San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Witches and other legends live on in Escazú

Escazú means “resting place,” but there’s a restless and often spooky quality to this suburb southwest of San José. In recent years, the area has burgeoned into a thriving commercial hub that plenty of well-heeled Ticos, Gringos and foreign ambassadors call home, but ancient burial grounds still lie beneath their modern abodes. Old Escazú remains steeped in its pre-Columbian history, and its legends have tended to take on lives of their own.

Bizarre creatures, enchantments and particularly witches are said to roam the land, and escazuceños seem generally accepting of this. Known informally as the “city of witches,” Escazú spawned a soccer teamed dubbed “Brujas F.C.,” and witch figurines are displayed prominently on residential chimneys. The municipal seal also depicts a witch on a broom.

“For the community of Escazú, as well as other towns in Costa Rica, oral history has been the instrument by which the generations have passed on local and regional stories,” said Amalia León, a spokeswoman for the Escazú Municipality’s culture program.

Nearly all of Escazú’s legends are both fascinating and terrifying, but one legend has stood out from the rest – and even been the subject of a dubious recent development.

The Tulevieja

A ghost with the head of an old woman and the body of a bird, the Tulevieja is said to have lived up on Pico Blanco in the mountains of Escazú, occasionally coming down to ambush local farmers with her famous cry, ¡Voy, voy, voy!” before devouring them. Some also say she had gargantuan breasts that constantly dripped milk, prompting ants to follow her everywhere.

One day, a man named Liborio Constantino de Jesús Fernández, who was informally referred to as Tuto Yoyo, set out to trap the Tulevieja. Supposedly, she could only be caught with a special vine of Yazú, which somehow Tuto Yoyo got his hands on. He then tamed her by inviting her to dance – according to legend, the Tulevieja loves to dance – and returned to the town to brag about his success.

Nobody believed Tuto Yoyo, so he had to go back to Pico Blanco a second time to ask the Tulevieja if she would mind coming down to Escazú to be paraded around. She agreed, and the townspeople were flabbergasted and delighted – but only for the moment. After Tuto Yoyo let the Tulevieja go, many people’s memories of the occasion mysteriously vanished. Only Tuto Yoyo’s true friends who had good hearts could remember that he had bested the Tulevieja.

The Tulevieja legend is a longtime favorite, but not long ago it got some renewed attention. According to a Costa Rica tourism website, a group of archaeologists were excavating near Pico Blanco when they unearthed a petrified segment of a vine that some believe is the vine of Yazú.

There is a pretty big problem with this story: The article doesn’t mention the date of the excavation or the names of anyone involved. The Tico Times submitted numerous inquiries to the Costa Rican Tourism Board and various Escazú city employees, but nobody had ever heard of any Pico Blanco excavation.

Helen Dunn Frame, an expat author working on a book that includes Costa Rican legends, was also stumped over when the excavation might have taken place. Her book, entitled “Doctors, Dogs, and Pura Vida in Intriguing Costa Rica,” will include a full chapter on legends from all over the country.

“If you look at the myths, you can learn a lot about people,” she said.

While researching the legends of Escazú for her book, the author talked to many of her Tico friends about their beliefs, and found that many still go to “witches” for readings and put curses on each other.

“But they don’t normally talk about it,” she said. “When you meet people from here, they don’t tell you they believe these things.”

Still, she said, many are convinced they have “the powers.”

Calling Tim Burton

It’s become fairly clear that director and master of spook Tim Burton should base a film on the legends of Escazú. And in case he needs assistance with plot lines or characters, we’re here to help.

One of the oldest Escazú legends is that of the carreta sin bueyes, the oxcart without oxen. The cart is said to roll slowly up and down the street at night, creaking very loudly. It is said to be driven by the devil.

A witch named Zárate terrorized Escazú for years and is said to still reside in the caves of Pico Blanco. At times she takes the shape of the rooster that crows at midnight. She’s also the fog that comes down the mountain, and strange voices in the night. She’s the sound of waves lapping against the mountain – even though there’s no lake there.

The Cadejos is a black dog that appears out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly, clanking invisible chains.

A magic monkey dubbed Mico Malo also enjoys appearing suddenly and screaming at people, particularly on bridges. Mico Malo and La Segua, with an attractive woman’s body and the head of a smiling horse, are both said to be active on and around the bridge over the Río Tiribí, which has long been a suicide spot that some residents still refuse to cross.

The Llorona is a particularly sad case: on moonlit nights she cries by riverbanks, mourning the child she cast into the water before having second thoughts.

María Negra (Black Maria) is the most prominent spell-caster of any witch, and Nicomedes is a benevolent male witch who cured diseases with dried snakes, owls, bats, scorpions and lizards.

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