Your parents might have warned you about Colombia. The country’s volatile history is still within the living memory of older generations: narco-traffickers, guerrilla insurgencies, and violence. The reality today is quite different.
While Colombia’s civil war is formally over, one explosive part of its history remains.
Colombia’s national sport, Tejo, involves gunpowder, steel projectiles, and alcohol. A combination of any of the latter might sound like a recipe for disaster, yet blowing stuff up while drinking beer is perhaps the best national sport a country could wish for.
From a distance ranging between 10 and 18 metres, players throw a steel disk towards a target encircled by gunpowder-filled packets. With luck, these packets explode on impact with a lively bang. Smoke bellows from the clay backboard as spectators duck for cover or cheer.
Landing the “tejo” (steel disk) on the “bocín” (target) while striking a “mecha” (explosive) gets you top points. While this is easy-work for Tejo aficionados (and there are many in Colombia), half-drunken tourists are likely to make harder work of it. In any case, landing just one explosion suffices to go home contented.
How exactly Tejo came into being remains a matter of debate. Most agree, however, that Tejo is over 500 years old and originated with indigenous communities living close to modern-day Bogotá. These communities, the story goes, played the game with gold, sticks, and stones - the gunpowder was added later.
Tejo can be found almost anywhere in Colombia - eve in smaller pueblos like San Carlos. And now, the game’s appearing in neighbouring Venezuela.
In short, Tejo’s got it all: it’s an explosive cultural experience to be shared with beer and friends. It’s a mad sport, and you’d be mad not to try it.