That morning, a red river of people flowed through the heart of Medellin, home to the proud Paisa variety of Colombian. Deportivo Independiente Medellín (DIM) were playing and no-one in the town wants to miss that. Heading towards the stadium, I was carried along helplessly with the current. The life-blood of the city getting stronger as more fans joined. Standing out like a polar bear in a desert, with my white t-shirt, I couldn’t continue without attempting to fit in with the locals.
The shirt seller solemnly allowed me to try his treasure trove of DIM outfits, while his sister giggled off to his left. Who was this gringa trying to wear their colours? How hilarious that her face matches the shirt in this sweaty midday heat – was what I’m sure she was thinking. He seemed suspicious of a tourist fishing through his stall, until he realised I was serious about purchasing the local colours. His smile was a brief gift in return for the biggest sale of the day and now this happy traveller could head to the game kitted in the local uniform.
Entering the busy stadium with caution, I stopped only to get my face painted with the DIM emblem by a small girl on the stairway. She was efficient in her art and it took less than a minute to become branded by the team. Now I was ready to join the battle.
I scrambled to my seat and attempted to catch the eye of a crisp seller to stock up on snacks before the game. No alcohol is allowed inside the stadium, but the Paisa’s don’t need anything to make them any more excited. A roar filled the air when the leggy ladies in tiny dresses left the pitch to make way for men in shorts. Sticks struck drums with a furious beat while men and women leapt up and down in the aisles.
The game began.
The ball was kicked from one end to the other, the crowd filling the stadium with deafening cheers each time a red ran near. The jumpers gained energy. One fan literally fell off the balcony from such intense enthusiastic leaping for the local heroes while in the front row of the balcony. He was carried out on a stretcher – probably still cheering for his team!
I looked around the crowd, nervously assessing if there was danger in such a busy place. Medellin has been known to be one of the most dangerous cities in Colombia in the past, and a single traveller there often gets warned of this. Could the friendly fight opposite spread to the rest of the stadium like a Mexican wave of violence?
Booming sounds filled my ears once more. If there was danger, I couldn’t have even thought to run away even if it was possible to move my feet. An enormous hug came at me fast. To maintain a British politeness, I hugged right back and found myself jumping, mirroring my new Colombian dance partner in this arm tangle of celebration. High fives and screams I couldn’t understand. An accurate translation wasn’t necessary – the reds had scored and nothing else mattered in the world.
To get a real glimpse of the locals, football games in Medellin take place on Saturdays and it’s easy to get a ticket from a tout by the stadium. Stay in one of the friendly hostels near Estadio metro, where you’ll find a buzzing nightlife to rival El Poblado. Then, all you have to do is wear some red and enjoy the madness of Paisa passion.