The crowd was in a frenzy.
After navigating some rough neighborhoods to find the arena, braving a roaring pop-up thunderstorm, and waiting 2 additional hours past the start time for the ring to dry, my very first proper bullfight was about to commence.
I sat on a wooden bench squeezed in between locals waiting for the carnage to start. The ring was solid mud so throwing a man into the center with a 400KG sharply horned and pissed off animal promised to be exciting, if not gruesome.
This would have to be one studly Matador to climb into that mud, and I looked forward to making him one of my new heroes.
When the show finally started restless kids shut up all at once, vendors stopped shouting, and all eyes turned toward the action.
What I saw will probably haunt me for years to come….
A grown man in full superman costume walked into the ring, fully equipped with tights, cape, and bulging red speedos.
This can´t be right.
Next, 3 midget clowns came out as well as a prancing ladyboy in full makeup and posture.
This really can´t be right.
Then the moment we were all waiting for….the bull came through the gate.
Actually, ¨bull¨is a gross exaggeration for the animal that was wobbling around in front of us. It was nothing more than a cow, a small cow at that, with plastic horns taped on its head.
Yes, I´m serious.
I watched in complete disbelief as these costumed men tormented this animal, rode on its back, pulled its tail, and jumped over it….all to the screaming and cheering delight of the crowd.
Pre-show entertainment? It lasted for a torturous hour and a half and amazingly the crowd never seemed to grow tired of the circus. Four of us gringos sat huddled together in the crowd wishing we had our $5 back.
I came to see carnage and instead found myself entertained by a grown man dressed up like an 8 year old for Halloween, 3 random midgets, and a vivacious ladyboy.
After they had exhausted more than one cow to complete exhaustion, and I was already scanning around for an exit, 3 young men dressed like legends strutted into the ring carrying the unmistakable red capes.
Suddenly, I could feel hope creep back into my soul.
When the real bull stormed into the ring, I was glad to be sat on the safety of a wooden bench way above the action.
This thing was evil incarnate, definitely weighed the promised 400KG printed on the ticket, and was without a doubt ready to kick some butt. The horns were not only real, but sharpened to a needle point.
Slowly a real bull fight, my first, unfolded in front of me….and it was fabulous. I watched as the 3 teamed up on the bull, protecting one another, and managed not to fall to a muddy, trampled death in the slick ring.
During the fight, one of the matadors was hiding a sword under his red cape, but to my relief both men and bull actually left the ring without any extra holes in their bodies.
At the finish, the primary matador did his victory walk around the ring, bowing to our applause and cheers. This is the part where they would probably throw roses at him in Spain, but the spectators around me couldn´t have even afforded them to throw.
And so, I lucked into my first bullfight in Popayan, Colombia and despite the vomit-inducing pre-show, it was amazing getting to sit on a Sunday with a thousand local people enjoying a break from their tough lives.
This was definitely a highlight of Popayan for me and I´m looking forward to sharing the pics as soon as I can find another card reader to upload.
Tomorrow we hit the road and plan to cross into Ecuador at an exhausting pace to reach Machu Picchu before circling back to the north coast of Colombia. It going to be a long week of chicken buses I´m afraid….but like everyone else, its Monday and time to go back to ¨work¨.
And yes, I think I want to be a matador when I grow up.