There’s so much more to Colombia travel than colonial beauty and Andean wilderness: tejo, a national sport of explosions and beer, is a must-try.
Hidden away in a dark alleyway on the outskirts of Villa de Leyva, ‘Cancha de Tejo’ bar looks somewhat sketchy at a first glance. Inside, a drab concrete hall is filled with small groups of men drinking beer and hanging out. From time to time, an explosion echoes across the hall. Nobody flinches, conversations flow uninterrupted, the music keeps on playing.
Narciso, a local pig farmer, plays tejo every Friday and Saturday evening – sometimes even on Thursdays if he has spare cash. “It’s a place to unwind. Playing tejo is about having fun, beer, and banter”, – Narciso explains, grinning.
The rules of tejo are simple. Small envelopes filled with dynamite are placed in a circle on a clay target. Each player is given a ‘tejo’ – a smooth, round stone. Throwing the tejo, a player who hits just outside the dynamite circle gets one point. Three for hitting the dynamite, and six if you hit right in the middle. The first team to gain 21 points win.
You don’t have to pay to play: according to Nestor Vargas, owner of the ‘Cancha de Tejo’ bar, each team must buy at least half a case of beer – and they can play for as long as they like. “On a good night, I sell 30-40 cases of beer”, – Nestor said.
Playing tejo is now a national sport in Colombia. “A national champion can win as much as $5,000”, – one of the players explained, excited. In a country where an average monthly wage is $300, this is an astronomical sum of money.
But tejo isn’t really about competition. “Most men who come to play are local construction workers, day laborers, small farmers. It’s their space. They can talk without reserve, drink beer and hang out”, – Nestor told me.
Tejo is said to have originated from an ancient Inca game of throwing golden discs at targets. “Explosions just add a little color, I suppose”, – Nestor said, but when asked here the dynamite came from, he just shrugged his shoulders.
Women are allowed to come and play, too, and in some parts of Colombia, some female players enjoy the sport. In Villa de Leyva, though, this is a man’s world.
“My doors are open to anyone and everyone. I don’t tolerate brawls or fights and the men know that if there’s trouble, I’ll call the police. Tejo is about sportsmanship”, – Nestor assured.
Soft-spoken, quiet, but incredibly efficient, Nestor kept a sharp eye on the game, hurrying over to clear empty beer bottles or fill the dynamite envelopes before the teams even realized they were running low.
Nestor’s bar is in the shadier part of town, but foreigners are welcomed to come in and play. “We’re actually starting to get more and more tourists nowadays”, – Nestor explained.
If you want to try your hand at tejo, check out “Cancha de Tejo” bar in Villa de Leyva, Boyaca, Colombia: Boyaca is said to be the original birthplace of tejo.
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Words: Egle Gerulaityte