There's not much reason to go to Silvia aside from the weekly Guambiano market and if you choose to do that and are looking for a colorful indigenous tribe, you will not be disappointed.
Fondest memory: There are times when you just know you shouldn't but you do it anyway. You know deep down that you certainly shouldn't take photos of people when they are known not to want them taken. Taking them with a zoom lens counts too. So, putting yourself in the position to make this kind of choice is a bit of an infraction too I guess. Silvia is a small mountain town unremarkable in itself but once a week an indigenous Colombian group descends upon the hamlet. These people known as Guambianos are the most traditional of all indigenous Colombians and are also perhaps the most colorful and photogenic of the country's varied people too. This flair comes with a price and that is people wanting to take photos of them despite their strong feelings against it.
The trip to Silvia is about 90 minutes, not long by Colombian standards but we were over six weeks into our trip around the mountainous country and another bus ride was not looking particularly appealing. By nature of the terrain, Colombian roads are winding affairs and if motion sickness is one of your pet peeves, buses on such roads might want to be avoided. Of course, you can't really avoid them but you can pick and choose which ones you have to do. Going to Silvia and just observing the Guambianos didn't seem “worth it” to me but staying in Popayán for four nights and not going seemed a bit extravagant just to have a chance to eat more of the town's delicacies. So, we bit the bullet and grabbed a bus to Silvia. We weren't planning on taking photos but it's not like we left our cameras in our room. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
We had taken one of the earlier buses so when we arrived there were no gringos in sight. It was certainly a scenario where we were the ones that stood out and were being watched so we took refuge in a small restaurant to eat breakfast and wait for the cavalry to arrive. It wasn't like I was going to bust out the zoomie with such an imbalance of forces. I have to admit I was a bit intimidated by the Guambianos. The men somehow looked like a fierce bunch and they seemed to know all too well why any gringo comes to town on market day, and it wasn't to buy maize either.
With some food in stomachs, we stumbled into the church on the main square to have a peek, and to see if there were some good vantage points to take some photos from. We were not alone, another couple of gringos were doing exactly the same thing. I managed to get a pretty good shot and was already satisfied to become an observer, knowing I'd bagged my lion. We walked over to the market to do just that and saw small pockets of gringos en route. One woman was filming the Guambianos with absolutely no shame, point blank. I have to admit I was a bit ashamed to be part of her tribe and to have been doing pretty much the same thing albeit more discreetly. Once inside the market, we mingled around but soon noticed that there was a high perimeter around the lower area where the produce was being sold. We naturally went up there for a better view and could not help but start taking photos. It didn't take long to realize there were quite a few gringos up there doing the same, all attached to their zoom lenses. I joked that we should start taking photos of them as it was comical to see “us” all doing exactly the same thing. I could only imagine what the Guambianos thought of us, and what we spend on our little toys to take photos of them. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Fondest memory: We left the market and headed back over to the park to take a break but there was no break to be had. The park was crawling with Guambianos and these were even more colorfully-clad than the ones in the market. Besides, the light was better outside. The only problem was it was more obvious if you took them out here. I knew this was really pushing it but for some reason I couldn't help myself. Every click seems to be better than the last. Extreme close-ups of personal interactions I had no right to be part of became routine. I tried to be not be too obvious but you can only hide so much when you're not wearing the local uniform and have a 450mm lens sticking out from your head. Suddenly though, I met more than my match. Focusing in on a group of men dressed to the hilt, I thought I saw them looking back. I figured I was being paranoid and zoomed further in only to find two eyes looking back at me, very intensely. I snapped anyway but left the scene immediately. I'd like to say that was the last photo I took but more I clicked. It's like I had no control over what I was doing, like I'd committed a crime and any number more wouldn't make a difference. Of course, each one did make a difference and when I look at the photos now, I still see the eyes of each one looking back at me. I doubt I'll ever go back to Silvia again but if I do, I won't even think about bringing a camera.