The “pura vida” lifestyle and expression endemic to Costa Rica is one of the most versatile and charming cultural idiosyncrasies I’ve ever encountered. For those of you not familiar with Spanish, “pura vida” translates literally to “pure life.”
Locals use the phrase in all circumstances. It can function as “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, “awesome!”, or essentially any other case when a short interjection is necessary.
It can be used in many different ways, according to the situation, but I think the most important aspects of “pura vida” are the meanings you assign to it yourself. Like so many other cultural aphorisms or quotes, a person must have his or her own interpretation of it.
To me, “pura vida” means living my life as purely as I can. “Pura vida” helps remind me to live in the moment, especially given my tendency to think too much. I think about how a situation has come to occur, how I feel about the situation, how I could change it if I could, what I want to do next, and how I’m going to make that happen. In a country with so many attractions and so many things one must do, I find it especially easy to plan ahead so much that I lose track of where I am and how much enjoyment can be had in the current moment.
Thankfully, I have had many “pura vida” moments of unadulterated simplicity in my time here. Three in particular stick out in my mind.
The first is almost every time I travel anywhere, but not in the way you’d expect. Yes, the destinations are always picturesque, but what I like most is the journey to the destination. What I mean are the views. They are breathtaking, to say the least. It is a completely humbling experience to realize so effectively how small and insignificant we are on such a big and beautiful planet.
My second constant source of “pura vida” moments is the powerful Latin American music. The sounds themselves are pleasing enough, but the live music atmosphere here in Costa Rica is unparalleled. The crowds are always happy and easygoing, the venues are always agreeable in architecture and ambiance, and, no matter the genre, the music is always prime. Whether one likes to dance or not, it is always a brilliant experience to just let go of inhibitions and let one’s senses run wild for a while. When I go home with simple memories and my ears ringing, it makes real life more bearable.
Lastly, pure adrenaline is the best high one could ever experience, and it’s natural. Personally, I prefer bungee jumping. I love the feeling of being able to silence all my thoughts and instincts for a few moments. And afterward, it is the most electric calm I have ever experienced in my life. It is clarity. And it is pure.
But all that is just me. It can be exceedingly difficult in a place where there are so many fascinating opportunities and places pulling a person in so many different directions, but I encourage you to seek out your own “pura vida”. It will be different for everyone, and that is the beauty of it.
CEA Spring 2013 MOJO Macey Hallstedt, bringing you the Pura Vida from San José, Costa Rica
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