Chapter 1: The Quest for Pura Vida

What Do Cow Bladders, Creepy Masks, and Saint Bartholomew Have In Common?

There’s the riddle of the day for yesterday.

Yesterday was the feast day of Saint Bartholomew, which obviously means there was a party in the streets with a lot of drunk people, some kind of band, and a bunch of “clowns” in creepy painted masks that would periodically walk through the crowd and hit people with inflated cow bladders.

(Or it might be pig bladders.  One effect of living in a country where people speak another language is that I’m never completely sure of anything anyone says, so sometimes I make stuff up for my own sanity.)

Heredia is divided into communities by church, as far as I can tell.  I live in a little community called Santa Lucia, which neighbors a bigger community known as Barva.

–Funny story.  “Barva”, to my gringo ears, is pronounced exactly like “barba”, which in Spanish means beard.  I thought I lived just south of the “beard community” for a bit until my host mom set me straight.–

Rainy Heredia 029 web
Church in Barva

Anyway, the patron saint for the church, and thus the community, of Barva is Saint Bartholomew, who was one of the Twelve Apostles and sometimes associated with hospitals and healing (thanks, Wikipedia).  When I asked people why there was a celebration involving animal bladders, they kept telling me it was because it was St. Bartholomew’s feast day.

Yeah, I don’t really get the connection either.  I even tried googling it.

Whatever, I had fun, even if there was no logical progression of events.  When I first got there, everyone was standing on the sidewalks and overflowing into the street as cars would pass by within inches of people’s toes.  Then, without warning, a band starts playing and my host brother beckons me out onto the street, where everyone crowds together and dances, throwing their hands into the air at some unknown signal and creating a rainfall of beer as they whirl their cans above their heads.  Then my brother shouts at me that the clowns will be coming through soon.


Sure enough, after a couple of minutes, a bunch of guys in elaborate painted masks comes through and starts hitting people with inflated animal bladders tied to the end of shoestrings.  And these guys aren’t playing around.  The reverberations of the smacks can be heard in San José.  I eventually learned how to use my new friends and strangers in the crowd as body shields without them realizing it, but I got hit three separate times.  The first time, the guy had mercy on me and only hit me half-heartedly.  The second time, it was a little boy, so it was cute rather than painful.  The third time, though, the music had started up again, so my cousin (I think he was my cousin) grabbed my hands and pulled me onto the street to dance, where I get pegged twice in the back.  My host parents later told me it’s a compliment for a girl to get hit, but I didn’t feel complimented; I felt betrayed.  That hurt!

After a while, it started pouring, so the celebration turned into a party in the rain.  I sometimes found myself with my host brother or sister, sometimes with my cousins, sometimes with friends of my host siblings I had met that day, and sometimes with strangers who automatically became friends by virtue of their proximity to me.

I didn’t get any pictures, but I did happen to get a picture of masks sitting in someone’s garage a week or so before when I had no idea what they were for.

Anyway, the point of this story is, I have no idea what happened yesterday.


One thought on “What Do Cow Bladders, Creepy Masks, and Saint Bartholomew Have In Common?

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