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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nico and I decided to call it quits without hitting another mecha the rest of the night.
Everyone wanted pictures with us before we left and I was even made an 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.