Tejo in Medellín: Why Playing Tejo Should Be On Your Bucket List

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We’d never heard of tejo (pronounced TAY-ho) before we got to Medellín, Colombia – but once we found out about it, there was no question that we’d be playing this game. Trust us on this: it’s totally worthy of your bucket list.

Below you’ll find info on how you, too, can play tejo in Colombia. (Scroll down to the “Talk to Chris” section of this post if that’s what you’re most interested in. There’s a Facebook page you have to visit, a guy you’ve got to meet, and a Facebook group you should consider joining.)

For those of you who are similarly unfamiliar with tejo, here’s a quick primer:

Tejo is the national sport of Colombia, and has been played for the last 500 years. It’s a lot like cornhole, but with the added benefit of explosives. If the rednecks back in the US ever find out about tejo, it’ll probably become the national sport of Toby Keith concerts.

Why this sport has yet to make it to America is beyond us, and we’re going to do what we can to bring it stateside. Even if this means we have to DIY build our own tejo field.

How to Play Tejo: Rules, Lingo, Beer

The setup is pretty simple: there’s a wooden box (called a “pitch”) that’s 35” x 40” and filled with clay. In the middle of the pitch is a metal circle. Here, four packets of gunpowder (called “mechas”) are arranged at the north, south, east and west points. There’s also a backstop, but if you hit it when you throw any points that you receive are voided.

The goal is to throw your metal puck (called a tejo) either onto one of the mechas so that it explodes against the metal ring. You score even more points if you land your tejo into the center of the ring.

You step up to the line, which is 60’ away from the pitch, and hope to nail a mecha. Here’s how the scoring works:

  • If you’re the closest to the center circle, you get 1 point (this is called a “hand”)
  • If you hit a mecha and it explodes, you get 3 points (this is called a “hit”)
  • If you land your tejo in the center of the ring without exploding any mechas, you get 6 points (this is called a “bullseye”)
  • If you land your tejo in the center of the ring and also hit a mecha that explodes, you get 9 points (this is called a “strike”)

Here’s Kelly, posing like a rap star next to the pitch:

Besides tejos, mechas and the pitch, the only other thing you need to play tejo is beer. Preferably, a few of them – tejo is a lot like darts or pool in that there’s a “sweet spot” that you can get to after a couple of drinks. The beer also acts as a counterweight when you throw your tejo, helping to keep you balanced as you toss for a strike.

When you throw your tejo and it hits a mecha, the explosion sound is loud – almost like a gunshot – and very satisfying. There’s no question when you hit your target.

Occasionally, you’ll run into some heartbreak when you hit a mecha and it doesn’t explode. You feel cheated. You feel pissed. You feel determined to blow that bastard up on your next toss.

It’s incredible, and addicting.

If You Want to Play Tejo in Medellín, Talk to Chris Cajoleas

Tejo was completely unknown to us before we arrived in Medellín – we found out about it on the Digital Nomads Medellín Facebook group

This group is one of our favorite resources for connecting with other digital nomads in the area and finding cool things to do. This is the group to be in if you want to get invited to Medellín meetups, happy hours, networking events, touristy stuff you can get a group discount on, etc.

The group is also great for finding yoga classes in English, housekeepers you can trust, buy/sell stuff you need as a digital nomad, and more. We LOVE the Digital Nomads in Medellín Facebook group, and you should join it if you’re in the area for any length of time.

This group also introduced us to Chris Cajoleas, a professional tejo player and the owner of the Tejo in Medellín tour group. Chris posts a lot of gifs like these to entice people to come play tejo:

via GIPHY

via GIPHY

via GIPHY

We were in as soon as we saw this giffery and looked up what tejo actually is. Chris hosts tejo tours every Thursday, and for $30,000 Colombian pesos (around $10 USD) you get three drink tickets, a tejo lesson and as much tejo as you want to play.

The tejo field is set up in Envigado, the neighborhood that borders El Poblado. For reference, it cost ~$3.50 USD to Uber from El Poblado to the tejo game (a 15-25 minute ride, depending on traffic).

There’s a reason Chris has a 5-star rating on Trip Advisor – he knows tejo, and if you want to learn it he’s your guy (and he’ll show you a VERY good time in the process!). We can’t speak highly enough about Chris or his setup. If you end up paying him a visit to play tejo, tell him the Gringas from Workationing sent you and he’ll treat you right 🙂

This game is for everyone, so no matter how sporty or coordinated you are this is definitely worth trying. Men, women and children play it – the only difference is that women get to toss from a line that’s just a few feet closer to the pitch.

Pro Travel Tip: Do dinner in Envigado before you go play! Our favorite place for pre-tejo grubbage was Black Pepper (the menu is in English and Spanish, and we consistently had excellent meals there).

ANOTHER PRO TRAVEL TIP: Bring cash, because Chris will laugh at you if you ask if he takes credit cards. Also, there aren’t any ATMs nearby.

We learned this the hard way, and ended up borrowing the cash from one of our fixers. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to play that night. In general, you should carry more cash than you think you’ll need in Medellín, because “cash only” is definitely still a thing out in Colombia.

FINAL PRO TRAVEL TIP: Tell Chris we sent you!

Making Friends & Playing Tejo in Medellín (This is Where the Digital Nomads Are!)

As soon as Thursday rolled around, we went to dinner at Black Pepper and then headed to tejo. The forecast said there was a chance of rain, but since the court was covered the game was still on.

That “chance of rain” quickly turned into a torrential downpour, which we got caught in. When we finally got to tejo, we were soaked and very much ready to cash in some of our drink tickets.

Since tejo is the national sport of Colombia, we were expecting to mingle with some locals. We were very surprised to see that playing tejo in Medellín, Colombia is definitely a gringo thing – Chris even had a jersey that says “El Gringo” on the back of it.

Turns out, the people of Antioquia are pretty territorial – and since tejo wasn’t invented in Antioquia, it’s not a hot sport in Medellín the way it is in other parts of the country. So, we found ourselves playing tejo with a bunch of tourists.

This actually worked to our favor, because we got the chance to meet and hang out with other digital nomads from around the world. There were Irish, Australian, American, Canadian, Dutch and other nationalities represented, and everyone spoke English. It was refreshing and fun to hang out with a group of people who were so similar, but also so different from us.

When you throw your tejo and it lands in the clay pit, it gets dirty. Chris instructed us to “clean” our tejos using some threadbare burlap sacks that had been tacked to the sides of the pitches. As you might imagine, this didn’t so much clean the tejos as it did wipe the big chunks of clay off of them.

Your hands get dirty when you play this game, and I wouldn’t recommend wearing your church clothes to this kind of thing. Ladies, this is NOT the time to bust out your new pair of shoes, or wear anything white.

Clay gets everywhere, and by the time we were done we had stripes of clay war paint on our faces. There were traces of clay underneath my fingernails for days.

If you want to meet other digital nomads and have a good time, we HIGHLY recommend hitting up some tejo games. The vibes are good, the competition is fun and everyone has a really, really good time. We ended up making several friends at tejo, who we met up with at various points throughout our stay.

Another thing we weren’t expecting was Kelly’s natural talent for this sport. Michael Phelps was born to swim, LeBron James was born to play basketball, and Kelly Chase was born to play tejo. We were down 8 points and the game was about to be over, when Kelly stepped up to the line and threw a perfect strike. She won the game for our whole team!

If any of you are reading this and looking to sponsor the world’s best female tejo player, hit Kelly up. She’s got room for logos and everything.

Playing Tejo Should Be On Your Bucket List – Here’s Why

We’re obsessed with our bucket lists – and although we didn’t have tejo on our lists when we arrived in Colombia, as soon as we found out about it we wrote it in pen. This game is unlike anything you’ve ever played before, and when we compare it to cornhole it’s not fair – there’s really no comparison.

There aren’t enough games with explosions in the United States. In fact, I can’t think of any. This should be a national embarrassment, but it isn’t because people just don’t know it exists. If they did, you can bet the people in the flyover states would be having tejo tourneys as I type this.

The people you’ll meet while playing tejo, or at least while playing tejo with “El Gringo” Chris Cajoleas, are interesting and fun. Everyone’s there to have a good time and get their hands dirty in some clay. And they’re mostly gringas and gringos, as you can see in this video:

Although gunpowder and explosives are involved, tejo is a fairly safe sport…as long as you know who you’re playing with. If you find yourself playing against some locals and winning, you might end up on the ragey end of some drunken aggression (see this New York Times article for more on that).

This was a recurring theme we ran into while in Medellín: if you don’t know who you’re talking to, you should assume that the person could be dangerous. One of the guys we played tejo with on the first night, a local, bragged about having a bulletproof car. Who needs a bulletproof car? Not somebody who isn’t dangerous, probably. #AvoidThatOne

Want to hear more about the guy with the bulletproof car? Check out the Local Flavor episode of The Workationing Podcast (Medellín was so spicy, it’s a two parter!). Listen to Part 1 here and Part 2 here, and you can listen to our Gringas in a Strange Land ep here.

Bringing Tejo to the US: How to Build a Tejo Court

The only thing that’s keeping tejo out of America is the lack of courts. When you search online for “build a cornhole set” you’ll find all kinds of tutorials on how to DIY build your own game. There are angle requirements, photos, and all of the instructions you need to craft your own cornhole setup.

After searching for longer than I’d care to admit online, I can’t find any instructions for how to build a regulation tejo court. The closest I’ve found is an app that you can play on your phone, but I’m certain that won’t provide the same sense of satisfaction that you get from the real thing.

If you don’t care about “regulations” you can easily ninja together your own pit and order some tejos online. Will it be perfect? No. But you’re going to be drinking anyway, so you probably won’t even notice.

There are, however, some tutorials online that will teach you how to create your own mechas. You’ll need sulphur, gunpowder, phosphorous and some cojones. If that’s not your speed, you can practice with a tejo game app on your phone.

So, somebody really needs to create a “DIY build your own tejo” tutorial, because as far as we can tell the internet is seriously lacking in this area. We know some handy people who could definitely put together a tejo court, if only we could tell them how. If you know of a guide, video or tutorial that will show our friends how to build a tejo court, please comment below so we can bring this game home!
If you’d like to hear more about our experiences playing tejo (including a lot more about the guy with the bulletproof car), check out the Medellín episodes of The Workationing Podcast.

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