of a Jeep's engine and its traction  allowed people here to cross the difficult terrain of their area, loaded from floor to ceiling with packages of coffee, banana bunches, pigs, chickens, furniture and people... many people. It was for this versatility and cargo capacity that the American jeeps, renamed in this area as yipaos, became known throughout all Colombia as "mechanical mules".

Since that time, it has become impossible to conceive such cities as Armenia and towns as Calarca in the coffee region of the country, without  seeing these jeeps crossing hills and roads, transporting workers, sounding their horns and shooting sounds of country music, boleros and tangos from performers like Oscar Agudelo, Olimpo Cárdenas and El Caballero Guacho.

Traditionally, farmers in this region worked on farms from Monday to Saturday and Sunday was their day off, when aguardiente, drunkenness, visited the lovers and an occasional dispute was the daily bread of any Sunday in these towns. By 6 pm, the sun is hidden among the coffee trees, and on weekdays, the yipao driver and his assistant pick up workers to bring them back to the farms where they collect the coffee.

Where will fit 20, fit 25. That is the motto governing the loading capacity of powerful little carts. Their colors, their given names, the ornaments with the figures of baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary to which the car are entrusted, the skill of their drivers able to stop these cars on three, two or one wheel and set them literally to dancing and, of course, the disproportionate cargos, have made the yipaos a kitsch icon of the region, an example of  the temperance, strength and joy of its people.

Since 1988, each June in Armenia, the capital of the department of Quindío, the yipaos compete to be the most colorful, the best transporter and the one whose driver has the expertise to make them dance better. Strength, tradition, creativity and a little madness, Colombia at its best turning an American machine in a colorful workhorse.