La Chamba Pottery Casts a Spell on a Traveler to Colombia

I admit that I’m prone to obsessions, which often tend to grab me when I’m traveling. I fall in love with a country and have to come back — 27 visits to Ireland and 18 long stays in Peru will never be enough. There’s my collection of seashells from four continents, Balinese textiles and my precious Peruvian adornos made in Cusco from rice paste and vibrantly painted by a UNESCO-recognized artisan. Locals hang one of these eye-catching ornaments inside their homes, above the front doors, as a symbol of protection for the house, family and love within the home.

Now I’m smitten with the blackened pottery dishes and cookware known as La Chamba, which can be traced back more than 300 years. Originally designed for cooking traditional foods like frijoles and a chicken-and-potato soup called ajiaco, the pottery is still made by families living on the banks of the Magdalena River in southern Colombia.

Six or seven years ago, I purchased a piece online (https://www.mytoque.com/) and was mesmerized by the soft black color and finish that’s hand-burnished with an agate stone, and impressed even more so by the pot’s exceptional distribution of heat, and retention of both heat and moisture. One piece was enough for me until I visited Colombia last year and stumbled across Artensanías Caballo de Troya (http://artesaniascaballodetroya.com/) in Medellin. It’s a wonderful store that carries handmade treasures from all regions of the country, including La Chamba bowls of many sizes, pots with lids, paella pans, graceful hour-glass pitchers, hefty two-handled roasters and dishware — all of it (even a dinner plate) can be used on a gas burner, in the oven or microwave and on the grill.

I picked up a couple of Christmas gifts for my daughters, palm-sized bowls for $3 each and a large serving piece perfect for family pasta night that cost less than $14. Later I regretted passing up a lovely fluted bowl that sung out to be mine but had left the store before I returned. I tempered that disappointment with a hearty bowl of ajiaco served in a La Chamba bowl at Sancho Paisa (http://restaurantesanchopaisa.com/) about 160 feet down the road from the store — the restaurant and shop share an owner and location on Las Palmas (kilometer 16), the road between María Cordova International Airport and Medellin though they are closer to the city than the airport.

My last hunt for a fluted bowl failed at Artensanías de Colombia (http://artesaniasdecolombia.com.co/PortalAC/General/template_index.jsf/) in Bogota, which offers a small selection of La Chamba and other fine crafts. But that’s OK, as Marc Beale reminded me over coffee at the trendy Café Velvet (http://cafevelvet.co/en} in Medellin. There’s always another trip, and this British expat and former fund manager at Blackrock should know. In 2014, Beale and a friend from London launched bespoke luxury travel company Amakuna (http://www.amakuna.com/) and specialize in fulfilling travel dreams that include even the quirkiest requests.

I may turn to Beale when I take the next step in indulging this obsession — a visit to the village of La Chamba to see how the beautiful pottery is made from clay that exists only on the banks of the Magdalena River. I’ll report back what I find. 

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