If you’re planning on heading to Colombia and you really want to soak yourself in their culture and connect with the locals, then playing Tejo, or Turmequé as it is sometimes known, is a great way to start.
Although you may have not heard of it, once you get to Colombia it is highly likely you will, given that almost 90% of the country’s population play it.
‘Tejo’, pronounced TE-HO is unique, is Colombia’s only native sport, and, because it involves throwing a puck over 20 meters to have it land in a box of clay with sufficient accuracy to explode the small packs of gunpowder, is also one of the world’s coolest.
Yes, you read that right!
The Origins of Tejo
Tejo was first practiced over 500 years ago by the Muiscas, an indigenous group (also known as the Chibchas) who inhabited the Cundiboyacense Plateau region, on the Eastern ridge of the Colombian Andes.
The sport was initially named ‘Turmequé’, after the name of the town where it originated. Turmequé was an important commercial and cultural center before the Spanish conquest.
The true significance of Tejo in the culture and ceremonies of the Muiscas is not known due to lack of concrete historical accounts, but it has remained an integral part of Colombian culture to this day.
Nowadays Tejo is played throughout the country and even in countries that neighbor Colombia. Many towns have Tejo Clubs, where local players and teams complete, and share the obligatory cerveza or two.
If you are keen to get involved, ask around and it won’t be long before someone puts you in touch with an enthusiast who will take you under their wing as there fledgling protégé.
What is required to play Tejo?
Before outlining the rules and point system lets define the physical elements that are used in this sport.
- Área del juego (playing field): The base surface is clay and is 19.5 meters long and 2.5 meters wide.
- Cancha (court): Rectangular courts are placed at either end. Courts are formed from wooden tables or slabs of 1.5-meter-long by 1 meter wide. A shallow wooden box of 1 meter by 1 meter is positioned onto the table. At one end they are 35 cm deep, while the other end is 5 cm deep. These boxes are filled with damp clay, or plasticine. The canchas are then positioned in a way that they are angled so the target area is visible to the player.
- Bocín (horn): A round metal ring or disc called a ‘bocín’ is positioned in the center of the box. This is the bullseye or principal target to hit in the game. It is 2cm thick and has an internal diameter of 11 cm.
- Mechas (gunpowder wicks): The small triangle wicks are positioned around the edge of the bocín and are secondary targets. They literally look like tortilla chips given that they are equilateral triangles of around 6 cm in length. Do not eat!
- Tejo (puck): This is the thing you throw; it is commonly a round disc of metal but can equally be a similar sized rock or heavy object if the game is being played in a more rustic setting. The Tejo has a maximum diameter of 9 cm, is 4 cm high, and is 5.5 cm at the base.
- Concentration: Tejo players take it pretty seriously so if you do decide to get involved do ensure you are patient and respectful. Due to the distances involved it is really quite difficult to find your range so stick at it and as a foreigner you can expect plenty of support, and rest assured you’ll get your fair share of laughs at the start. Expect a sore arm in the morning too!
- Another essential is good company and plenty of good food and beer. Enjoy!
How to play Tejo
The objective of the game is to throw the Tejo from one end of the playing area to the other end (some 18 meters away) and have it land in the cancha or court at the other end, the Tejo should hit the mechas, or land directly inside the bocín.
- Who starts?
Each player or team makes a throw. The person or team that gets their Tejo closest to the bocín starts. From them on the players take in turns to make their individual throws.
- How do you win the game?
The first player or team to get 21 points if the victor.
- What is the scoring system?
Mano = 1 point. Awarded to the player that lands their Tejo closest to the bocín (but has not hit either the mechas (powder wick) or the landed their Tejo inside the bocín.
Mecha = 3 points. Awarded when the Tejo has been thrown and upon landing it hits and explodes one of the mechas located around the bocín.
Embocinada = 6 points. These points are awarded when the Tejo lands directly into the bocín with the wider base facing toward the board.
Moñona = 9 points. This is the equivalent to a ‘Hole in One in Golf’. To get a moñona you must get your Tejo to land inside the bocín whilst at the same time exploding a mecha.
Whether you are backpacking around South America or are in Bogotá on a business trip, if you’re looking for something quintessentially Colombian to do, then write down Tejo on your list.
Prep up by getting the gist of the sport by catching a few videos on YouTube and brush up on some basic conversational Spanish.
There’s no better way to fit in than by speaking their language, try a free trial Spanish class with one of Live Lingua’s Colombian Spanish teachers and you’ll be blowing up your first mecha before you know it.
Also, check out our FREE Spanish Survival Crash Course, which will help you speak basic Spanish before your trip to Colombia!