Juan Valdez goes around the world showing off his mule –and his mustache- but not many people have noticed that the mule is an anachronism. Yes, mules were used until the mid-1940s, when a world famous vehicle appeared in the war scene and became so popular that even today is sold the world over.
I’m talking about the Willys JEEP, the workhorse of WW2, the robust, strong, undefeatable Jeep.
Now, the sound of the word Jeep in Spanish is YIP (Please do not pronounce the Y and the I as in English; it’s the same sound as Jeep)
Jeeps were imported into Colombia very early after its birth, because it was the perfect vehicle for a country with rough terrain ranging from sea level to 5,000 meters, a terrain were building roads means defeating cliffs, mudslides, rock and clay.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the mighty YIP was indeed the perfect vehicle to ride in narrow dirt roads uphill to the fincas and then downhill loaded with coffee, plantains, pineapples, etc.
A YIPAO means a Jeepload, the term used to refer to whatever could be carried in a yip and still allowing someone to drive it, even if the driver had to crouch under the load.
Eventually, roads were improved, paved, widened and toll gates set up, so trucks replaced yips in carrying the cargo from the finca to the market.
Nowadays the yipao remains as a folklore figure in the Coffee Belt, especially in places like Armenia and Calarcá, were some are still used for yearly parades, where there are prizes for most decorated yips, for larger yipaos and most varied cargoes.