Each week my language school offers a few cultural activities to enhance the learning experience. Friday afternoon was tejo, which I learned is Colombia’s national sport. Who knew? (Apparently people who watch Anthony Bourdain. This short video is worth watching for a real understanding of what I’m trying to describe.)
In class we were given a long explanation of tejo in Spanish that mostly went over my head. I understood it to be a little like cornhole: you throw something to try to explode something while drinking beer. I was sort of right.
We drove about an hour outside of the city, up into the mountains. Upon arriving, the game was explained again (much easier to understand when accompanied by the actual items) and then divided into four teams of four people each. While doing this, the beer arrived.
Alternating between teams, each person takes a turn throwing a tejo—a small metal disc—at the “cancha”, which is about 19 yards away. You are trying to hit one of four mechas, a paper triangle pouch filled with gunpowder that is dug slightly into a clay-covered board leaning against the backboard at about a 45-degree angle. (In reading about tejo to write this post, I learned that there’s a metal ring under the mechas. This might have been explained in class.)
The best thing is to hit an explosive that actually explodes, creating a gunshot sound, a small fire of explosion, and the lingering smell of gunpowder. Second best is for your tejo to land within the circle made by the four explosives. Third best is if you are somewhere in the mud, and closer to the circle than anyone else stuck in the mud. All of these earn some points for your team.
Almost the worst is if your tejo bounces off the backboard or the frame around the mud. Absolute worst is if your tejo doesn’t even hit the goal.
Guess what happened to my tejo on many of my throws? (Hint: there’s a reason my softball career was short-lived.)
It wasn’t so fun to spend over an hour doing something I sucked at. The fact that it was really loud area didn’t help either. The enclosed small playing area amplified the gunshot sounds made when someone hit a mecha.
My team had two skilled players, but we were behind the whole afternoon. Then, unexpectedly, the other person at my skill level hit a mecha and we won. Completely unexpected and a little exciting for me. Very exciting for the two players who earned all the other points.
I washed my hands and mentally got ready to head back to Bogotá. Except the leaders decided we needed to kill time to avoid traffic, so we started a second round pitting the two winning and the two losing teams against each other.
I was really uninterested in playing again but my team needed four players.
Then I hit the mecha. Total thrill! I jumped. I high-fived everyone. I gloated (“Ah, the sweet smell of success.”) It felt like finally bowling a strike after throwing gutter balls most of the game.
In fact, I compare this whole experience to bowling: it’s fun to do—one or twice a year.
An unexpected bonus came while driving back down into Bogotá. The road is set into the side of a mountain, affording beautiful views of the city. We stopped at an overlook where people set up camp to watch the sunset, eat and drink beers. We enjoyed the beautiful night for a few minutes before heading home.