Colombia Day 10 – Bogota

I learnt there was a bull-fighting bout today, as we were still in the bull-fighting season which runs from January to February. Today was a special day – a couple of famous Spanish matadors had been invited, and it promised to be an interesting spectacle. It was going to be packed, but I was determined to go and try and get a ticket. Vero and I got the TransMilenio bus to town, and then a taxi to the bull ring. The streets were alive with people walking briskly to the event and vendors selling various things, it was like the walk to a football stadium in England on match day, that faint buzz of adrenaline as you get nearer and start to hear the cheers of the crowd that make you quicken your pace. The vendors were doing a roaring trade selling cowskin and leather drinking horn, which everybody seemed to have.

I walked up to the ticket stand and was told it was sold out, so I went to another and was told the same, but then a third told me there were a couple of tickets available in the expensive section, about 75 quid a person. I paid it, I was here now, I may not be here again and my wallet’s gain is my experience’s loss, so I was happy to fork out for it and leave my wallet hungry. We walked up the steps to the outside of the stadium. There were podiums all around the outside with Colombian models promoting cars, expensive alcohol, cigars and other fine things. Vero and I went to the tent where the women were giving everyone free glasses of expensive rum on the rocks, filled to the top of the glass. We had 2 or 3 each, then went into the old stadium and grabbed some food as they were mid-fight and they don’t let people in until the next fight so as not to disturb the other spectators. I had a ham and cheese empanada, washed down with a Club Colombiana. Delicious, as neither Vero nor I had eaten all day.

The doors opened, and we entered. The roar of the crowd was deafening. The circular stadium, with no roof, was packed. Horns were blowing, drums were beating, and a black bull was being pulled out of the ring by horses. It was dead, and just slithered along the sawdust, leaving a trail of blood behind which was quickly covered up by more sawdust. We squeezed into our seats, which were tiny with little leg-room, and prepared to watch the next fight with the well-dressed and well-heeled sat around us, all furnished with designer sunglasses, sun beating down on us.  An old Colombian man next to me started speaking to me in Spanish, and I found I was able to communicate well with him. He offered me a drink from his drinking horn, and I accepted. It was red wine. Everyone around me had a drinking horn filled with something alcoholic.

The next fight began. A raging black bull was released into the bull ring to the tune of trumpets announcing its arrival and it seemed a little confused. Then, around 5 picadors appeared on horseback, and took turns goading the bull. I soon realised their job was to both tire the bull and enrage it further, as they used their weapons, picas, to thrust into the bull and make it bleed. Then assistant matadors appeared from behind little shelters and took turns goading the bull with a red cape, and using their weapons, banderillas (short, harpoon type weapons) to further weaken and enrage the animal. After 5 minutes or so the chief matador walked into the ring to whoops and applause. He was armed with a sword, and he too goaded the bull with his red cloak. He was more nimble than the others, and the bull didn’t seem to be able to get anywhere near, and it began to lose interest, until the matador stuck another banderilla into it’s back and it hung there like a broken dart with its coloured tassels hanging off it. The bull was still putting up a good ‘fight’ but was exhausted and considerably weakened. The trumpets and drums were beginning to speed up, signaling the end might be near. The matador grabbed the final killing tool from one of the assistants, and, as the bull ran up one last time, the matador sprung up like a cat and plunged the sword deep between the bulls shoulder blades, causing it to fall to its knees to cheers from the rabid audience. The matador then ran swiftly up to the defeated bull and severed the artery near the heart, finishing the bull off. The matador received wild applause as the bull was attached to an apparatus made of wood and chains pulled by horses and dragged around the ring before going down the tunnel dead that it had sprinted from alive. It was an uneasy spectacle to watch, like something from the time of the Romans and Gladiators perhaps, and Vero wasn’t interested in watching anymore. I asked her to watch just one more (the tickets weren’t cheap, after all), and she agreed. We were glad we stayed for this one.

The trumpets sounded again, and the bull came out and, was goaded once more, but this time, no banderillas were used, so the bull was just tired, not cut. Then, from the tunnel came a matador from Spain, riding a beautiful brown horse, and he received a thunderous reception. I’ve never seen such horsemanship. He guided his fearless horse as though it were a radio-controlled car. The horse ran forwards, sideways, backwards, away from the bull. Facing the bull, the horse even imitated the bull angrily scraping it’s hoof on the sandy floor, to the delight of the spectators. The horse reared away always just in time, and at times it danced left to right forwards towards the bull, then backwards away from it. I couldn’t believe how well the matador controlled his horse. The matador exited the ring and came straight back in on a beautiful white stallion. He began plunging banderillas into the bull, and gradually it weakened, until it stood staring at the horse and the matador, tongue hanging out and panting madly. One last charge. The matador stuck the final sword in. The bull turned and stood, staring at the matador once more. At this, the matador jumped off his horse, walked up to the huge black beast, and kissed it on the nose. The bull fell down, and the matador walked away to the most vehement reaction I had ever witnessed. He was a hero – and the ring was being showered with red roses and hats, which the matador threw back into the crowd as is the custom. The matador did 2 laps, and at the end of the second the bullring was so full of roses it was red. What a spectacle!

At this juncture, Vero and I left. An experience like no other. A sunny day. I was warming to Bogota and it was warming to me nicely.

Vero packed and headed to the airport, but I was staying 2 more nights. Vero’s taxi driver dropped me off in Usaquen. A bustling market by day, Usaquen attracts a rather sophisticated late-night clientele. I headed to the huge plaza, and saw it was full of swanky restaurants and cool little bars. I headed away from the plaza, however, as I had spotted an Irish bar down the street, and needed a good hearty feed and a pint of guinness. It didn’t disappoint. A full Irish band, fiddle and all, were playing when I arrived. It was very lively, with a good mix of locals and expats. I sat at the bar and got talking to a Canadian bloke here on business. Then, a friendly local girl came up to invite us to join her and her friends. We did just that. Her friends were a comical bunch of locals, American, French, and German lads and lasses. I ordered a shepherds pie, which led some of them to do the same as they’d never heard of one before. Here, everyone could speak English well, though still the conversations took place mostly in Spanish. It was good to be around this group, they gave out positive vibes, and my perception of Bogota was beginning to change to a more positive one. I stayed until closing time, then got a taxi back to the hotel. It had

been quite a day!


Author: Neil

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