I met up with a Colombian friend, Lily, at around 2 pm on the first Saturday of La Feria de las Flores. We made our way to the southern part of the city using the metro, and proceeded to wait for other people to arrive. It wasn’t until about 4 pm that we actually left the metro station to check out La Cabalgata, a parade of 6,000 horses.
Due to our late timing, we were catching the tail end of the parade, which meant the streets were already well soiled. The smell was what you’d expect, but not overwhelming. I regretted that I wore white sneakers, though it was better than the open-toe sandals some of the girls I was with were wearing.
My eyes lit up when I began to see what the parade was all about — having a great time with friends and family, whether you’re riding a horse or not. Of course those riding the horses had to keep them under control, while guzzling bottles of Aguardiente and rum.
Lily had mentioned that there wasn’t suppose to be any drinking on the horses this year for safety reasons, however that clearly wasn’t being enforced. There were plenty of police on horseback in the parade to keep things under control, however I didn’t see any signs of trouble, other than the occasional horse backing up too close to the onlookers.
The atmosphere reminded me of Carnaval in Barranquilla, minus people being sprayed down with shaving cream. Street vendors and industrious Colombians were out in force selling street food, beers, the ubiquitous gum, and traditional woven hats.
Since we got a late start, we kept moving along with the end of the parade. In the beginning, there was room between people, however the longer we walked down the route, the more people we encountered, and soon we were weaving between the sidewalk and street. There were some times when people were getting pushy, which happened with the crowds at Carnaval too. The only difference was this time, I was carrying an expensive BlackBerry phone, versus a cheap $25 one.
As we walked, I was doing my best to take photos, but it wasn’t easy. At the least, I was ensuring my camera was protected from thieves as I had the cord wrapped around my wrist. Unfortunately, with my attention focused on framing photos and enjoying the atmosphere, I wasn’t paying attention to my phone’s security. I was the perfect target.
In my front left jean pocket, I had my BlackBerry and a wad of pesos. I took out my BlackBerry to send a text message to Troy since he was missing the event. I didn’t have it exposed for more than a minute, but that was enough time for it to be spotted. I’m already a glaring target given I’m a pale-skinned foreigner, so in retrospect, I should’ve been more self-conscious.
A few minutes after I’d put the phone back in my, Lily asked me if I still had my phone. I felt my pocket — it was gone. [Insert expletives here]
She had the same one as me, and had warned me a dozen times since we met to be careful with it. Her advice didn’t register at the time, and now I’d been robbed. I suddenly felt extremely vulnerable. Everyone was partying around us, drinking, eating, enjoying the afternoon, but my attention had immediately turned to my lost phone, and lost phone numbers. It also had the address and security codes for my apartment building. And I’d just paid $35 for internet access in August the day before.
Lily offered to call Tigo to report the phone stolen, however there was a security PIN number they needed, that I didn’t have on me. Eventually, we wound our way further down the parade route, and I began looking for a taxi, which was difficult given all the people in the area.
I had the option to continue the night with Lily and the others, however I knew that my mind would be on my phone, and therefore I wouldn’t be able to enjoy their company. I figured it best to call it an early night.
The sun was setting fast, and I was pacing up and down a street I didn’t know, trying in vain to hail an empty taxi. The darker it got, the more vulnerable I felt, and my frustration continued to mount.
It’s never taken me so long to catch a cab in Medellin, but I eventually got one and headed back to the apartment to collect my thoughts.
The next day, I went to Santa Fe Mall and bought another BlackBerry Curve.
It was an expensive lesson learned, and even though I didn’t get to fully enjoy La Cabalgata as I’d have liked, the wild west atmosphere of old school Colombian culture was a sight to behold.