“Do you need any help? Are you on your own?” the portly police officer asked me, looking concerned.
“Yes, I’m alone,” I lied. It often makes life easier.
In fact, I was attending my first ever bull fight – in the gloriously warm city of Medellin – with a photographer.
He’d left to find his seat in the press box, tucked away at ringside, while I was struggling to find my seat (well, piece of stone bench) in the stands with the hardcore fans.
“I’ll help you find your place,” my policeman replied gallantly.
“I’m also in charge of looking after the bullring President in the box over there so, if you need anything, you come and find me.”
We found my seat minutes before the drama unfolded.
But at this point, I can’t tell you my opinion on bull fighting. I’ve just returned to my hostel, I’ve downed an Aguila and my emotions – good and bad – are all over the place.
Suffice to say, seconds after witnessing the death of the first bull I was sitting open-mouthed, notebook in hand.
I felt a hand tap me on the shoulder.
“Are you okay?” a middle-aged man asked.
“Do you understand what is happening?”
I shook my head slowly. Bull fights are pretty complicated and, death aside, I wasn’t sure I was following the intricacies.
“Come and sit with my wife and I,” the man suggested.
“I’ve been coming here for 25 years and I speak English.”
Typically, I struck gold with Alfonso and Maria Luz. They shared their carefully pre-prepared snacks with me while Alfonso imparted his expertise and Maria Luz listened to the radio commentary, roaring through her ear-phones.
Two hours later and I knew the skills and secrets as if I were bull fighting’s most devoted fan.
I also realised the full importance of the bullring President. He sat issuing his commands and honours as if he were the occupier of the throne in a Royal Box.
My friendly policeman was clearly a man-in-the-know.
Eventually, the night ended. The last red coronation was thrown, the last hat was waved, the last bull was killed. I said a grateful goodbye to Alfonso and Maria Luz and immersed myself in the hell of an eager-to-leave crowd.
This was where my problems began.
I couldn’t find the photographer anywhere. His “meet me at the door we entered” meant nothing when every door in a round bullring is identical. Ironically, it was the equivalent of the Labyrinth, minus the Minotaur of course.
The ordeal was worsened by stuffy officials, refusing to allow you to re-enter doors you have just pushed through.
I was considering a very public meltdown when I felt a gentle tug on my deeply stressed elbow.
“Are you lost again?” my friendly policeman asked.
Oh, I could have kissed the man. I settled for a nod.
“Yes, please, my friend is by the box office,” I yelped in relief.
“Ah,” he said, suddenly understanding.
“That entrance is off-limits now, except for VIPs. But come with me and we’ll find your friend.”
The policeman pushed me through the crowd until we came to a heavily guarded door, almost bumping into a smartly-dressed man who was departing with a huge smile on his face.
“Victoria, this is the President,” my policeman chirruped, laughing at the look of shock on my face.
“Did you like the fights?” the man asked cheerily.
“Erm, yes, I did,” I replied, still dazed. You don’t have open-minded debates with bullring Presidents, even smiley ones.
The President nodded, shook my hand and left just before the photographer appeared, looking harassed.
“Would you like a lift to your hostel?” my policeman asked.
“I’m going that way and I’m alone in my car.”
The photographer and I exchanged glances.
“Erm, yes, that would be great, thanks,” we said in unison.
Fifteen minutes and a ride in a police car later, we were back at our hostel, drinking a beer and debating what we had seen.
The photographer listened wide-eyed as I explained about Alfonso, Maria Luz, the policeman and finally, the bullring President.
“I knew you would be alright up there,” he said, finally.
“But I can’t decide whether these people find you because you’re blonde… or because you just look really helpless.”
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