A bright flash erupts as the force of my palm-sized, 680-gram puck smashes gunpowder against metal.
The garish noise reverberates around the room, bouncing off the concrete walls and sheet metal roof to ensure everyone hears it.
I turn around to see my teammates’ applause, grab my beer, and take a celebratory swig.
Welcome to Tejo, the Colombian sport of throwing rocks at gunpowder.
According to Wikipedia, “the sport originated by the Chibcha people from pre-Hispanic central-western Colombia.”
Every night in San Gil, locals get off work and head to the pueblo’s Comite Municipal de Tejo to toss these stones in a game that dates back centuries.
As you might be able to guess, this is very much a working class game, though it’s not uncommon for hundreds of dollars to be bet on games per night, and tens of thousands of dollars to be awarded as prize money in major competitions.
The Rules for Playing Tejo
While there are a lot of rules to formal and competitive play, most foreigners curious to try a recreational game only need keep a few in mind.
Your goal is to hit a metal ring, known as a “bocin” with the “tejo” from about 22 meters away. This is accomplished with an underhand toss.
The bocin is surrounded by clay, which helps ensure the tejo will stick upon landing, at least in theory.
Good players are able to throw the tejo in such a way as to ensure it lands in the clay, instead of bouncing off the backboard and walls (or your friend’s head).
Beginners are likely to see their tejos ricochet all over the place.
Being new to the game, us guys threw from three-quarters of the regulation distance, while the girls threw from the official halfway point required for men.
The girls were also able to use slightly smaller, lighter tejos.
The person whose tejo lands closest to the horseshoe earns a point for his/her team.
Little white triangular paper packets called “mechas” are filled with gunpowder, and make the game a lot more exciting.
One or two mechas are placed around the metal ring, and if you hit one of them with the tejo, a loud noise erupts, along with a white flash as the gunpowder ignites.
Hitting a mecha earns you extra points, and of course, hitting them is the main goal of everyone who plays.
My last night in San Gil happened to be a Tuesday, which luckily coincided with the weekly trip organized by Shawn, the owner of Macondo Hostel.
As I was staying at a different hostel, I took a 3,500 peso ($) taxi on my own, and joined them when they arrived.
There’s no fee to play at Comite Municipal de Tejo, but Shawn did say we needed to buy and drink a case of beer between us.
He explained the rules, and we split up into four teams, and then proceeded to play two games to twenty points each.
Tossing the tejo with any sense of accuracy was difficult, so when I hit one of the gunpowder triangles, I was elated.
Few of us beginners managed to do so, while the regular Colombian players seemed to be hitting them much more frequently.
Tejo was recently featured in Anthony Bourdain’s new TV show, Parts Unknown Colombia.
Alcohol, explosives, vallenato, and rock throwing. Playing tejo turned out to be a surprisingly good time!