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What is the Leyenda de El Cadejo?

What is the Leyenda de El Cadejo?

In Costa Rica, un buen susto keeps young and old on the right path.

What I'm about to tell you, may seem like fantasy, but it truly did happen to me a few years ago. And it made me realize that the most important lessons in life often come disguised as events that defy explanation or logic.

I had just put adolescence aside to venture into a slightly older world and I believed that freedom and maturity were synonymous.

I come from a humble family. We never had any extras but there was also never a shortage of bread and coffee, even if it was just to fool the belly.

At that time, I lived on top of a hill "donde el diablo perdió la chaqueta", as we Ticos say. One of my favorite things about the place was that, because it was so remote, the city's artificial lights did not affect us there and you could clearly see the stars at night. Full-moon nights were spectacularly beautiful there.

My house, the last in a row of seven, adjoined the large coffee farm of Don López, a famous landowner in the area.

The beginning of my second decade was somewhat unruly. Coming from a small town and without much to do, it was natural that I would be curious about what the world had to offer.

So, curious to discover all there was, my friends and I began to frequent the bar in the neighboring town – about 20 minutes away.

There, I tried my first beer and became friends with guaro, as we call it.

The music was good, too: salsa and merengue playing on the old radio, a turn-of-the-century relic that miraculously still worked.

Naive and innocent, we youngsters just listened to songs and laughed, until the alcohol in our veins made it hard to tell the difference between music and gossip.

Dark night

Then one night…

On one of those nights, I met Antonio. A thin man, pale as fresh milk, he had such dark, deep-set eyes that it was difficult to distinguish the pupil from the iris.

Antonio was wearing a white button-down shirt, which looked old and somewhat worn, and black slacks that were maybe a couple of sizes larger than they should be. He also visibly limped on his left leg.

Antonio was a man of few words, but he had a very particular routine at the bar. He would arrive at around 8pm, sit in the corner of the bar and drink a transparent liquid – water or something stronger, we didn't know.

We used to leave around 10pm and he never left before us.

When I returned home, my worried mother would greet me with prayers and a scolding. Of course, she disapproved of my evening outings and would tell me stories designed to scare children.

But then, one evening, everything changed. On an evening when the moon was full, the music was particularly melodious, and the drink particularly tasty, the laughter and stories kept me and my friends in the bar longer than it should have.

I saw Antonio out of the corner of my eye, as always in his corner, until the liquor made it difficult to see anything beyond arm's length. Then, suddenly, around midnight, I didn't see him anymore.

It was around this time that I also realized that I was out later than ever and that my mother would be home, concerned. I left the bar without saying anything to anyone, without goodbyes or announcements.

Black dog

El Cadejo appears

Walking was difficult, the ground shifted, and the cold air hit my neck and ears. The early morning fog made it even more challenging to distinguish the path, so it was logical that I was going to stumble and when I looked up, I saw it for the first time.

It was shaped like a dog, about half the size of a man, on all fours. Its fur was black as the darkest hour of the night and its red eyes shone like two rubies. Long, prominent fangs protruded from its snout.

Thick white mist curled around its enormous paws and large iron chains were tied to its hind legs. It dragged behind it when it walked… and when it did, I could see that it was limping on its left side.

My mom had told me a lot about this tormentor. They call him El Cadejo, the dog of the underworld, the pet of the devil himself. I had heard stories that could never do justice to the animal in front of me, with a sad and heavy look and a bone-chilling howl. And it was there, a few meters from me.

I was petrified, the shock of seeing him was enough to clear up any alcohol-induced fogginess.

But unlike in the stories my mother told, the huge dog was not trying to attack me. He was there waiting, waiting for me not to stumble again. His moan was not in fear, it was in pain.

I approached him with a courage that, to this day, I cannot explain and when I looked at him I understood who he was: Antonio.

The silent, mysterious man was the human form of El Cadejo and he was there to guide those who had lost their way after a few drinks.

That night of the full moon and the giant dog, El Cadejo with chains, accompanied me to the front door of my house and then, in the blink of an eye, he disappeared into the cold mist. 

My mother, who was waiting for my return at the door, said she had seen it too – the dog from hell.

But I understood that it was something else, El Cadejo was there to show lost souls the path again, to lead them safely to their destination.

The years passed and I kept my friendships but I never visited that bar again. Eerily enough, the neighbors say that after that night, the mysterious Antonio was also never seen there again.



Sara Jiménez Molina

Sara is from Costa Rica, and divides her time between Alajuela and Puntarenas. She specializes in culture and travel writing, and hopes to one day put all her insight down in a book. She has written for Orgullo Latino since 2022.

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