Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Colombia: Vibrant Culture, Natural Beauty

November 07, 2023 Carlos Boggio and Ana Maria Matallana grew up in the South American country of Colombia and live there part of the year. Season 1 Episode 97
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Colombia: Vibrant Culture, Natural Beauty
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Colombians Carlos Boggio and Ana Maria Matallana guide us to the pleasures of this stunning South American country, set on three coasts -- a fusion of Spanish, African, and indigenous influences  Learn of natural wonders like the Cano Cristales riverbed and the Tayrona National Park. We cover Colombian cities, filled with culture and history, including Bogota,  Cartagena, Barranquilla, Cali and Medellin.

We discuss colorful festivals, carnivals, day trips to mountain plantations and beach resorts, and Colombian food and drink -- from arepas to ants! Shopping tips cover famous Colombian coffee, clothing and emeralds. As always, we end with memories: Carlos remembers the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, with a tale of a small bronze angel, a reminder of his father's friendship with the artist.
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Carlos Boggio and Ana Maria Matallana live part of the year in Colombia.
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Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, and  has written nine books, including the award-winning Places I Remember  (Kirkus Reviews star rating, and  'one of the top 100 Indie books' of  the year). She has contributed to many guidebooks and has written thousands of travel articles.

Contact Lea- she loves hearing from you! 
@lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; Places I Remember with Lea Lane on Facebook; Website: placesirememberlealane.com

New episodes drop every other Tuesday, wherever you listen. Please consider sharing, following, rating and reviewing this award-winning travel podcast.


Lea Lane:

Colombia is called the gateway to South America because it's in the northwestern part of the continent, where South America connects with Central and North America. It's the fifth largest country in Latin America and home to the world's second largest population of Spanish-speaking people. It's the only country in South America that has coastlines on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous tribes. In 1499, the Spanish arrived and colonized the area, calling it New Granada. The official name of Colombia is derived from the last name of explorer Christopher Columbus.

Lea Lane:

Colombia is on the equator, which means the sun rises and sets at the same time all year round, and the season stays the same, unlike almost any other country in the world. There are just the dry seasons from December to January and July to August, and the rainy seasons from April to May and October to November. Our guests, Carlos Boggio and Ana Maria Matallana are married, Mr and Mrs Carlos Boggio, and they are Colombians and spend part of their year in the country that they love. Welcome, Carlos and Ana Maria, to places I emember.

Carlos Boggio:

Thank you, Lea, great to be here.

Lea Lane:

Ana Maria Matallana:

Lea.

Lea Lane:

Welcome, thank you. Well, one of the first things you notice when you arrive in Colombia is the vitality that pulses throughout the country. Music is in the streets, there's energy. Why do you think this is so?

Carlos Boggio:

Colombia has been a mixture of so many cultures -- Spanish, the African culture, the indigenous culture and we've all been mixed together in a tropical environment. If you just travel around, you can see our nature. It's also vibrant --the vegetation, the animals, the birds, everything is colorful, everything excites and it kind of goes well with the music and the vitality of our people.

Ana Maria Matallana:

Music festivals and we, in our culture, like to dance. We like to, since we are little. We are immersing all this music and carnivals which bring us happiness.

Lea Lane:

You certainly are immersed in. I know I've been there a couple of times and have enjoyed the carnivals and the festivals very much. I think age seems to be valued in Colombia too. I noticed that elders seem to be deeply respected throughout the country, which I really appreciate i. You mentioned the biodiversity. I think that Colombia has the highest rate of species by area, as well as the largest number of species that are found naturally anywhere else. I looked it up. When you go, you can't help but notice the gorgeous birds, the animals, the gorgeous lush jungles. What do you think are some of the most beautiful natural areas that you visited?

Carlos Boggio:

Well, as you say, Colombia has everything from the snow-covered peaks up in the Alps to the jungles of the Amazon, to the jungles on the Pacific Ocean, to the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean and basically everything in between. The nicest things to enjoy in Colombia is the outdoors, is traveling from city to city or town to town even, especially by car, where you get to enjoy this changing geography, which is incredible.

Lea Lane:

Have you seen Cano Cristales, the river? I read about that. Have you seen it? We have.

Carlos Boggio:

We went to Cano Cristales about 10 years ago. It was still kind of untapped. It's absolutely beautiful. When we went, we had to fly there because it's in a very remote part of Colombia. Yes, it's amazing.

Lea Lane:

I think the Instagrammers are going to love it, because the river bed changes color between yellow, green, blue, black and red. That's something that you can't find many places. That's one of the special little secrets that we're discovering as I was researching. I haven't seen it yet. I have been to Tayona National Park in northern Colombia, which is a beautiful palm-shaded, lagoon-filled rain forest, very rich in biodiversity.

Carlos Boggio:

One of my favorites is close to Santa Marta. My mother is from town. The highest peak in Colombia is the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, which is right off the Caribbean. It's kind of the whole Colombian miniature because you have all these altitudes. There you can go from the beaches. Different expeditions. The most comfortable you can do in a helicopter, which will take you to the abandoned sites of the pre-Columbian cultures. You can also do it walking. It's, I think, a three-day hike from the bottom. Or you can stay at the beaches, which are absolutely fabulous. The ocean is usually has big waves, so you have to be a very good swimmer (or a surfer).

Carlos Boggio:

Or a surfer. Yeah, I haven't seen many of those, but it's big, big waves It's a little bit dangerous.

Ana Maria Matallana:

So there's three cards. So they don't suggest to do that?

Lea Lane:

Yeah, well, when you talk about this, it reminds me of the beautiful animation Encanto, which was based in Colombia, which shows you the beauty. If anyone has seen that, it just gives you a feeling for the great beauty of Colombia. Let's talk about some of the major Colombian cities. Let's start with Bogota. What's not to miss there? It's the capital, it's nine million people or more, very vibrant. So tell me a little bit.

Ana Maria Matallana:

I like about Bogotá from Bogota, and Carlos is from Bogota too. I really love the museums. We do have the museum in Museo de Oro, which is the gold museum, which we find a lot of pieces made of gold of our cultures, of the Incas, of our indigenous people, and it's amazing how many pieces you can find there, forms and the shapes which I haven't seen anywhere in other museums. You can see the different cultures in South America. There are also a little bit about the Incas and also a little bit about other indigenous cultures. I also like the Museo, the Botero Museum, which is small, but it was his private collection.

Lea Lane:

Yes, Botero, of course, is the famous artist who loved to sculpt and paint very large folks, which is very fun to watch. He's very popular. I think he passed away recently.

Ana Maria Matallana:

So you find pieces for other artists around the world. It's small, it's a small museum and you enjoy it a lot. Cacandelario, which is like the neighborhood in the center of Bogotá, I think it's beautiful. The colorful streets and restaurants and little places there are nice. Plaza de Bolivar, the center square of the downtown with the sculpture of Bolivar, is. I like it a lot.

Lea Lane:

I should add that Bogotá is very high. It's above 8,000 feet, so you'd be aware of it. It's extremely beautiful, surrounded by mountains. Well worth a visit. The second most well known city in Colombia, I would say, is Cartagena de Indias. It's the port city on the shores of the Caribbean in the northwest. It's stunning. It's one of the most beautiful, well-preserved cities in the Americas. During the Spanish colonial period it had a key role in the expansion of the Spanish Empire. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's so much fun. Tell us a little bit about it.

Carlos Boggio:

For me it's out of pirate stories and fairy tales. It's still very intact the old walls. Overlooking the ocean there's a humongous port called San Felipe, which was made by the Spanish precisely to protect Cartagena. It was the place where the Spanish would concentrate the riches they would find in the Americas. From there they would ship back to the old continent. It was basically a huge safe. It was constantly attacked by pirates and other people wanting to grab at the riches. Most of that is still there.

Carlos Boggio:

You have the vibes in the old streets. You're always in between walls, these huge walls overlooking the ocean. There's fantastic boutique hotels where you can stay in the old city. That's my favorite places. There's bigger resorts on the outside and on the beaches. Really, if you want to get the feeling of Cartagena, try to get inside the old city. It's fantastic to walk during the day. During the night it's full of cafes and great restaurants. It's really something. When you get bored of all that, you can take a boat and go out to the islands. There's a lot to do there in terms of scuba diving, swimming, beautiful beaches. There's a lot to do. The only thing. The actual beaches in Cartagena are nice, but they're not spectacular. If you want to go to spectacular beaches, you have to take a one-hour boat ride out to the islands.

Lea Lane:

Well, that doesn't sound so bad, sounds kind of perfect, actually. I know the Rosario Islands are near there. That's one of the 46 national parks of Colombia. Cartagena right now is hot, as we say. Everybody wants to go there. You can see why from your description. I loved it. I thought it was fantastic. Down the coast is Barranquilla, which is Colombia's second largest city. It's a bustling seaport on the Atlantic. It has an enormous carnival, the second largest in the world after Rio. I was lucky enough to attend it one year. Wow, there were four days of festivities. There was music all day long, all night long. There were parades and parties. It was just fabulous. Have you been yet?

Carlos Boggio:

Yes, we have been several times, but for me it is the marathon of parties. You have to pace yourself to survive them. They're four days long and they're very well planned out. They're very well organized. You can choose if you want to be part of the parade, and it can be arranged that you dress up and dance down the streets, or you can decide to be an observer on the sidestands, and there's fantastic places where you can watch, where you have a great service. You get food, you get drinks while you watch it all go by. As I say, every day has its special event, every night has its special party. You have to pace yourself or you're not going to make it for the four days.

Ana Maria Matallana:

You think it's going to be a little messy, it's going to be a lot of crazy people at Ash week. No, I was impressed and happy to see how organized it is, how people really dance and how, if you don't dance as an spectator, you can find a place that you sit and to watch all the dances and also in the parties.

Lea Lane:

I remember I was sprayed by a water pistol, which was a lot of fun. That was the worst thing that happened to me and I got a little flower on me. People were throwing flowers, not flowers, flowers. I got a little bit. It was fun. We all loved it. The flower battle is one of the big parades. That's with the beautiful flowers and also King Momo. He's the mascot. How would you describe him?

Carlos Boggio:

There's deep traditions, there's characters like King Momo Kimono Kuk. They all have their historic importance. In the carnival, king of the carnival, he resurrects every year and in the Tuesday which for us is Mardi Gras, he dies. An anecdote when I started working in Barranquilla, I worked in Barranquilla several years it was a Tuesday, which is actually a working day, but not for the people in Barranquilla. When I showed up to work, everybody told me they were in the funeral and I was like who died? And everyone said, oh, this is the funeral of José Lito Carnaval and it's the death of the carnival and the last day of those four days. It's a make-believe, huge funeral where they're burying José Lito Carnaval.

Ana Maria Matallana:

If you have seen such Shakira dance, you can understand how the carnival is. Because the way she moves, the way she moves, all her music has inside, like the music of the carnival in Barranquilla. Since you are little, since you are three, four years old, they teach you how to dance. They do dances, group dances with kids so.

Lea Lane:

Shakira is. You can see a lot of Barranquilla in Shakira. Yeah, Shakira moves her hips to Cumbia I know that's the famous music there and think about Barranquilla.

Ana Maria Matallana:

It has a culture from around the world.

Lea Lane:

Well, I want to take you over to the Pacific side, to Cali, which is another big city. And since we're talking about music, that's known for its salsa music and its rumba music. And I think it's just good to mention that there's a big city on the other side of the country as well, and there you're very close to the Pacific, so you can go there for the beaches, and there's a wonderful zoo that is dedicated to the environment. And have you been to to Cali? much Sure.

Ana Maria Matallana:

I've been to Cali i. Cali has an amazing landscape. It's beautiful all the mountains, the flowers, the food is great.

Carlos Boggio:

Around Cali is all the sugarcane plantations. From the sugarcane they make one of the most known beverages in Colombia, which is Aguacaliente, which is distilled from sugarcane called Aguacaliente, which produces to fire water. It's a very strong drink which accompanies a lot of our dancing and our festivities very well.

Lea Lane:

Aha, now I know the secret. There it is kay. Well, one of my favorite Colombian cities is Medellin, and this is the city of Eternal Spring. It's called that because it's got wonderful temperature all the year. It was once infamous for dangerous gangs, but it has been transformed and today it's a very, very popular place to go, not only for its beauty and I know it has Botero there, because I walked around a park where there are about 20 Boteros outside and there was a museum, so there's art and all but there are also fantastic examples of urban renewal. There's a famous metro cable that goes up. You take an escalator and then you go up the mountain. It's a wonderful view of the city and it's really changed many of those barrios and helped the neighborhoods in the area. It's a wonderful rehabilitation of the city.

Lea Lane:

But the thing I love about Medellin the most are the festivals. I went in December for the Festival of Light, for the beautiful Christmas lights. They're well known throughout the world. It was exceptionally beautiful. There were all kinds of festivities around that beautiful time to go. The other time I would go, I would suggest, is in August for the floral parade. Tell me about that.

Ana Maria Matallana:

Well, the flower festival is in Augus t. As you said, Colombia is a very said in the beginning, colorful f country. You have a lot of flowers, so there we expose all types of flowers around Colombia. Remember that Medellin is inside all the La Zona Cafetera, the coffee area, so they're inside of all those coffee mountains and there's a lot of flowers. So it's very nice.

Lea Lane:

It's beautiful and I think when you go to the florist the feria de las flores as they call it there's also something called the chiva carnival there. The chivas are traditional open-sided buses and people paint them up and when I was there, there were about 80 of them in a row with all different colors and names, and it was so much fun. There were many things around the flowers, not just the flowers. I know all year people work to set this beautiful festival up, so I really recommend it very highly. And also, as you mentioned, the day trips outside of B are gorgeous because you can go up to a coffee plantation and you can go to beautiful lakes.

Ana Maria Matallana:

It's a beautiful lake, absolutely, you can go and there's a lot of beautiful boutique hotels, h. You can kayak, you can water ski in the lake.

Carlos Boggio:

For me, one of the things not to miss in that area, and even in Amenia and Pereta, is the coffee area. It's called the Zona Cafetera. The coffee farms are absolutely beautiful. They remind me very different but kind of what vineyards look like, how they're farming all this coffee underneath the shade of these beautiful trees, these hills lined up with coffee plants are absolutely fabulous. There you can try to find a farm or somewhere where you can stay. It's absolutely gorgeous and if you like coffee and you like trying it, the different varieties, it's worth it.

Ana Maria Matallana:

You go through all the plantations in horses and it's beautiful.

Lea Lane:

How do you drink your t coffee? I know Tinto is the popular way. What does that mean? It's not espresso.

Ana Maria Matallana:

So it's just like an American coffee.

Carlos Boggio:

It's a black American coffee, a very strong coffee.

Lea Lane:

In a very little cup. It's because it's strong. It's a delicious coffee. There's also a drink called Lulada, a mix of lime juice and fruit and sugar, and it was delicious. How about the food? I know I've had empanadas.

Ana Maria Matallana:

We have arepas which, for example, in Medellin we have la arepa paisa, which is like a tortilla with a grated cheese on top. Then if you go to Bogota, you have a different type of arepa, which is like filled with cheese, more thick and with butter. Then you go to the coast, to Barraquilla, you get the fried arepa huevo, which you put egg inside, like fried. I love arepas.

Lea Lane:

I love the classic arepa, the cornmeal cake with the cheese. It's just delicious. You can find it in many places in Miami, where I live. I had lechona, which is pork roast, which is delicious.

Carlos Boggio:

Our meats are fantastic. Our steaks are great. You went over and close to Bogota there's a very, very famous restaurant called Andrés Cartanero, and their specialty is steak. It's a restaurant which was started by this gentleman named Andrés and it's kind of his work of art. So he started very small and he kept on adding things and adding things and it's grown to a restaurant which fits over, I think, 5000 people, and it's just. The food is wonderful.

Carlos Boggio:

You can try all types of food from Colombia. You can stay all night if you want and have breakfast there too. It's really one of the top experiences in Colombia. Now, the original one is outside of Bogota, in a town called Chia. Now there's one in Bogota and they're making them. There's one in Cartagena as well. It's kind of spreading around, but if you can, it's worth going to the original Andres in Chia. In terms of food, one very different food you can have is from Ana Maria's area. It's ants. (What it's ants?) Yeah, they make they. At a certain time of year, these very big ants come out and they grab them and they take the bottom of the ant out. They're called the Budsi ants, amigas pulonas, and they stir-fry them and they're actually pretty good. You should try them. Next, time.

Lea Lane:

Next time Definitely, Because Colombia is the third largest exporter of coffee. Lots of people buy coffee, but even better, you have more emeralds than any other country, and that's my favorite of all gems. Tell us about emeralds in Colombia. Where would you shop to get a really? You know you want to get a real one.

Ana Maria Matallana:

Bogota. here's a mall shopping mall in Andino where you can find jewelry stores that you can buy it, and I think those are the more fair places to go to shopping mall.

Lea Lane:

I want to be careful. Yes, I know I went there.

Carlos Boggio:

I think if you know your gems and you can tell a real from a fake, you can maybe get the deals on the street. So let's put it that way. But, you might be able to end up with a piece of glass.

Lea Lane:

I would say be careful, I'd like to emphasize. You don't have to get a big one, you can get a teeny little one.

Ana Maria Matallana:

But it's from Colombia, it's real, it's beautiful we have a lot of designers, like clothes designers, young clothes designers, environmentalists, men, women, Bogota. It's just beautiful, the clothes that you find there, everything it's beautiful. So I also suggest the shopping part in all those three cities, the boutiques, they are amazing.

Lea Lane:

Absolutely. What a country. Okay, well, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember. So would you either share one memory or give me two memories, a personal memory of your beautiful country Once I was with my father going up in the mule.

Ana Maria Matallana:

You go to one of the places you can go. You can go up in mules. (Where did you go? ?) To a Arecife which is like a small beach, but you have to go either by boat or walking or by mule, and it's inside the Parque Tayrona. And we were goin m up with mules and my father got kicked m by a mule.

Lea Lane:

By your mule, by your mule.

Ana Maria Matallana:

Yes, so I remember that as something funny, but it was a little different.

Lea Lane:

A little different. How about you, Carlos?

Carlos Boggio:

Well, one of my favorite places on the outsides of Bogota is Sipakira. It's about an hour to two hours, depending on traffic, from Bogota, and in Sipakira they have wonderful. It was an original place where they mined salt underground, so there very r very very large tunnels mined underground and they built what is called the Salt Cathedral underground. So you walk down these tunnels. First they're small and then it opens up to this huge cathedral under the earth and it's absolutely spectacular.

Carlos Boggio:

In this cathedral there are some angels and a major which is sculpted by an Italian artist which was a good friend of my father when my father first immigrated to Colombia. His roommate o he shared an apartment with this artist which had been contracted by the Colombian government to do an important monument in Bogota, and so he left these sculptures in the Salt Cathedral, which are absolutely beautiful. This gentleman also is very famous because he sculpted the Holy Door of the Vatican in Rome While he was my father's roommate. e made a small bronze angel which is similar to the angels in the cathedral I keep at home and it's very special to me.

Lea Lane:

Beautiful. Well, thank you, Anna Maria Matallana and Carlos Boggio, who are married and who share the delights with us of their beautiful country, Colombia. It is worth a visit, as you can tell. Thank you so much for sharing. Bye.

Carlos Boggio:

Bye.

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Sculpted Angels and Major in Cathedral