So today I had that classic, tragic song by Buffalo Springfield in my head all day.
"There's something happening here,
what it is, ain't exactly clear.
There's a man with a gun over there,
telling me, I got to beware.
Stop! Children, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's goin' down!"
Now lemme tell you, "that shit was goin' down" (Uncle Dick) tonight in downtown Bogota. Independence day stampedes, pickpockets and smoke bombs rumored to have been built by rebellious students punctuated an otherwise tame evening.
Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 marked the 200th anniversary of Colombia's independence from Spain. This accomplishment is largely credited to General Simon Bolivar. He was at various times, and often simultaneously, President of Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. The main square in Bogotá, as well as innumerable other cities and towns throughout Latin America, is of course, Plaza de Simon Bolivar. Bogotá's edition is surrounded by the principle halls of court and government, truly grand and gallant structures, as well as the most imposing cathedral in the city.
The plaza was thus the place to be for the bicentennial celebration, the prime location to watch the fireworks.
It was a dry night, and clear. We'd heard they would close the gates at 7, but the surrounding streets were already so packed that we quickly knew we would not make it to the square. I was with my Argentinian amigo Patricio, and a mixed group of gringo's from Hostel Sue: Australians, English, American, I think that's it. Lina, who is our loyal local, and manages the front desk at the hostel, was originally with the group as well.
There was a wall of police enforcing a boundary, because the area around Plaza de Simon Bolivar is only so big. As a group, we crawled our way slowly forward through the crowd. It became steadily more packed. At some point, we stopped at an intersection. The gibbous, Scorpio moon was overhead, above the mountains in the Eastern sky. Jupiter was huge, shining over the city, further to the South and West.
There was a crush, as streams of people crossed in opposite directions. A middle-aged white-man passed us, obviously on his way home, with his girlfriend carefully clutched behind him. He said "if there's a stampede... watch out."
Two minutes later the air was tinged with a palpable panic, and I believe I then placed my left arm straight up in the air in order to lead the retreat. "Disculpa, disculpa. Perdon." We'd slithered 20 m back up 6th when the first bomb sounded. I heard it, and turned to see a small-tree-sized plume of white smoke.
The second explosion, moments later, did not appear to produce any smoke.
At first I figured it was a failed firework. The second opinion offered was tear-gas, intended to disperse the crowd. At last, Lina explained her smoke-bombing student hypothesis. Their precise motivation remains vague.
Patricio had his wallet nicked from under his poncho; I had 23,000 pesos pulled from a zipped pocket. Impressive, really.
Boom! Instant forgiveness in action! I say: Thank you sir, brother angel, for providing me the opportunity to practice!
Anyway, then we went home. Enough intensity for us. Several groups made their way back separately. Patricio, two Aussie lasses and I scurried back first, and had beers in hand before the next crew arrived, followed eventually by the last two girls, who had walked ahead of the group from the very start. Right back where we began, we sat in the Sue courtyard and listened to the fireworks.
I wish I had pictures. I'm glad I didn't bring my camera.