Pura Vida

Many countries have a catch phrase that sums up the nature of the inhabitants, while capturing the eternal state of the country.

‘Pura Vida’ is the catch phrase of Costa Rica, and an abundant manifestation of the way of life.

Pura Vida is a please and a thank you, a kind gesture, and a constant reminder to never take life too seriously. In a rough translation from Spanish to English, it’s the pure, full life.. the good life.

How are you? I asked my Taxi driver in Spanish. “Pura Vida” he answered with a simple nod and a knowing smile. How are you? How do you feel? It’s an answer to many questions. And as Magdalena, the owner of Nomadas Hostel told me in Spanish, “you can even say it to your mom!”

Pura Vida captures the yin and yang of the lifestyle of the Ticos, Costa Rican natives.

It embodies the wiry jolt received only from fresh Costa Rican coffee, needed to begin strenous work in the daytime sun. Several hours later, as the effects of these potent coffee beans wear off, the sluggish state that follows is received warmly by hammocks, which provide intense bouts of relaxation.

Pura Vida is also reflected by the weather. The whole country is under a soft, constant mist, as if the countries of the world made up a grocery store, and Costa Rica is the needy vegetable, which need to be misted most frequently. As earth needs water in order to thrive, this soft rain always brought about a buzz from the locals and the landscape grasped onto even greener shades than before. Bits of brilliant colors peeked out through the green spectrum.

Back in the city, although McDonalds and Wendy’s plagued every street corner like a bad infection, the streets still oozed with a vivacious, lighthearted people.

My new years exuded the aspects of ‘Pura Vida’ from its pores. We generated an irresistible fusion of mangy gringos and trendy Tico’s with dreadlocks, which made for a wonderful night of Tecate’s, tents and fires along the rocky beaches of Dominical. With a flavorful group of people, all whom I had know for less than 24 hours, we rang in our New Years together: new friends, new experiences, and the lessons of Pura Vida to help us in the approaching year.

For me personally, Pura Vida took into account the backbreaking work of digging swales, gardening, creating beds for the plants from organic materials we gathered, and planting every fruit I’ve ever wanted to know. As life in Costa Rica would have it, this work would sometimes call for a fiesta afterwards, which could be appropriately accompanied with copious amounts of ‘contrabando’, the pungent handmade liquor, which was created with the local, abundant sugar cane.

Pura Vida was knowing that the afternoon jumps in the private rivers would always prove to be more refreshing and cleansing than any shower. It soothed the bug bites on our bumpy, red legs and never failed to be an experience with nature, which continually renewed our relationship with Mother Earth.

My spirit was consoled and cajoled as I stood under a waterfall and felt the weight of falling water pound on my head, and I could focus only on laughing, because…. I dunno, at the time, that just seemed like most logical and natural thing to do.

The oh-so-refreshing jumps in the hidden rivers and waterfalls tucked behind fields of green was enhanced with the sounds of the distant howler monkeys and the fact that we could always gaze up at the small, sleek toucans with the signature fiery, lime green circle around their beady, black eyes.

Pura Vida was knowing that the ‘Morpho’ butterfly with a deceivingly brown outside would fly past the screened-in deck just about the time when we were all sitting down to breakfast. It would reveal its brilliant blue inside wings as we gathered to eat together and enjoy the food we had just harvested.

Pura Vida encompassed the ever-average combination of rice and beans, and if you you got tired of rice & beans, you could have Gallo Pinto… rice and beans pre-mixed together… this, folks, is the simplicity of Pura Vida at its finest.

This attitude and mind-set makes it impossible to neglect the little things; the sharp blade of the machete coming into contact with the juicy, fleshy, inside skin of the coconut made for an ideal afternoon pick-me-up.. far from insignificant.

As our amigo Jeffery, a Tico, said in practiced English, “when you need to do something important,.. there will be a problem.” This is the last thing most people want to hear, yet, a wise observation. As in many other countries, the Ticos are well-versed with life not going as planned, but with a nonchalant, ‘Pura Vida’ attitude, nothing is ever a catastrophe.  In fact, the biggest news story of the day will probably be that a crocodile ate one of you cows.

Pura Vida is a stability and steadiness of all opposites. It comes down to a very simple equation, which is really a question that wish I could ask myself more:

How can I do this outdoor work most efficiently so that my hammock time is maximized?

It’s finding that sweet balance of working hard, and relaxing just as hard.

I’ll take advice from the Ticos; balancing work and play with unscripted equilibrium is the radically simple solution for living our lives.

If I can lay in a hammock with a good book after a productive day, with not even a hint of tomorrow lingering in my mind, then, by golly, I’m living ‘Pura Vida.’


  1. Michael Johnson | 29th Jan 12

    Love your stories Casey! I am hoping to feel Pura Vida more often in my life as I define and live my life purpose. Glad to see you learning lessons that I didn’t learn until much later in my life. I know how important balance is in my personal life and that it is also a necessity for harmonious living with Mother Earth/Father Sky. Look forward to sharing in your travels and journey in future posts!

    • Words of a Wanderer | 29th Jan 12

      I appreciate the comment Mike, glad you enjoyed reading! 🙂

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