The Philosophy of Pura Vida; A Tribute to my Last Month in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Oh hello there, everyone. You have found me in the SJO airport waiting to catch a flight to Cancun, Mexico, drinking one last Pilsen and reminiscing on my last almost four months spent in Costa Rica. After leaving Finca Las Hormigas I made my way up to Monteverde to be reunited with my family after over a year of being apart. We split the holidays between the Monteverde rainforest and Samara beach. In Monteverde we explored the eco-diverse cloud forest, being so lucky as to sneak up on the mystical Resplendent Quetzal bird, a tapir, a coati, multiple species of hummingbird, and, to my mom’s absolute delight, the famous blue morpho butterfly.

Standing beneath a Strangler Fig tree
The Resplendent Quetzal

I can’t express enough here my gratitude to have been with my family for the holidays. On New Years Eve a fellow backpacker inquired about my favorite moment of 2020. Without thinking twice I responded that it was looking up from a coffee at the treehouse restaurant in Monteverde to see, to my absolute surprise, my mom, sister and brother looking around for a place to sit (my dad was parking the rental car). Since none of them had had any data, and I’d had no contact with them for the last few hours, I had begun to worry. Apparently I’d had some reason to worry since on their way from the airport to Santa Elena, Monteverde, they had managed to get into an accident with a motorcycle on a very steep and narrow road. My poor brother who’d been asleep in the backseat had awoken to a man on the windshield. In the end, the man and my family were fine, and the rental car got away with only a dent in the left head light.

Our assaulted rental car and the treehouse restaurant!
Me and the sibs

My sister had been drawn by mere instinct, some sisterly supernatural phenomenon, to the same restaurant that I was sitting at; hence my surprise when I looked up to see them, flustered and with a mirrored expression of surprise. That night we celebrated our reunion and their aliveness over Casado and beer on tap. 

Before I go further, I want to acknowledge how fortunate I am in a time like this to have been reunited with my family. As the saga of the coronavirus pandemic oscillates, and I watch from my backpacker bubble as most of the world grapples with isolation and separation from loved ones, it does not escape me that my globetrotting may not be looked upon so sympathetically. My world of connecting to other travelers and experiencing culture outside of my own; of hopping from hostel to hostel, sleeping in bunk beds crammed into tiny rooms without air conditioning and bumping up and down in buses cozied up to jaw dropping cliffs, is anything but relatable to my friends back home.

This acknowledgement aside, and with all of my sympathy for those who are suffering from illness, isolation, or job insecurity, I would still like to offer a window into my reality; the strangeness of being an adventurous young adult exploring Latin America during a world-wide pandemic.

Since I have been living in the land of pura vida, which is the common catch phrase in Costa Rica used heavily in casual conversation either as a greeting or farewell, or to describe the chillness of a situation or to offset it’s misfortune, I think it is time to dive deeper into its philosophy. In English, it is directly translated as “pure life.” 

Isla Chora in the back!

As an example of one of its uses, when my family and I went on a guided ocean kayak trip to Isla Chora in Samara, I cornered our tour guide and nit picked him for any information he had on the strikes that had been happening earlier in September and October. For those of you not so up to date on Costa Rican politics, there erupted out of the injustice of a raise in government taxes during a time of financial despair for most Costa Ricans, a plethora of strikes. These strikes caused road blockages for weeks, some buses to stop running altogether, and many stores to be closed down. During the peak of these strikes I was in San Vito working at the farm Los Patos Suertudos and wondering to myself if I would ever be leaving the top of that isolated mountain.

To my inquiry, the kayak guide replied that yes Costa Ricans have been struggling economically, and yet, it is still all “pura vida.” As he said this he motioned all around him at the rocky island, the lush jungles, the palm trees, the families with young children screeching for joy as they plunged into the ocean…you get the picture. 

Later one night as I was sitting around the hostel living area, I listened in on a conversation a Canadian was having with two Costa Ricans. The Canadian had been in Samara for some weeks and was jokingly asking what he had to do to become more “Tico”, which is the affectionate term for the locals of Costa Rica. To this the Ticos replied, “you gotta stop thinking about tomorrow man- the Ticos, we enjoy the color in the sunsets, we don’t know if we will have tomorrow,” and with that they clinked their cacique shot glasses, shouted “pura vida”, and threw their heads back. 

I have seen pura vida stuck onto the bumpers of dusty volvos, heard it called out between strangers across the street, as the name of restaurants, woven into beach blankets and tattooed into tanned arms; it is ingrained in everything. 

In 2005, the term “blue zone” first appeared in a cover story of the National Geographic naming five places in the world where people live the longest. Unsurprisingly, Costa Rica was among the five; specifically, the Nicoya Peninsula where I spent the last few weeks. I do not believe it to be a coincidence that Costa Rica, with its culture so heavily steeped in a philosophy that teaches presence and gratitude, is among these five blue zones.

To expand on my own experience traveling for these last three and a half months, the ticos and ticas that I have made friends and acquaintances with have been among the chillest and happiest people I’ve ever met. And in my airport reflection, I feel so very fortunate to have spent this particular time of global disarray steeped in the philosophy of pura vida. 

One last look back at my fam 😥

After my family left, I stayed in Samara at the hostel Las Mariposas, which means butterfly in Spanish. There I met a group of fellow backpackers and we bonded over our similar situations and niche sense of humor. We called ourselves the “Cacique Squad” after the cheapest liquor you can get in Guanacaste. Together we rented a car and spent a long weekend exploring breathtaking and mountainous Alajuela, the area surrounding the active Poas volcano.

The Cacique Squad

There is something about the people you meet traveling, the experiences you each are having, so outside of the daily routine. My theory is that because these experiences will most likely stand out from the rest of your life, so will the people that you meet. 

We found a cute Airbnb home that looked over the cityscape and the rolling mountain range. One of the benefits of finding a handful of people to travel with is that the cost to book a bunk bed in a shared hostel is roughly the same as splitting a cheap Airbnb six ways. 

Airbnb view 🙂

On our drive up the mountain to our Airbnb I couldn’t stop saying “wow”; the air was crisp, the flowers somehow smelled sweeter and looked even more vibrant, and don’t even get me started on the views. We spent the next three days going on hikes through the national forests, cooking, playing cards and charades, and playing music. 

Geared up to visit Poas Volcano (spoiler alert, it was foggy and we saw nothing).

Now, you may be wondering what on earth I am doing on the verge of a flight to Mexico after bragging on Costa Rica and the friends that I have made?

I am simply being dragged along by the leash of my restless heart.

After traveling up and down the coasts and in and around the peninsula of Costa Rica, I am ready for a change of scenery and culture; and more specifically, to learn about how Mexico has been influenced by permaculture and other types of environmental agriculture.

Until we meet again, my loyal seegressago fans. 

Pura vida to all and to all pura vida,

Gressa 

Deep Sea Dreamer; Introducing my end of permaculture design course project.

Hey readers! I don’t know about you, but I am a firm believer that the universe has hands. I believe this because I have felt them on my back, pushing me when it is time to let go and move forward. I have felt them often as gentle, loving nudges; but when these nudges are ignored (which I admit they often are) the hands aren’t afraid to shove. The most dramatic example of this in my life so far happened just last month when I was suddenly deported from the European Union during, might I add, this global pandemic, and given two weeks to pack my things and find a place to be deported to. I had felt the loving nudges, the gentle caresses, leading up to this as various housing siuations and job opportunities simultaneously falling through. I’d felt them constantly as the stubborn presence of bronchitis that would lie dormant and flare up whenever I got particularly stressed. I felt them as the rejection letter from the American liberal arts college in Berlin I was sure I would be accepted into. I felt them as neurotic roommates, expensive BVG fines for getting caught every single rare time I rode the train without a ticket, and as the sudden end of a solid relationship. And, since apparently none of that was enough for me, I felt them as the final forceful shove of deportation.

Looking back on my last days in Berlin, my experience can best be compared to the numerous times I’ve found myself standing on the edge of a high rock overlooking a deep river, and have closed my eyes, turned my brain off, and jumped. 

When I opened my eyes again, I found that the hands of the universe had landed me safely on the top of a mountain in Costa Rica, San Vito, surrounded by a mirage of blue-crowned motmot birds, menelaus blue morpho and glasswing butterflies, DMT drenched cane toads, a very large cat named Pete, a hyperactive puppy named Finn, four lovely humans named Kristy, David, Nestor, and Jefferson, and, many, many happy earthworms.

To catch everyone up who is not in the know, I have been spending this month tucked away on 33 acres of liberated jungle; a property guided by permaculture principles and steered masterfully to the edge between harmony and chaos. During my time volunteering here I’ve had my nose to the grind stone working towards a permaculture design certificate. This is an opportunity that was not even on my radar until days before leaving Berlin when I was frantically scrolling through Workaway at 3am with a cappuccino and stumbled across Patos Suertudos. And now, a month later, permaculture has opened a portal for me to experience the natural world in all its glorified ancient intelligence and clever methods of design.

I’ve always been a nature lover, but becoming aware of all the underground partnerships that trees form with mushrooms, and the business they have exchanging sugars for nitrogen, for example, takes my disconnected admiration to feelings of an intimate kinship. Like how you think you know your parents when you’re young, but it isn’t until you’re older that you realize that they are complex people with memories and an entire life unrelated to you; that their sole purpose in this life is not in fact to raise you and clothe you and spoil you. And it’s that moment in your growth when you begin to see your parents as people outside their parental role and the relationship becomes something more like a friendship, if everything goes well. 

I think it’s problematic to live our whole lives viewing nature as a parent, and essential to our true understanding and respect of her (in attempt to avoid referring to nature as an it) to begin forming a symbiotic friendship.

So with all of that said, I am very excited to share with you my end of course project that Kristy, Nestor, and myself have been working enthusiastically toward all month. The final product of all of our creative and intellectual talents combined has come together in the form of a musical puppet show. The show is a symphony of hand-painted puppets and backdrops, an allegorical storyline that follows a rebellious fish named Joe, and an original song composed out of the deep urgency to reunite with our natural world. By communicating the message of permaculture through the medium of a musical puppet show, our hope is to reach a wide audience that trancends age and language. 

The song, We Already Paid, written by Kristy Trione and musically arranged and performed by Nestor Padilla and myself is, at its core, a call to action to align our values with natural systems as opposed to a system that rewards an endless cycle of sociopathic consumerism. 

You can find the lyrics in English and Spanish attached to the bottom of this post. We have left it open sourced, and encourage all to take it in as their own. Spread it around as an anthem of the people, add some maracas and dance salsa to it… North Carolina folks I want to hear your best country covers, and to my fam in Berlin I’m very interested to hear a techno cover!…Sing it in the shower, sing it to your tomato plants as you water your garden, sing it to the tiny immune systems of bees, sing it to all the rebellious plants pushing through the cracks in the concrete!

Thanks so much for reading all the way until now! Stay tuned for a post about my new home on the Caribbean coast on a year old 100 acre permaculture farm.

Pura Vida my good fam!

Gressa

We already paid

We already paid
We should have what we need
We’ve already paid
We’re done feeding your greed

We’ve already paid
We should have what that’s worth
We’ve already paid
While you’ve trashed up the earth

We’re all gonna turn to nature
To be our true guide
Everybody’s gonna turn off the tele
With its pack of lies

We’ll work for ourselves
No more for the “man”
We’ll work for each other
To restore the land

We’ve already paid
But it’s never enough
We’ve already paid
While you’ve taken too much

We’ve already paid
We’ve paid with the time for our kids
we’ve already paid chasing
soul’s empty success

We’re tired and we’re going home

We’ll turn to nature
To be our true guide
Turn off the tele
With its pack of lies

We’ll work for ourselves
Not for the “man”
We’ll work for each other
To restore the land

We’ve already paid
with our land, seas and our skies
Now we are going
Beyond corporate demise

We’re tired and we’re leaving it behind

We’ve already paid
For our parks, roads and war
We’ve already paid
We won’t pay any more

We’ll turn to nature
To be our true guide
Turn off the tele
With its pack of lies

We’ll work for ourselves
Not for the “man”
We’ll work for each other
To restore the land

Ya Pagamos

Ya pagamos
Deberíamos tener lo que necesitamos
Ya hemos pagado
Hemos terminado de alimentar tu codicia

Ya hemos pagado
Deberíamos tener lo que vale
Ya hemos pagado
Mientras destrozaste la tierra

Todos vamos a recurrir a la naturaleza
Para ser nuestra verdadera guía
Todo el mundo va a apagar la tele
Con su paquete de mentiras

Trabajaremos por nosotros mismos
No más para el “hombre”
Trabajaremos el uno para el otro
Para restaurar la tierra

Ya hemos pagado
Pero nunca es suficiente
Ya hemos pagado
Si bien has tomado demasiado

Ya hemos pagado
Pagamos con el tiempo para nuestros hijos
ya hemos pagado por perseguir
el éxito vacío del alma

Estamos cansados ​​y nos vamos a casa

Recurriremos a la naturaleza
Para ser nuestra verdadera guía
Apaga la tele
Con su paquete de mentiras

Trabajaremos por nosotros mismos
No para el “hombre”
Trabajaremos el uno para el otro
Para restaurar la tierra

Ya hemos pagado
con nuestra tierra, mares y nuestros cielos
Ahora vamos
Más allá de la desaparición empresarial

Estamos cansados ​​y lo dejamos atrás

Ya hemos pagado
Por nuestros parques, carreteras y guerra
Ya hemos pagado
No pagaremos más

Recurriremos a la naturaleza
Para ser nuestra verdadera guía
Apaga la tele
Con su paquete de mentiras

Trabajaremos por nosotros mismos
No para el “hombre”
Trabajaremos el uno para el otro
Para restaurar la tierra

Thanks for tuning in!