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Friday, May 10, 2024

Costa Rican Urban Legends: Truths and Myths Unfold

In this viral era, a rumor can circle the globe in seconds. Disinformation is taken as fact. The more it is repeated, the more believers there will be. It is not a new phenomenon. People have listened to, repeated, refined, and retold rumors probably since the first groups of humans learned to communicate.

When a rumor is embellished, and repeated enough, with time it may reach the status of urban legend. And no matter the evidence presented to the contrary, there will always be believers. In Costa Rica, perhaps the most famous urban legend involves la llorona, the weeping woman, who is said to walk along the lonely roads at night (always at night) in search of her lost children.

To this day, you will find the occasional YouTube reel taken somewhere at night in Costa Rica, where a dashcam picks up a glimpse of a solitary hooded figure walking on the side of a dark lonely road, with the claim that it is a La llorona spotting.

A rumor starts, gains steam, and soon it is repeated as if fact. A worldwide phenomenon. All of the following are rumors I have heard in Costa Rica, that while not urban legends, may someday reach that status: I have heard repeated numerous times– always by expats and often those who were not proficient in Spanish– of a bus that had a sign in Spanish telling people to keep the bus clean, and to throw any garbage out the window. This bus was usually placed somewhere in the San Jose area.

My own feeling is that someone had poorly translated a sign you see on many buses that says ‘Coopere con el aseo/ favor lleva su basura’. Roughly translated, it means, ‘Keep the bus clean/Please take your garbage with you’. But someone’s mistranslation became many other’s truth.

An ugly rumor that circulated years ago in the town I was living involved a well-known local businesswoman. Supposedly she had been admitted to the emergency room of the local hospital, stuck to her dog while trying to engage it in sex. The rumor had to have been started by a twisted and jealous rival– maybe over business, maybe over a man.

But for years, when the woman drove through town, there were always a few pedestrians making barking and howling noises as she passed. Over the years I have heard several victims of home break-ins here claim that they were gassed by the thieves to incapacitate them before breaking into the house. I am not sure there is a gas strong enough to spray into an open window or a ventilation system and knock its victim out for the night.

A nurse I knew said the only way the gas would work would be if it was held in a cloth against the victim’s face. Otherwise, they would need a tanker truck full of gas sprayed directly in the house to render the occupants unconscious. But the rumor of the knockout gas wielding break-in artists persists. A hot one that circulated in the 1990s involved the serial killer known as El Psicopata. He killed 19 people, often striking in desolate areas that attracted young lovers.

He was never caught. One ongoing rumor said that El Psicopata was a member of a powerful Costa Rican family. Later the rumor expanded and the well-connected man was allegedly once stopped by a transito who found a gun identical to that used by El Psicopata.

Supposedly the transito was threatened with death, and the man was let go. The murders stopped in 1996 and the man in question lived many more years, knocking a major hole in the rumor. Another 1990s urban legend involved The Brothers. In their time they were legendary, paying 3% monthly interest on dollar investments.

How did they do it? From their believers, I heard varying explanations. One guy told me they owned a fleet of helicopters that they leased out. Another said they loaned money to Coca-cola. Another said they operated under the auspices of the CIA. But the consensus belief/urban legend was that they were simply incredibly shrewd investors with an endless positive cash flow.

Of course, the correct answer involved none of the above. The entire time they were taking a page from the Bernie Madoff playbook and paying off old investors with new investors’ money.

Eventually, it collapsed as do all Ponzi schemes, but for years they had thousands of investors believing in their supposed financial wizardry. I currently live in the city of San Isidro de el General. Some time back there was a belief in circulation that the ratio of eligible women to men here was 15 to 1.

There were a couple of nearby rural towns where many of the young men had gone to the USA to work, and those places did have a disproportionate number of young women. I personally knew two older expats who repeated this claim. Strangely, both were single most of the time, despite their belief they were in single woman heaven.

But the cold hard fact was, that San isidro then was much like now, with a roughly even number of women and men. These are but a few of the rumors that blossomed temporarily into the realm of urban legend in my time here.

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