San Roque like a local


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By: Alfonso Espinosa Andrade

“Experiential” is the new buzzword in tourism and the old neighborhood of San Roque seems to be positioning itself as the place for such an experience in Quito: where you can walk the barrio with the neighbors and get to know the city from within.

A sugar marble with a peanut inside: this is the “colación” of Cruz Verde. Colación meaning snack… the quintessential snack. Eating it will place Quito just a little closer to your heart. Luis Banda, creator of the treat, a staple on Calle Bolívar, a few blocks from Plaza San Francisco, has become an icon of San Roque.

No idle hands here: everyone seems busy, either making felt hats or piñatas for birthdays; cooking and selling food at the neighborhood market; preparing alfalfa smoothies and chicha; curing evil eyes and “bad air”. And for those willing to listen, there are stories here, many stories, learned from mothers, grandmothers and old protective souls in purgatory.

– Luis Banda and his “colaciones” –

Patricia Pavón, daughter and granddaughter of medicinal-tea-and-chicha saleswomen from the old neighborhood marketplace, generously shares the story of her barrio. With her cat-like eyes and mischievous smile, Patricia takes her San Roque heritage to heart. She is one of the hostesses of Caminos de San Roque (San Roque Walks), a community tourism project based in the historic neighborhood of San Roque. Together with other neighbors, with much pride, she shares the stories of her market and her streets to tourists. She regrets, of course, that almost all are foreigners.

“The highlights one visits along the way are, among others, the oldest market in Quito, with the one-and-only yerbatera healers; there are also the experts in plaster saints, Virgins and Christ Childs and, of course, Luís Banda and his colaciones.”

Patricia, Alexander, Don Manuel and other such local characters take you in hand to show you round. They’ve dubbed themselves the “Heritage Guardians” San Roque Neighborhood Association. The “Market Walk”, for example, revolves around the San Francisco market that is so pivotal to neighborhood life. It offers all the traditional favorites, whether you’ve come to eat (at its utilitarian food court) or buy (at its dozens of stalls). Another walking tour is christened “Walks of Today” (Caminos de Hoy), and includes a variety of traditional and contemporary craftsmen and their trades. Legume and pulse vendors, embroiderers, the family that retouches religious images (Miss Rocío not only touches up plaster or wooden sculptures but also corrects human scars)… they are all a part of the experience.

For Patricia, the market is her story. Her grandmother’s aunt sold chicha at San Francisco Square; she died not long ago. She was 124! She passed the tradition and stories on to her niece, who passed them on to her granddaughter, Patricia. These include the oral memory of the difficult years: when they were chased out of the square time and time again… Her grandmother would get so sad when telling these stories, Patricia’s uncles threatened to “ring her neck” if she continued to ask her about them.

– Natural juices, good for the soul at the San Francisco Market –

What to see and who to meet in San Roque

Luis Banda and his peanut colaciones, three generations of exquisite treats created in a century-old bronce cauldron.

Rocío y Alfredo Carrión retouch religious figures and with their “miraculous hand” can also hide skin imperfections.

Rosa Laglia is a “herb healer” or yerbatera that treats aching spirits of all ages.

Rosalia Chilaguano, like her mother and grandmother, is known for her meticulous fashion when making clothes for religious figures.

María Sambonino prepares fruit and vegetable juices that are not only delicious, but healthy, at San Francisco Market.

Antonio Anchala has a city icon in his hands at the Sombrerería Benalcazar hat store.

Rosa González is an expert in natural healing products and her unique “Water for Life” concoction is a cure-all.


Patricia Pavón

Caminos de San Roque

099 825 5101


Community tourism for the new millenium

The project of creating experiential routes guided by community hosts was born about 10 years ago. It emerged from a joint collaboration between the community and the NGO Gescultura. Its excellent work has been recognized with various Ecuadorian and international distinctions.

Paola de la Vega, from Gescultura, enthusiastically recalls the eight years —from 2007 through 2015— of direct work with the San Roque community. Gescultura arrived, initially, concerned about conserving the area’s architectural heritage. But they learned so much more during the process.

– San Roque’s neighborhood church –

Through workshops, the locals began to think about heritage. Accompanied by members from the theatre group Quito Eterno, they visited museums, convents, colonial houses. Paola de la Vega remembers that over 1,200 people joined the project in two years: neighbors, students… even homeless people that hung out at the square. It wasn’t easy to train the “Heritage Guardians”, that was clear, but the pre-Columbian art museum Casa del Alabado and luxury boutique hotel Casa Gangotena became important private financial backers. Mutualista Pichincha was also actively involved with Gescultura and believed in the potential of the local community.

For the neighbors, in Paola’s eyes, the most beautiful thing was recognizing themselves. Soon they began to come to a peculiar conclusion: “What we do is heritage?” And as they all agreed it was, Caminos de San Roque suddenly came to be.

“The tours show true and living traditional crafts,” says a proud craftswoman who confections clothes for religious figures.

It doesn’t matter, says Paola de la Vega, if the stores don’t fit the parameters of UNESCO’s heritage categories. These are inherited practices, infused with memory and meaning. Patricia Pavón also confirms that her visits aren’t ever fabricated for tourists: these are active businesses; chicha worth climbing steep Calle Rocafuerte for! Walking and talking with Patricia is priceless.

– Herb healing for children and adults –

Once at the market of San Francisco, you’ll soon be greeted by the limpiadora healers. An entire row of wise women who, with plants of all kinds, cure any conflicted energy or disorder. Rosa Lagla Correa, for example, mixes dozens of leaves to prepare special infusion teas. During the cleansing treatment, she rubs you with mild stinging nettles (to get the blood circulating), then uses “sweet plants” and wet petals. According to the client’s need, the ceremony and ingredients will vary.

She was born in the southern district of La Magdalena in Quito, and her great-grandmother and mother were also limpiadoras. They were all moved from San Francisco Square to today’s market when it was built, as she well knows, on premises donated by the Gangotena family. She recalls how the striking crystal palace of the former market was relocated to Itchimbía Hill, which today serves as its Cultural Center. “That was ours. They just took it from us,” she says with a sigh. Hundreds of stall-keepers had to move to their current location, on Calles Chimborazo and Rocafuerte.

– New trades are also being born in this old-town street, as this tattoo artist shows –

In an interview a couple of months ago, FLACSO scholar Eduardo Kingman pointed out how two imaginaries coexist within the neighborhood. The indigenous residents, hailing mainly from the Central Andes, feel at home there. Buying a property in San Roque was a huge socioeconomic achievement for their parents, farmers who brought their products to the main San Roque market further up the hill. And long-time Sanroqueño resdients are deeply connected to their houses, one of them famous for its seven patios, or their street corners, where old souls still roam (legend has it they chased away an angry mob and a pair of wayward friars).

As Kingman explains, although the Chimborazo-born immigrants call San Roque “Little Riobamba” (Riobamba being the capital of Chimborazo Province), and although the neighbors love their neighborhood, many people in Quito regard this part of town as dirty and unsafe. The media exacerbates this image, since the district only gets air time when something bad happens. But it’s mostly untrue. San Roque, on the western slope of the Historic Center, offers a fascinating cultural and social experience for those who venture here. Missing out on it is like never having tasted a peanut colación. A sin.

An organized neighborhood

Sanroqueños have been identified as descendants of the “Kayas” (sons of the Inca conquistadors born to native Quito women) and the first sons of Spanish conquistadors and indigenous women. Historian Manuel Espinoza explains that San Roque became a hot-bed for rebels, who fought against the abuses of power that plagued Colonial and early-Republican times. In the turbulent early 1900s, this neighborhood of artisans and merchants was one of the first to unionize: the Artistic and Industrial Society of Pichincha, the Catholic Workers’ Center, the National Workers’ Guild (1931) were all born in San Roque between 1890 and 1940, as well as the Ecuadorian Confederation of Christian Organizations, who would all become protagonists during the Four Day War of 1932.

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