Parades are the kind of public events that often sound promising, but can easily turn into masochistic affairs. There are many ways this can happen- perhaps there are too many people, or the traffic is horrible, or it is absolutely impossible to see the parade.
Perhaps you find a good spot, but just before the floats pass, a few hundred late arrivals rush out in front of you. Of course these latecomers are all armed with massive iPads which not only block your view, but are also filming videos that no one will ever watch.
And on top of all that, your legs are probably tired because the parade is running late and you are roasting under the sun. This has happened so many times to Barret and I that when I told him about the Yipao Parade in Armenia he looked quite skeptical. “You sure you want to go? You know what parades are like.”
Truthfully I wasn’t expecting too much either, but I had seen some beautiful photos of the traditional “Willys” Jeeps overloaded with household furniture and I was a little bit enchanted. Barret and I finally decided to catch an early morning bus to Armenia. From there we took a taxi directly to Parque Aborigenes, which is the starting point of the parade.
It turned out to be the best decision we could have made because not only did we get there right when the parade began at 1pm, but we were in the shade of a cluster of trees and there was hardly anyone around. We could take as many photos and get as close to the Willys as we wanted.
These antique jeeps arrived in Colombia during WWII and were very popular in the mountainous coffee-growing regions because of their handling and cargo capabilities. Since then, they have become an endearing icon that is celebrated every October in Armenia.
Although, the Yipao Parade is just one part of Armenia’s week-long annual celebration (called the Cuyabras Festivals). There were many other events that took place that Saturday such as a massive artisanal market, a beer and gastronomy festival, and a book fair. All of the events took place in different locations, so after receiving multiple bad directions, we found taxis were the best way to go.
Of all the events though, the Yipao Parade was the big attraction of the day. There were four principal categories, with one of my favorites being the Trasteo Típico.
This is the category where, traditionally, families moving from one finca to another would pile all their possessions onto a jeep. Everything from furniture, to paintings, to bedpans, to plates and dishes were elaborately stacked and tied to the jeep. Cages filled with chickens, ducks and pigs were tied just above the rear fender.
I couldn’t figure out why this was the preferred location until I realized that if the animals went to the bathroom, their waste would just drop onto the ground. Good idea.
Another category with just as much creative decoration was the Categoría Libre. In this group Willys were decorated with everything from recycled bits of plastic to dioramas of traditional industries.
And the dioramas weren’t just static either. The coffee roasting jeep was actually roasting some small batches out back. There was another jeep that had some sort of volcano on the roof, and that too was smoking as it drove past.
There were brick-making, basket-weaving, fruit and vegetable displays. Some were very professional and others were just lucky their car was even operating under that much weight.
The word yipao specifically refers to the competition where Willys are loaded with as much cargo as possible. So the third category, Productos Agrícolas, is perhaps one of the most important for the parade. This is the group that loads as much weight as they possibly can onto their jeeps. The types of individual cargo categories could be things like coffee, plantains, or yucca.
The most impressive jeeps were the ones that spent the most time on two wheels. Sometimes the weight was so much though that the passengers had to get out and sit on the front fender so that the jeep could drive in a straight line. One driver had even modified his jeep so that his chair was where the roof should have been.
Of course there were also sponsored Willys that passed out freebies to the crowd. Cristal, a brand of aguardiente, was pouring free shots to people who ran up to their float. I thought this was particularly interesting as the floats that followed were in the most dangerous group – Piques.
These jeeps in Piques were loaded with just enough weight to make acrobatic feats possible. At first I thought the jeeps just spun in circles, but then I realized that the driver actually got out of the car.
Just imagine a crowd of people surrounding a spinning car (with corporate sponsorship) and no protective barrier between them. Then, in the middle of the spin, the driver gets out and jumps onto the front bumper. He leans back and scrapes his machete along the ground. It was absolutely nuts.
It was also totally captivating. Confetti and scratched roads were left in the wake of the acrobatic jeeps.
Barret and I actually ended up following the slow-moving parade along its route just so we could see some of the jeeps again. The nice part was that even in the busier parts of the route, it was still easy to get around and find a good view.
The Yipao Parade was definitely the best parade I have ever seen.