Best Botanica (2006)

Botanica La Caridad

Botanica La Caridad may seem an unlikely sanctuary. It's tucked inside a nondescript warehouse, surrounded by big-rig parking lots and underwear wholesalers. But it has become a favorite refuge for the downtrodden, the unlucky, and the demoralized. Ailing? Why not make an offering to La Caridad's life-size effigy of Babalu-Aye. A grizzled figure in a burlap cape, he heals the sick and guards the gate between life and death. Or perhaps you're haunted by pesky spirits. Try dousing yourself with one of the fragrant potions, like Agua Florida and Espanto Muerto, that line La Caridad's shelves. The shop also offers solutions to money troubles, legal woes, drug addiction, and family quarrels. "Basically whatever your problem, we can help," explains Jesœs Suarez, a spry 43-year-old Santer’a priest, whose family has owned La Caridad for more than two decades. Most days he performs rituals and doles out spiritual advice from the shop's modest back-room sanctuary. Meanwhile his parents, Enriqueta and Demonstenes, attend to customers on the sales floor, which is stocked with an unrivaled variety of Afro-Caribbean spiritual wares. Among them are fresh herbs, delicate ceramics, colorful candles, traditional clothing, fragrant oils, and elaborate garlands of multihue beads. La Caridad also carries some less-common (and more-intriguing) goods. Take for instance the plastic tubs filled with deer legs and horsetails. It's difficult to understand the import of such items without delving into the rich mythology of Santer’a -- and parsing the tastes and foibles of its deities. But the affable Suarez clan is eager to help even the most suave of tenderfoots learn about the oft-misunderstood faith. "This is a beautiful religion," says Jesœs. "We teach people to move beyond the hesitance and fear so they can experience its power."


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