Colombia is one of the world’s most diverse countries and it has the terrain to match. Visitors find themselves exploring glorious mountain peaks and dormant volcanoes that give way to deserts, sand dunes, jungles and rolling hills. All that keeps the country’s farmers on their toes and has lead to the dominance of one vehicle above all others:
Why the Willys?
Farming is an integral part of life across Colombia, especially in the fertile coffee zone and other areas where coffee, sugar, fruit and vegetable plantations are key to survival. When World War Two ended in 1945 hundreds of Willys originally manufactured for soldiers lay unused. These practical 4×4 vehicles soon found their way to Colombia where they proved indispensable when it came to negotiating the country’s tough and unpredictable terrain. Willys also turned out to have the magical quality of being able to carry far more than anyone ever thought possible.
What are Willys used for?
Colombian farmers refer to their Willys as mulitas mécanicas (mechanical mules) and visitors to the country’s rural areas will spot the vehicles loaded with everything from bags of coffee and bunches of bananas to yuca, plantain, papaya, avocado, tomatoes and watermelons. And their popularity doesn’t end with farming. Anyone who moves house or needs to transport household goods will load up a Willys. It’s not unusual to spot these colorful vehicles laden with chairs, tables, sofas, mattresses and even televisions.
How are Willys celebrated?
Willys have been an icon in the Colombian countryside for more than 70 years now, so it makes sense for them to have their own festival. Every year across the coffee district’s Quindio department, farmers load their Willys with goods and take part in the Yipao or Jeep parades held in Armenia and Calarca. They compete to win prizes in categories such as carrying the most goods and “best arranged cargo”. Locals and enthusiasts line the streets for these parades, which have run since 1988. In 2006, the Calarca parade grew so big it earned a Guinness World Record for “World’s longest Jeep parade” with more than 370 heavily-laden vehicles showing off their wares.
How can I join in the fun?
The best way to celebrate the role of the Willys in Colombian culture is to attend a Yipao parade but, if you miss out on the fun, there are plenty of other ways to participate. Most coffee farmers who run tours on their land offer tourists a ride in a Willys. Similarly, anyone who visits the picturesque town of Salento, in Quindio, will need to hitch a ride on a Willys to reach the nearby Cocora Valley and hike among the giant wax palms.
A ride in a cultural icon that has found a new home and purpose? Live this experience in Colombia. If you liked this article please feel free to share it on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any of your social networks.
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