Have you ever considered throwing a heavy metal disk at a huge target – one that is helpfully made of clay and laced with gunpowder – just to see what would happen?
Nope, I thought not. I hadn’t either, until I realised there was a whole side of Colombia I had never properly explored. The weird and wonderful world of Tejo.
Tejo, for 99% of the world’s inhabitants who have no idea what I am talking about, is one of Colombia’s national sports. It’s so old they were playing it back when Simon Bolivar was just a twinkle in the country’s eye – in fact, it probably started among people in our home department of Cundinamarca (and neighbouring Boyacá) around 500 years ago.
The object of the sport is to hurl the disc – tejo – down a shorter version of a bowling alley, aiming at a circle in a clay target before you. You score points for embedding your disc inside the circle but, more fun, you also score points if you hit a mecha – a triangular piece of paper filled with gunpowder, which explodes on impact like a firework.
But remember, this is Colombia and health and safety is no-one’s responsibility but your own. Players regularly ‘change ends’ which means 700g metal discs are flying through the air and fireworks are exploding at random. Wash all that down with an endless supply of local beer and that’s when the fun really starts.
(Still, it has to be said, the biggest causes of stray tejos came from my own team – five foreigners. It was noticeable that the Colombians, who looked like they had been playing from birth, kept a particularly close eye on both us and where our tejos were headed)
Hitting the target was easy enough but, sadly, striking a firework or the ‘bull’s eye’ was almost impossible. After an hour our hands and clothes were covered in clay and, despite the beers, we’d had enough. We were ready to bolt upstairs and wolf down a traditional Colombian supper.
But that apparently isn’t the spirit. Colombians, it is said, can easily pass seven or eight hours with friends – drinking, singing and, of course, hurling that metal disk with astonishing accuracy.
I understand the main players of Tejo, which despite its popularity you will rarely see on television, are the lower income classes. The atmosphere reminded me of dog tracks at home in England – office workers on a night out mingling with regulars who look like they never see the light of day. It is apparently not unusual to bet the entire tab of the night – food, beer and fees – on the outcome of one game. Who needs bookmakers eh?
There are professional Tejo teams all over the place too and cash, cups and even crockery are up for grabs. So put down that pint and get that Tejo arm pumped and ready for action. There might just be a champion in you yet.