I fear pool won’t quite cut it for me anymore, for I have experienced the incredible Colombian bar sport of Tejo…
“There’s only one place in town where you can play it,” says our jovial hostel owner Hemmie. “But they might not let you in.
“Gringos have a reputation for injuring themselves or others when the gunpowder explodes.”
He smiles. “But I’m sure you’ll be fine. Have fun.”
And that was as much as we knew when we stepped into the Los Amigos bar on the outskirts of the beautiful mountainous town of Salento, in the South Western corner of Colombia.
Situated in the Zona Cafeteria (coffee region), the town is awash with farmers who spend their days tending crops before finally downing tools and partaking in possibly the loudest pastime on the planet.
“Hola,” says the young barman flashing a suspicious glance towards the excited faces of the two English, two Dutch and one Austrian stood before him.
“We’re here for a game of Tejo,” I say, feeling like a nervous 17-year-old trying to buy alcohol.
He pauses and gives us the once over.
“Okay,” he says finally. “You can give it a go, but only on the small lanes. It’s free as long as you buy beer.”
Having to purchase a few Aguilas at 80p a pop is, of course, a bit of blow but we take it like the men (and one Sophie) we are and buy a round.
The hesitant host leads us through the bar to a large, dusty barn.
To the left, locals wearing boots and wide-brimmed hats are lobbing something heavy at distant boards.
“BANG,” an explosion makes us jump and triggers a burst of a whoopin’ and a hollerin’ on the other side of the chilly room.
Looking across, I see smoke rising from one of the boards. Bemused expressions fill the faces of my fellow uninitiated Europeans, clearly none of us have a clue about how to play.
Fortunately the bartender spots the floundering foreigners and comes over to point us in the right direction.
It turns out it is simple, but brilliant – like most great games (apart from cricket, which is quite complicated but brilliant).
Imagine a game of darts, but instead of a cork board, picture a couple of 2ft x 2ft sq targets covered in a bed of soft brown clay. The targets are positioned on the ground about ten metres apart at about a 25 degree angle.
Standing next to one of the targets players take it in turns to lob a solitary, palm-sized metal disc (called a tejo) underarm at the other board.
The goal is to land the disc inside a 15cm steel ring (the mecha) positioned in the centre of the clay.
Fun enough, you may think, but what really makes the game unbelievably awesome is the placement of four small paper parcels of gunpowder at north, south, east and west of the steel ring.
If you are skilful (or in my case lucky) enough to simultaneously strike the paper parcel sitting on the steel mecha the resultant spark ignites the gunpowder and “BOOM!”
Apparently there are different rules for scoring, but the apprehensive barman tells us we should score five points for landing the tejo inside the ring, three points for lighting the gunpowder and a whopping nine points if we are able to both light the gunpowder and land the disc in the ring. If there are no explosions and no-one gets the tejo in the ring, the closest to the centre scores one point.
Once everyone has had a shot from one end they each retrieve their disc from the clay and a new game or end starts facing the other board. The overall winner is the first to accumulate 21 points… Still with me?
A ‘baby’ sized tejo is handed to each of us.
I’d hate to feel the weight of a ‘daddy’, for what I am holding is a hefty lump.
I have a horrible flashback to the time I threw a ‘junior’ sized shotputt the wrong way out of the pitching circle on school sports day.
I can picture the barman’s face as I confirm his worst fears.
“I’m so sorry Mr Barman but this stupid gringo has somehow managed to chuck the tejo through a wall and into the head of a passing child.”
Anxiously I make my first throw and although it’s nowhere near the middle I am chuffed to land it in the clay.
While explosions regularly go off on the longer 20 metre tejo lanes beside us, we are having little success in our own attempts to spark the gunpowder.
Ironically the more of the amber nectar we knock back the better our games seem to get and then at the start of the seventh end ‘Sure shot Sophie’ shows the boys how it is done with a perfect strike on the gunpowder.
This time the smoke rises from our lane and cheers erupt arounds us. High fives all round for Miss Cross.
From then on the explosions come thick and fast as we spend the next, thoroughly enjoyable, four hours throwing bits of metal at boards of clay.
As we get gradually more drunk our explosion-cheering gets gradually louder and we begin to see why this is the second most popular game in Colombia (after football).
Amazingly our improving efforts seemingly impress the locals and at one point in the evening, after back-to-back explosions, we attract a small crowd.
Not since a group of Chinese men started following my moves on the roulette table at the casino in Torquay have I felt both so proud and so bewildered at the same time.
I think Tejo would go down a treat in England, but I guess the health and safety suits would never allow it. Shame.
We are the last to stumble out of Los Amigos sometime past caring and I say a drunken goodbye to the landlord who looks at me uneasily.
“Did you cause any damage?” he inquires hesitantly.
“No Shir,” I slur proudly. “Alls in order. “I would jusht like to say thank you bery, bery mucsh for letting ush play probably the besht bar game ever invented.”
Thankfully no small children were hurt in the research for this post.