San Jose de Chimbo, Ecuador is a small town nestled in the Andean mountains of the Provincia Bolívar. Located between Guaranda, the provincial capital, and San Miguel, Chimbo’s 6,500 residents thrive under the shadow of their beloved mountain, Susanga The town is fondly referred to by some as “La Olla” (“The Pot”) due to the shape of the surrounding geography . The town hall, located in the center of Chimbo, faces a vibrant park. Two blocks south of the park, one finds the stately Iglesia Matriz de San Jose de Chimbo which borders the public plaza, known as La Merced. The plaza hosts many impromptu games of soccer and volleyball, the occasional aerobics class, and the Saturday market. Between small shops and houses, the cobblestone streets of Chimbo are alive with street vendors and friendly neighbors. Five elementary/middle schools and three high schools serve to educate the younger members of the close-knit Chimbo community. Currently under the governance of Mayor Ingeniero Rodrigo Penaherrero, Chimbo is a tranquil town where life rolls by as peacefully as the surrounding hillside.
A Brief History
Originally founded by Spanish colonist Sebastian de Benalcazar, Chimbo can be found on some of the oldest maps of Ecuador. Its strategic location helped it quickly develop into one of the most important trading markets in the Sierra. It served as a central meeting place for the tradesmen, farmers, and indigenous craftsmen. Some of the original buildings, now facing out onto the central park, still stand today.
Craftsmanship and Products
Despite its size, Chimbo is well known within the province for its production and use of pyrotechnics. One may initially be startled by frequent explosions of fireworks as elaborate displays mark festivals, parties, church celebrations, and important ceremonies. Residents do not seem fazed. Guitar music, heard from the plaza on any given night, is another important part of Chimbo’s culture. The aroma of sawdust wafts from the guitar workshops of the town where both talented craftsmen and gifted musicians ply their trades. The beautiful hand-carved wooden guitars and requintos (smaller guitars) produced in Chimbo are sold throughout the province. A small artisan association also provides Chimbo and the surrounding area with finely-crafted iron desks, chairs, and grills. Each year the Chauffeur and Driver school, located on the edge of town, proudly graduates more than 100 students from throughout Ecuador. The school specializes in the training of bus, van, truck, and taxi drivers.
Religion and Culture
As more than 95% of the population of Chimbo is Roman Catholic, the majority of important holidays and festivals revolve around the church calendar. The saints and the Virgin Mary are especially revered. Chimbo also holds a special devotion to El Señor de la Justicia (Our Lord of Justice), hosting a special Mass and procession each month in His name. Ecuadorians from the surrounding provinces visit Chimbo in order to honor Him. The first nine days of July, La Novena, are set aside to celebrate Our Lord of Justice. Masses take place throughout Chimbo with each neighborhood hosting the celebration on a specific day. Masses are usually followed by socializing over coffee and bread. Chimbenians celebrate their patron, San Jose (St. Joseph), on March 3 with a grand street festival and a procession from the church through the town square. Other important holidays include the honoring La Virgin de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercy) on September 24 and the celebration of San Francisco (St. Francis) on October 4.
Huayco (Guayco), a small church complex and popular destination for religious pilgrims, lies fifteen minutes southwest of Chimbo. Our Lady of Huayco is said to have appeared to a young indigenous girl and cured her of the wounds she sustained at the hands of her abusive father. Since then, many healing miracles have been attributed to Our Lady of Huayco and visitors come to attend Mass, light a candle in Her honor or bless themselves with the sacred waters of the site. The festival of Our Lady of Huayco, held on September 8, is considered to be Chimbo’s biggest festival and attracts devotees from all regions of Ecuador.
In the period preceding Ash Wednesday, all of Ecuador celebrates Carnaval, ten days of revelry and festivity before the somber season of Lent. Carnaval in Guaranda, the nearby provincial capital, is known to be one of the best celebrations in Ecuador. The residents of Chimbo, however, are quick to claim that their festivals are not far behind in liveliness and tradition. Usually taking place in mid-February, Chimbo’s Carnaval attracts Ecuadorians from across the country. Attendees are typically young people who do not mind sleeping in the park as Chimbo’s sole hotel fills quickly. Residents are given days off work and vacation from school in order to partake in the celebration marked by special Masses, parades, foods, dances, processions, and general merriment.