One of the most memorable nights in Bogota was going to see a local futbol match at El Campín stadium. We headed out with a young German couple we met at our hostel to buy tickets for the match, The Bogota Millonarios vs. Tunja, a neighbouring city. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
The best way to describe it would be chaotic. There were crowds of people outside the stadium chanting and jumping up and down, while scalpers raced to sell their tickets. Surrounding the stadium were tonnes of police, fully outfitted riot police, dogs, security guards and stadium police and officials ready to keep the fans in line if needed.
Half an hour before the game was set to start we joined the lineup that snaked around the streets until we were at least a kilometre away from the entrance. We were four lily-white tourists (three blondes, one brunette), and we stood out in a sea of blue Millonario jerseys. As we waited impatiently I decided to buy a snack from one of the many vendors. I fished in my pocket for some change with my right hand and suddenly felt the ticket ripped from my left. Without thinking I turned and saw a man with a white stripe on his otherwise black jacket running through the crowd.
I briefly thought about how stupid I was for holding the ticket in my hand, but then I started chasing him, sprinting faster than I’ve ever run before. As I ran past Jesse and our new friends in line I yelped at them for help. Anger fuelled my legs as I weaved in and out of the crowd periodically losing sight of the thief and then seeing that flash of a white stripe again. Slowly I gained ground on him and as he crossed the line once more I lost him for a second before seeing that he’d slowed to a walk trying to blend in with the crowd. I started running at him until it occurred to me that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do if I caught up to him.
Meanwhile, in line, Jesse had his back to me when I ran past. But our new German friend saw me and stared for several seconds (maybe trying to recall my name?) before saying to Jesse, ‘I think that was your girl.’ By that point I was already out of sight and there was nothing he could do but pace up and down the line.
Back to chasing the dude. I really wanted to see this football match, but not enough to wrestle my ticket from a grown man. So I started yelling and pointing at him ‘My ticket! Thief! Mi boleta!‘ I looked like a crazy gringo but it was effective enough as everyone in line caught on to what was going on. Soon enough the crowd started rallying for me, yelling and pointing up ahead at the man. He took off again and I continued to chase him. Just as I could feel my legs starting to tire he ran into a group of cops with his hands up shaking his head and speaking rapidly in Spanish.
Luckily several people had witnessed the ordeal and spoke on my behalf as I leaned over trying to catch my breath. As the police searched him and tore all of his possessions out of his pocket and on to the ground there was no ticket to be found.
‘Had I made a mistake? Did I chase the wrong guy this whole time?’
I was starting to doubt myself when two boys came up with the ticket in their hand explaining he had dropped it when he realized he was going to be caught. Sure enough it was my ticket and they put him in the back of a police van. As I walked back to my spot in line several people were giving me the thumbs up. I felt like holding my ticket up in victory but thought better of it and quickly tucked it deep in my pocket thanking everyone along the way for their help.
My heart was still beating rapidly as I explained to the others what happened. Before I could finish my story the crowd started rushing a second entrance that had just opened. We got swept up in the mob and eventually made it to the stadium after being thoroughly searched. Finally we were inside but that wasn’t the end of our gringo problems.
I was feeling very thirsty after that whole ordeal, but they don’t sell beer at football matches! I quickly saw why. The stadium was vibrating with energy, passion and tension; 5000 people jumping up an down, beating on drums and yelling at the top of their lungs. Not a single Tunja fan was in sight, so, for our own personal safety, we joined the crowd cheering for the Millonarios. We placed our non-alcoholic beers at our feet and before Jesse took more than a few sips his was stolen from the ground beneath him. We all had a good laugh while nervously white-knuckling our phones.
It was clear the Millonarios were going to win. Not confident we could survive a mass exodus we left 15 minute before the game ended, but not before a guy tried to discard a small bag of drugs into our friends hood. *Sigh*
Finally we made it to the safety of a cab until we came within two inches of being t-boned at an intersection. By the time we got to our hostel we were all doubling over with laughter and relief recounting all the events of the night. The sweet family that owned our hostel fed us leftovers from their family fiesta while we shared our experiences in broken Spanish.
Read about the rest of time in The Beauty of Bogota.