When we decided on Colombia as a destination, one of the first things that we did was watch Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” for Colombia. After that, we immediately knew that we wanted to try a round of tejo (a much more exciting and fun version of cornhole because instead of tossing bean bags towards boards with holes in them, you throw these heavy disks at a box full of clay and gunpowder). The sights, the sounds, the smells– explosive! We knew that tejo was definitely a game for our adventurous souls.
Our first step upon arriving in Bogota was to find a place to play. We chose Club de Tejo La 76, about 20 minutes outside of La Candelaria/downtown. Back in 2018, the cost was 50,000 Colombian pesos (or $15 USD) for 1 hour of play. Similar to bowling, you pay for the experience, the court, and the equipment all in one.
Next, we picked out our tejos. Just like bowling balls, they are all different weights. Finally we got the most important equipment: beer. The seemingly mandatory cerveza was $2,500 Colombian pesos (or .87 cents USD). Beer and tejo go hand-in-hand; the locals playing next to us had a beer in one hand while throwing the tejo with the other. Other locals had full crates of beers, drinking 24 at a time and then ordering another crate as soon as the first was gulped down.
With beers in hand, the helpful employee from Club de Tejo La 76 took us upstairs to the beginners area (downstairs the court was about 3x as long) and he showed us how to play. He explained the rules and stuck around long enough to make sure our tejos didn’t go flying toward someone’s head. The room was filled with the sounds of people speaking Spanish, clinking beers, laughter, and the occasional boom of gunpowder.
The basics of the game are simple: launch your tejo at the tabla (clay box), aiming for the mecha target. A mecha is the little triangular packet filled with gunpowder, and there are usually a few placed around a metal ring. Players take turns each round, and one point is awarded for landing closest to the target. Add onto that 3 points for exploding a mecha, 6 points for hitting inside the target, and 9 points for exploding a mecha and hitting inside the target at the same time. No points are awarded if you hit the backboard or if you miss the tabla all together (which we often did). The first to 21 points is the winner.
Tim, of course, became an expert after just a few throws. His tejo hit the bright pink paper mecha and the club exploded with sound.
We paused for a picture while the group of local men next to us congratulated Tim on his hit. Everyone in the club was extremely friendly. Maybe it was the beer… but it seemed like all the locals enjoyed laughing at the gringos who were attempting to play their pastime.
After gloating about his victorious throw, Tim had to dig his tejo out of the clay and re-set the playing area. This game is definitely not one for your finest clothes, and you will be leaving the court with a good amount of mud caked on your hands and clothes.
The hour passed quickly, and we found a new love of this crazy sport. Oh, and the best part of playing tejo? You don’t even have to leave the court to go to the bathroom. Why don’t all sports have this option?
If you’re ever in Colombia, you definitely have to add tejo to your list — it’s a unique cultural experience that, for various safety reasons, can’t be played in many other countries. So grab your friends, a crate full of beers, and find out if you have a secret talent for explosive games.