Tag Archives: medellin

Tejo – The National Sport of Colombia

As I noted in my previous post about my trip to Colombia, I played the National Sport of Colombia, Tejo in Medellin and it was one of the coolest parts of my trip.

Tejo is the national sport of Colombia and predates colonial times. The original name, “zepguagoscua,” was changed to Tejo – the shortened “te jodes” or “you fuck yourself.” (Pardon my Spanish.) The game is somewhat similar to bocce and shuffleboard in that you play on a court with two stacks of mud on either side.

In this mud there is a metal circle or “mano” as they called it in Medellin, on which you place triangles filled with gunpowder or “mechas.” (In Bogota, they play with 4 mechas, and Medellin, 2.) Each player is given a metal disc or “tejo” for which to throw across the lane underhanded to try to hit the mechas and set off the explosion.

Tejo, Medellin, Colombia

Taking notes on the rules of Tejo in Medellin, Colombia

This does not happen often, so the points system is as follows -

  • If you get closest to the mano out of the other players, you get 1 point.
  • If you hit the explosive but the tejo lands outside the mano, it’s 3 points.
  • If you hit the mecha and it lands inside the mano, but doesn’t explode, it’s 6 points.
  • If you successfully ignite the mecha, it’s 9 points.

Now that you know the way to play, here’s what happened to Nico and I…

We had planned to meet up with a bunch of people at the tejo court at 4 pm. Well, Nico and I were the only people that showed up. We walked towards the bar to ask if we could play – there was one court open – and everyone on the court stopped and stared. Who were these gringos? We asked the bartender if we could play and at first it seemed like he wasn’t going to let us – the first grouchy person we had met in Colombia – and so I prodded and he begrudgingly agreed to let us play. He handed us the smallest tejos they had and prepared the courts.

Then, like that scene in Romancing the Stone when the Colombians realize that she is de Joan Wilder, the author, people welcomed us to tejo with open arms.

Proper tejo throwing technique

Proper tejo throwing technique as taught by Jaime

A guy named Jaime from the court next to us, immediately came over and explained the rules to us. He placed the mechas in the correct spot and showed us the proper throwing technique.

My first throw of the tejo

My first throw of the tejo

We decided that we should start close as to not accidentally hurt anyone with a wild throw, and work our way back as we got the hang of it. Now, I must admit that I can be a bit of a jock – I pick up games quickly, drawing on my dance and basketball background. For me, the throw seemed somewhat natural, calling on bowling but stepping left then right to have the same momentum as the throwing arm.

We gave it a few tries, all the while getting pointers from Jaime. One of my tejos got seriously stuck in the mud, so another Jaime showed me how to use the crowbar to unhinge it from the mud. Tejo is a bit of a dirty sport, in that your hands get covered in mud.

Tejo goal

Success!

Then, after only a few tries, I hit my first mecha and it exploded! I raised my arms in triumph as the entire court cheered for me. I was filled with orgulla. A few tries later, Nico ignited a mecha too! We were a hit! Gringos who could play tejo!

I got a lot of compliments saying that I had a graceful throw and that my technique was better than guys who had been playing for 20 years. It was awesome.

Aguardiente with Medellinenses

Aguardiente with Medellinenses

Except that once Nico and I’s egos were inflated and we stepped back and back, farther from the goal, we got worse and worse. It might’ve also been that we were never in a proper groove as people continued to interrupt us, often to not even talk about tejo at all. There was also the amazing offer by the Jaime’s to share aguardiente – the anise flavored liquor of Colombia – together. Dream come true.

We were also given pointers by Esteven, a current national tejo player and another man, Ernesto, who was a national champion but is now retired.¬†Ernesto told me that I had to go slower and concentrate on the mechas. I tried to explain to him that I couldn’t go slower and hit the target because I wasn’t strong enough from that distance, but he wouldn’t listen to that excuse.

Tejo Medellin Colombia

It’s getting late and we’re not getting any better…

Nico and I decided to call it quits without hitting another mecha the rest of the night.

Tejo in Medellin

Tejo in Medellin

Everyone wanted pictures with us before we left and I was even made an honorary member of the red team.

Honorary member of the Red Team

Honorary member of the Red Team

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed learning a new sport and hanging out with such friendly and helpful people.

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Ah, Colombia

Colombian FlagAfter spending eight days in the country, exploring the coastal touristic city of Cartagena, the small mountain town of Salento, and the big city of Medellin that is not as cold and miserable as Bogota, I have only good things to say about Colombia.

My journey started in Cartagena, a colonial city on the Caribbean coast where I met my friend, Nico. We stayed in a lovely little bed and breakfast facing a park in this colonial fortressed city that reminded me of a mix of Milan, Sevilla and San Juan.

La Playa Blanca Cartagena, Colombia

La Playa Blanca, Cartagena, Colombia

We took an hour long boat ride to the Playa Blanca where we spent the entire day in the warm water, soaking up the sun. Vendors came by to ask us to look at their merchandise and served as a personal concierge until you would actually look at and buy their merchandise. If you had no intention of buying anything, they would leave you alone graciously.

Cartagena, Colombia

Downtown Cartagena, Colombia

We went to the highest point in Cartagena, an old nunnery that was also used as a military outpost, just a few minutes away from the largest castle in Latin America.

We took an overnight bus to Medellin that took 12 hours through the mountains with multiple police checks and speed bumps. We made friends on the bus who assured us that we were safe. I definitely felt safe.

Medellin, Colombia

Medellin, Colombia

We spent a day in the beautiful city of Medellin that reminded me of the modern world. There was commerce, culture, and a friendly atmosphere. A trip up the east side of the valley, a visit to the Antioquian Museum filled with modern art and a large collection of works by Fernando Botero, and a quick snack at Dogger (Colombians love hot dogs) made for a picturesque day.

Valle de la Cocora, Colombia

Valle de la Cocora, Colombia

We took another overnight bus to the mountain town of Salento in the eje cafetero or coffee district. We arrived at 6:30 am, just in time to hop on a jeep to the Valle de Cocora where a five hour hike awaited us. We went from the valley floor to the top of a mountain, crossing a waterfall multiple times on logs and suspension bridges, and back down again through a strip of land that has the largest palm trees in the world.

Palm trees in the Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Palm trees in the Valle de Cocora, Colombia

We ate a lot of trucha or trout in this precious town with the friendliest people. We learned about how coffee is grown and processed from start to finish on little fincas or farms. At one point, we sat on a bench overlooking a steep hill when some kids came by and kicked a tire down the hill, tumbling down the road at the bottom for 100 yards, then over a small hill, across a basketball court and eventually ending up in a soccer goal underneath the basketball hoop. Nico and I sat there in awe as this amazing feat occurred. High fives all around from the gringos.

Tire Rolling Hill, Salento, Colombia

Tire Rolling Hill, Salento, Colombia

Did I mention how nice the people were?

We stopped to get ice cream at someone’s house on the way back to town and they had us sit and talk to them as we ate homemade mora ice cream from the woman’s blackberries and her neighbor’s cow’s milk.

Cauca River, Colombia

Cauca River, Colombia

Our daytime bus ride back to Medellin proved a beautiful site. Mountains in every direction as we followed the Cauca River. We crawled along the mountain ridges, passing oil tankers on blind turns, realizing a 7.5 hour trip for only 196 kilometers (121 miles).

Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellin, Colombia

Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellin, Colombia

Our return to Medellin proved once again to be filled with culture and friendliness. We scoped out the Museo de Arte Moderno Medellin (MAMM) and ate at a chic – non-colombian – restaurant and got to play the national sport of Colombia, Tejo. We walked up to the Tejo courts, everyone stopped and stared as the gringos came to try it out. We were a bit intimidated but 10 minutes later, everyone on the court became our best friends, instructing us and complimenting our skills. I was even made an honorary member of the red team.

Tejo, Medellin, Colombia

Taking notes on the rules of Tejo in Medellin, Colombia

Which brings me to this point put so eloquently by our new Tejo playing friend, Jaime. He asked what I had heard of Colombia before coming. I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer. So he jumped in and said, “Drugs?! Violence?! Have you seen anything of the sort?!”

To which I could only shake my head no.

And it is true.

Every Colombian we met was willing to help us in any way they could. They would offer suggestions, advice, reassure you that the bus wouldn’t leave without you, walk you 20 minutes to the Metro, exchange phone numbers so they could invite you to Tejo next week, and drive you all the way home even though you only had enough cash to get you 10 blocks away. The only way to describe Colombians is “muy amable.” From the coast to the mountains to the city, this was true.

All in all, the experience was amazing, learning about Colombian culture and opening my eyes to the beauty of the landscape and the people.

Afterword: That is not to say that danger does not exist in Colombia. There is still fighting going on by the guerillas and the paramilitary. It is important to be mindful wherever you go whether it’s down the block or across the world – and we definitely were.

Sidenote: The people in Colombia were extremely nice, but that is not to say that there was no machismo. I often felt like I couldn’t be the one to talk first, that Nico had to ask the questions and do the ordering. They would also often talk about me, right in front of me. And it was often a question they wanted to ask me but Nico had to reply on my behalf. Obviously, this was a bit annoying so I’m glad that I live in a city and a country where I can be independent.

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