In my first post about my amazing trip to Colombia, I promised a story about tear gas – and here it comes! There’s also another story in here about the worst bus ride in the entire history of bus rides.
While I was wandering around Medellin, my friend Theresa was industriously making plans for our evening. The plan was to go to a soccer game (sorry, I guess it’s called football) with a group of Aussie boys that Theresa knew from her time in Nicaragua. I am absolutely not a sports fan, but a lot of articles I read talked about how totally insane and cool football games in South America are.
The Football Game
Insane: yep. That’s the word for it. I’ve never experienced such fervor for sports, or even anything close. So apparently the game we were going to was special: Medellin itself has two teams, and they were playing eachother in their shared stadium. The rivalry is so intense that at each game like this one, only fans of one team are allowed to attend. There’s also no alcohol served.
These games are also notorious for being insanely dangerous, despite the limits on who can come. Partway through the game our friends started telling us stories about people bringing machetes, SWAT teams coming out, etc, and we dismissed them as tall tales. That is, until we looked down and saw a SWAT team. Ah.
Regardless of our newfound concerns, the atmosphere of the game was just absolutely mesmerizing. There’s one particularly enthusiastic section, which takes up about a third of the arena, and for the entire game they were on their feet singing, chanting and jumping. They bring their own marching band. They have so many flags.
I’ve never seen anybody with so much energy, nor do I understand how they all remember the words to so many songs.
But there was another section of fans, right below where we were sitting: we referred to them as the hooligans. They seemed to be young and slightly more insane than the rest of the fans, with weirdly disturbing flags and just a strange, charged atmosphere. That’s where the SWAT team was standing.
After the Game
As soon as the game ended, despite the fact that the team that everybody was supporting won, this section started freaking out. The SWAT team surrounded the hooligans, who began to throw chairs and beat eachother with metal rods. THAT was fun.
I’ve never been so thankful to be with a bunch of tall Aussie guys, rather than alone with another small female friend. We hurried away, simultaneously desperate to leave and intrigued by the scene. Then we watched people start to cough and hack, before beginning to do so a little bit ourselves. “Is that tear gas??” Yep it was!! Awesome… Throwing our intrigue to the side, we focused on the hurrying out.
The Bus Ride
I could write a legitimate novel about this bus ride because I have so much to say and so much rage within me. Theresa, our new German friend Anne and I were on our way to Cartagena. From Minca, we took a colectivo to Santa Marta and got out as close to the bus station as we could. There, we asked somebody where we could catch a bus to Cartagena and we were ushered to a minibus – I think the company was Flamingo.
The first half was fine – I slept, read, listened to music and watched the world go by. The weirdest part was when I looked out of my window just as we were going onto a bridge and saw a bunch of guys wearing terrifying animal masks, or balaclavas – and holding baseball bats. They were right up by our windows and it was jarring, but nothing happened – we just drove on by. Still no idea what that was all about.
Then, the fun started. We got to Barranquilla and stopped to drop off and collect people – and we moved to some of the single seats to have more space. Worst choice ever. Around 12 young-ish guys wearing football jerseys got on, and immediately surrounded us and started yelling.
The next three hours were completely awful. They screamed, constantly took shots of liquor, snorted cocaine directly out of a baggy, and were generally obnoxious. But that wasn’t the worst part. We pretended not to understand Spanish so they’d hopefully ignore us, but we understood every disgusting thing they said about and to us.
The guy next to me tried to borrow my water, groping my leg in an attempt to “ask me a question”. He offered me cocaine and alcohol multiple times and was sitting so close to me that I was pressed up against the window, holding in tears and playing my music as loudly as possible in an attempt to drown out the disgusting things coming out of his mouth.
I have been angry before, and I have been anxious before, but I have never felt so much rage and to be honest, so much fear. It was a very unsettling experience, and I don’t believe we were in any real danger – the bus attendants were watching the situation and you could tell they felt bad for us and would step in if necessary. But still – it really, really sucked.
I bet these guys were the hooligan fans.
I just want to make it clear that despite these two experiences, I have zero regrets about my trip to Colombia. I wish neither of these things had happened, but I made it through by being smart and taking precautions, and they have no impact on how fondly I remember my first trip to South America.
You can buy tickets to a football match at the stadium which is fairly central in Medellin. We paid 40,000 COP but you can get them for cheaper. Don’t take anything valuable and I probably wouldn’t go alone.