What does gun powder, round metal disks and beer drinking have in common? The makings of Colombia’s National Sport, Tejo. While futbol is all the rage across the rest of South America, and certainly a large part of Colombia’s culture as well, it’s one of the few countries that hasn’t declared soccer the national sport. Perhaps through influence of the major beer companies, this explosive game was officially declared Colombia’s national sport in 2000 by national decree.
While the origin of the sport is heavily disputed, Tejo, pronouced Tay-hoe has been played on Colombian soil for centuries, originating with the native Muisca tribes hundreds of years ago. Today Tejo is played all across the country with official teams and leagues in most towns. Neighbouring Ecuador, Venezuela and Panama also have taken up the sport and have national teams as well. You can join in the fun and try your hand at the sport at any number of local and gringo watering holes across the country.
The game is played in teams and consists of throwing a metal disk, the tejo, across an alley at a distance of up to 20 meters to a wooden board covered in clay at the opposite end. Thankfully most of the informal tourist establishments are set only eight meters apart and even then it was hard to hit the target at the other end. Embedded in the clay is a metal ring with up to four mechas, triangle packs of gunpowder, set on top. When the tejo makes contact with the mecha packets, the gunpowder ignites against the metal ring and emits very loud popping sound. The more gunpowder you set off, the more points you earn your team, with the highest points attributed to the disk that is closest to the inside of the metal ring. It’s comparable to bocce ball, but a heck of a lot more exciting as you stand on edge waiting for the next packet of gunpowder to go off.
With the national teams all sponsored by major beer companies; Tejo and drinking go hand in hand. It’s easy to see how this game caught on so quickly with beer drinking, gun powder and throwing metal disks all wrapped into one game. While it might amount to the perfect man’s night out, I have to admit I had a pretty good time myself and successfully set off several mecha gunpowder packets resulting in whoops and cheers from my team. If you find yourself in Colombia be sure to find a local Tejo arena, grab an Aguila beer and give their national sport a try.