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Raw DS Article: “Finding Pura Vida”

January 18, 2009

“You guys interested in bars where you can find ladies of the night?”

Wait a minute…did this portly American guy with a nasaly Cape Cod accent just offer suggestions of where my friend Chris and myself could find hookers for the night? Never mind the fact that we were due to meet up with Chris’ girlfriend in a few hours or the fact that I swore to myself I’d not return from Costa Rica with any form of tropical disease or genital condition—this guy was seriously trying to hook us up with female companionship. Judging by the guy’s “wife” (200 pounds lighter and 15 years his junior), it appears that he was an expert in the field. All of this while Chris and I ate dinner, under the watchful eyes and cigarette smoke of the large American and his rail-thin wife. Welcome to Jaco, Costa Rica, a town on the Pacific coast stuck between three different cultures: Costa Rican, surfer, and nouveau-riche Americans. It is a place that, despite its rough spots (I was pestered with offers of drugs by several locals on bikes), is part of what I consider to be the closest to paradise yet: Costa Rica.

Peruse any guide book or tourist literature about Costa Rica and you’ll find one phrase again and again: “pura vida”—the pure life. It’s beyond a tourism slogan—it’s an integrated part of the language of the people and. even more so, the way of life for Ticos (a term used to describe Costa Ricans). During my week-long experience in paradise, I was lucky enough to escape the package-resorts and tour busses filled to the brim with retirement-age Americans and experience “pura vida” through the generous hospitality of several Costa Rican friends, their families, and Chris—my very good friend and drinking buddy from Australia. Without them, I’d likely still be trying to find my way from the airport into the capital city of San Jose.

Costa Rica, although small, boasts a huge array of landscapes and climates. It features active volcanoes, rainforests, and “cloud forests” above the rain forest, crystalline beaches, wildlife, and a tourist industry quite unlike anywhere else I’ve visited except Israel. During my time in CR, I climbed a volcano, brushed up on my Spanish, flew through the rain forest on a zip line, ate at a restaurant whose name translated to “the Party of Corn” and interacted with a wide array of locals and expatriates alike. Everything I continue to love about Latin American food—its simplicity and great taste— was present in traditional Tico cuisine—I experienced arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), casados (a plate of meat, black beans, rice, salad, fried plantains, and a hard-boiled egg), and gallo pinto (rice, beans, vegetables and cilantro).

I’ve been lucky enough to experience beaches and oceans on four continents in places considered tropical paradises (Hawaii) and places not-oft-considered tropical (Sweden). Throughout all of these opportunities to sit back and soak up the sun, I have not seen a beach as beautiful as the one I spent three days relaxing at in Costa Rica. Everything was near-perfect; the sand, the palm trees, and the ocean combined into my ideal paradise. As Chris and I sat out on the beach on our last night drinking Cerveza Imperial under a full moon, I knew I had found Pura Vida—life on my own terms, in my own place, with good friends and good beer, knowing full well that it was below freezing in Grand Forks.

In spite of the many societal, monetary, class and other issues that are ever-present in Costa Rica, nearly everyone there exudes that which is pura vida: life lived on one’s own terms, in a strong community where things both large and small are celebrated. I’m not entirely sure we in the USA could ever truly live pura vida on the same terms as Ticos do. We are far too involved in our professional and personal lives to take the moments required to sit back, enjoy and celebrate life. Perhaps our chronic need to work and be successful is why the country is so popular amongst American tourists. We each have the opportunity while visiting to let the stress of our normal lives disappear, taking example from the people of CR. Thanks to the hospitality of many people, from my friend Dani’s family to the five guides who led my canopy tour of one, I found paradise. I hope to return soon.

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