Bang! A target explodes as a team of beer-swigging Colombians high-five one another amid boastful cheering and dancing. Their team takes the points and wins the round. The other side regroups and prepares for their next attempt at blowing up the mark. This is tejo, Colombia’s gunpowder-fuelled national sport.
The game consists of hurling heavy metal disks (tejos) across a distance of 10-20 meters, depending on skill-level, at triangular pieces of paper containing explosive material. These small targets are placed in a wooden box filled with muddy clay. Upon impact there is a deafening blast so loud it shakes the entire arena and brings conversation to a halt. Then laughter erupts and the game resumes.
Men, women and children all share in the madness with varying weights and distances. And points are awarded based on several factors:
Hand: 1 point awarded for getting closest to a paper target at the end of the round
Hit: 3 points for exploding the paper target
Bullseye: 6 points for landing in the center of the clay area
Strike: 9 points for a Bullseye/Hit combo
Apart from soccer, it is the most popular sport in Colombia and is played at many different levels and stages. The professional game is popular and has even reached neighboring Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. However, at its most basic level, farmers in impoverished rural areas enjoy tejo after a hard day of labor.
I played the game three times in various settings. The first was in a tiny rural village called Chinchiná. It is a ten-hour bus ride from Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá. While volunteering on a coffee farm, I met locals who encouraged me to play with them for free.
At the time, I hadn’t heard of tejo and naively assumed the excessive beer consumption was specific to this rural venue rather than a national game.
In Bogotá, several weeks later, I paid around £20/$30 at the Masaya Hostel to play (many hostels in Colombia offer this service). Unlimited snacks and alcohol are included in the price. An empty glass is unthinkable.
And in Medellín, Colombia’s second city, tejo is available at the Envigado Sports Center for $5. Just turn up with friends and ask to play – tejo requires a minimum of two competitors with an upper limit of six players on each team.
On previous occasions, I hadn’t managed to blow anything up. But my frustration turned to euphoria upon finally hitting a target and watching it light up in Medellin. Cries of ‘eso!’ (translation: hooray!) echoed all around with fist-bumps and free fried chicken offered up by the locals.
In general, food and beer are such an integral part of the sport that by the end, nobody knows or cares about the score.
As for its origins, it is said the sport derives from the native Chibcha and Muisca people. Yet theories of how it came to be are as erratic as the game itself. One common misconception among Colombians is that it was originally played with solid gold discs more than 500 years ago – but this is unlikely as the natives had little access to gold in that era.
Tejo is not just a sport, but also a way of a life for Colombians. It is part of their proud cultural heritage and national identity. And they are always happy to introduce foreigners to the game, so don’t leave the country without trying it at least once – just be careful where you put your fingers!
About the author:
Andrew is a freelance journalist who lives in Medellin. He holds an NCTJ qualification and worked as an online reporter for The Sun and several other publications before moving abroad. His passions are travel, football and languages – he speaks French and Spanish. He is constantly astounded at how much Colombia – and Medellin in particular – have to offer.
- Tejo: The next Olympic sport? (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Old Colombian sport of disc throwing is boozy, explosive fun (rawstory.com)