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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,