It’s 6.30am on a Thursday morning in Bogota and I can’t sleep. I am too excited. I am too excited because I have so much to tell you, and I can’t wait. Where have I been you ask? Everywhere…Since my last post on Friday, I had my art class, ate at my friend’s restaurant 80 Sillas (pronounced ‘ochenta’), went partying in a faraway part of Bogota called La Galleria on Saturday, chilled at the finca (country house) on Sunday, ate my favourite dish at Wok and drank in Harry’s Bar on Monday, explored the Candelaria and met an artist friend on Tuesday.
Wow, so you see, I’ve been out there ‘researching’ stories. Please forgive me for my absence?
The story I’m going to tell you about today is what I did on Sunday night after the finca; I played Mini Tejo. I want to tell you about it because it is literally the craziest game I have ever come across, and would be banned from the UK due to safety regulations. So what is Mini Tejo? Mini Tejo is a traditional Colombian game where you have heavy metal weights, which you throw at the target that sits at the end of a long alley. The target is gunpowder wrapped up in paper and nestled against a clay board. There are four opportunities to hit the gunpowder and when you do, there’s a loud explosion and a lot of smoke. Yes, exactly.
Mini Tejo is ‘mini’ because the normal version ‘Tejo’ is the same, but the distance is a lot longer.
So imagine discus that you played at school, crossed over with bowls with added gunpowder and you’ve got it.
At the end of the lane is the gunpowder.
Locals playing the game. You can imagine the smokey atmosphere after the explosions.
It was a lot of fun. Eventually. I say ‘eventually’ because Mini Tejo isn’t exactly the kind of game you’d find in my comfort zone of European style bars. Mini Tejo is a local / underground sport found in bars far, far away. My cousin drove us there. It was far. Far down the autopista and down some back streets where kids in groups hung out, and stood around. I was being stared at. A boy was literally standing on the street and staring at us. I started to shift uncomfortably in my Zara jacket and immediately cursed bringing much more on me that $20 mil pesos. I was relieved to have my cousin with me and I wouldn’t go of him. I clung to him as he tried to reassured me that the boy staring could be undercover police. I was not convinvced. He looked about 15. He looked like he wanted to kill me.
Eventually, the rest of the group turned up and we went in. I was with new friends that included a tall, blonde Swiss guy. This what not helping me to feel ‘settled’ in. I was uneasy, the explosions where making me jump even more, and I suddenly just wanted a cup of tea and my sofa.
The alleys were fully booked so we settled for some beers instead. This was also mental. You are served beer at plastic garden tables at prices not much more than at the supermarket. At the end of the night, the owner totals your bill my counting up the beer caps he popped for your group. Think an abicus on an alcoholic scale.
We drank, we waited, the group spoke Spanish. I tried. They had the idea to play ‘Rana’ (frog). It’s a game more similar to the fairs in Britain where you throw discs to get them onto bottle necks to win a cuddly toy. Here you throw small pretzel-shaped metal discs to get them into holes or in the mouth of either two frogs to win points. I was partnered up with the Swiss guy. I think the Colombians had little faith in us ‘foreigners’ playing their game. Well, my youth spent trying to win the cuddly toy paid off because on my penultimate try, I got the disc into the ‘rana’. I was the only one to do it. Yep. Don’t underestimate us Europeans!!
After an endless supply of beer, I was relaxed. My shoes were getting a little grubby and I didn’t mind. I was so relaxed that used the toilet (if you saw it, this would say a lot) and spoke to someone outside the group. His name was Wilson and he was playing Mini Tejo. He invited me to play. I said yes. My two male friends were also invited. They leaped at the chance.
Mini Tejo is hard. I haven’t played discus since I was about fourteen, and lifting shopping doesn’t really count as training. It’s a massive skill of hand and eye co-ordination mixed in with precision and patience. After about four beers, I lacked both. Although the men patiently tried to show me how to throw, I gave up and ‘practised’ on the side by detonating the explosives by standing over the target. This is seriously any boy’s best game ever.
Standing by the gunpowder.
After I started to get a little too loud and a little too drunk, my friends decided it’s best to leave. We departed the group like pop stars and my friends were promised the ‘best’ and ‘safest’ taxi fares in town and were eagerly thrown contacts and business cards.
In case you're in the area and want to give it a try...
Mini Tejo is great. It’s very Colombian. It doesn’t even have a ‘Wikipedia’ entry. It’s usually played in back streets so I wouldn’t recommend going unless you’re in a group with locals. But I recommend giving it a try. After all, where else can you explode gunpowder whilst being encouraged to drink beer? Literally, you can’t play a game unless you’re drinking beer. And the walls are covered with beer sponsorship. So gunpowder and alcohol. Yes, this definitely would be banned in the UK.
The total bill for seven of us was £15. Yes, the TOTAL bill. We paid up after the little man had counted the beer tops and headed back south to Parque 93, where a suited and booted waiter gladly charged us that amount for each drink.
It was a great night. I got scared, I got excited, I got drunk and I got enlightened. And I wanted to tell you about it so you can see through my beer goggle eyes too.