The story of La Llorona, but not the one you know

It’s such a small stone for such a big name.

La Llorona: she who cries. A massive, creepy presence in our legends, in the minds of children up and down Latin America. The woman who drowned her own children, who walks the riverbanks ceaselessly, crying and crying. A powerful myth. A strong, loud wail.

But that Llorona has nothing to do with this shiny stone, selected long ago from the Santa Cruz mountains. The stone belongs to Melesia Villafuerte, and belonged to her mother before her. Like the indigenous people of Guanacaste for generations, Melesia and her mother have used a favorite stone to polish the rough sides of clay pots and vases and dishes into a high sheen: the famous pottery of Chorotega.

One day in Melesia’s youth, a boy in the neighborhood stole the stone. Melesia cried so hard and so long on the porch of her family’s Guanacaste home that, ashamed, the boy eventually returned it. She cried so hard and so long that, from that day on, the stone has been known as La Llorona.

Today, Melesia is 57, and La Llorona flies and gleams in her hand as she sits polishing pottery at Coopeguaytil, where women come together to make art. It shines from years of polishing and being polished in return, a give and take between clay and stone. It shines with the memory of Melesia’s tears the day it was taken from her, only to return. It shines almost like a river stone, plucked from the waters before it was too late.

As published today in El Colectivo 506. Image by Mayela López. Text by Katherine Stanley Obando, inspired by a story by Mayela López about the artisans of Guaitil, Guanacaste, published by El Colectivo 506. Our Sunday #MediaNaranja series collects short love stories with a Costa Rican connection: romances, friendships, love of humans, animals, things, places, ideas. To share your own ideas for stories to be featured in this space, write to us at

Hooray for voting

Today is a national holiday in Costa Rica, not that work-from-homers like me take any notice: the Annexation of Nicoya, which fell this past Saturday and is observed today.

This holiday may have a very unexciting-sounding name, but as I considered the history behind it this past weekend, I realized that it’s truly quite extraordinary. July 25th is the date when Costa Rica celebrates the fact that the people of Nicoya and Santa Cruz voted, in an open town hall, to become part of the territory of Costa Rica. (I would try to explain all the ins and outs that led to this moment, but holy Lord, it’s complicated; the Spanish invasion of Central America led to all kinds of Kingdoms and Provicnes and mayoralities that boggle the mind).

The point is, as a citizen of a country that has taken the territories it wants, this celebration of a peaceful vote is pretty extraordinary. So, too, is Guanacaste’s official motto: “De la patria por nuestra voluntad.” Part of the homeland, by our own will.

Thank you to all the people of Guanacaste who have brought such richness of cultures and astonishing natural beauty to Costa Rica, and to a country that celebrates voting, rather than conquest. I don’t mean to suggest that the Annexation of Nicoya was without controversy – we all know plenty of voices must have been excluded from a vote that took place in 1824 – or that Costa Rica is some idyllic haven of democracy. But the world would be a better place if our calendars filled up with more holidays in honor of momentous votes, and fewer in honor of battles.

Make sure you’re registered to vote, wherever that may be!

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; learn how to join my Overwhelmed Writers’ League, every Saturday at 1 pm EST; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookTo learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.