Chivas are old Dodge busses used for local transport in rural areas and look quite intriguing: the cab is painted in wild colors and so is the interior, which consists of five wide rows of painted wooden benches each sitting six people.
There is no aisle and no windows, each row is entered individually. Thus the sides of the bus are wide open and airy. Sacks of merchandise and people pile onto the roof of these vehicles. On markets days, the number of people and especially the cargo takes on dimensions hard to describe. The loading of a Chiva at the end of market day reminds of loading a cargo plane, it takes up to two hours. Once it starts moving, it stops again at every house and path along the way to allow people to get off with their shopping.
Not knowing that there is no other kind of transport, we foolishly decided to visit the Saturday market at Inza, the bigger village next to San Andres. Chivas will pass every few minutes we were told, to take us to the market. As a matter of fact, we waited for 1.5 hour for the Chiva taking us to Inza.
The main staple sold there is coffee, vegetables, fruits, clothes and shoes. One item offered definitely we found intriguing: an ointment made from huge snails’ “saliva”. Supposedly it helps against any kind of pains.
Obviously it is very unusual to encounter foreigners here, lots of people stared at us in amazement, like “what the hell are you doing here?” After about 1.5 hour strolling around aimlessly, we decided we had enough and tried to get one of the “supposedly” many Chivas going back to San Andres. First challenge was to figure out which Chiva goes where, of course people gave contradictory information. When we finally found the right one, it was already packed with people, but somehow we pushed our way in and the long wait for the bus to be elaborately loaded began.
After more than 1.5 hour, we were told we were on the wrong bus, and that the bus next to us was the right one. Only when we got out, we figured out that it was not true, but then our seats were already taken. Our new bus was not less crowded but now we were so furious, so we no longer took “no” for an answer. We just climbed into the seats next to the driver, although “reserved” by stacks of cartons of eggs and sacks of maize. Against his repeated protest, we put the stuff on our laps and did not budge. Enough was enough!
During the last minutes before “take off”, the driver gulped down a can of beer, definitely not the first one that day. After 30 minutes we stopped – another big bottle was downed in less than two minutes. These are the moments when we wonder if people back home would found any compassion for us tumbling down a cliff…
Interestingly, there are presently mainly foreign tourists in Tierratentro. Why? A group of Columbian university students brought light into this affair. There is a Columbian website that informs local tourists whether an area is safe to travel. If not, it is “Zona Roja” or Red Zone, where either the FARCS or the Paramilitary Militias are active. We were just glad we did not know all this. More comforting was the information we received from locals that there has never been any trouble around here.