Pura vida, which literally means “pure life”, is an expression Ticos informally use as a greeting, a goodbye, and an answer to the question of “How are you?” As far as I understand it, the meaning is similar to our expression of “It´s all good” or the Swahili expression “Hakuna matata” a la “The Lion King.” Besides being an expression of a Tico´s current state of being, it also expresses the Costa Rican mindset of taking things easy, enjoying life, and not worrying too much. After all, life is good. Some things just don´t translate easily; I needed three English and one Swahili equivalent to express this one Tico concept but that´s how closely culture and language are tied together. I love the expression because it´s a reminder to me as a busy North American to slow down and enjoy the things before me, to see that each moment we live as “pure life” and to not sweat the small things.
We´ve had so many opportunities so far to experience “pura vida.¨” First off, our lovely host families were so gracious in providing a supportive environment for us to be immediately immersed in the language. By the end of four days, enough of my extremely rusty high school Spanish had resurfaced for me to apologize to them for hurting their ears with my poor language skills. When we got lost going from home to meet someone, a lady kindly drove us to our meeting spot rather than just giving us directions. Another woman gave Linda some bus fare when we got confused with how much it cost and she couldn´t find proper change. The people we´ve met here so far have truly been gracious to us.
Besides meeting some wonderful people, we´ve also had an opportunity to get to know the country better through a day trip from Alajuela which included a tour of a coffee plantation named Doka Estates, a visit to the still active Volcan Poas, and finally, what I thought would just be a visit to a waterfall and butterfly garden but turned out to be more like a Costa Rican Disneyland.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens is not just a waterfall viewing spot but rather a privately-owned 70 acre wildlife and nature park. My first clue that we would be seeing some pretty cool things began when the guide told us that before our buffet lunch, we´d be going through the aviary, butterfly garden, and jungle cats exhibit. Before I knew it, I was looking at rainbow-billed toucans eating fruit, butterflies landing on Linda, and face-to-face with a jaguar pacing its lair. Even though I knew a thick pane of plastic separated us, it still made me nervous to see that jaguar literally right before me. All of the animals at La Paz Waterfall gardens were either confiscated from people who had them illegally or had been exposed to humans too much to be released back into the wild. It´s hard for me to imagine anyone wanting to own a jaguar or puma–it clearly belonged in the wild where it would have the space to roam–but a pet ocelot, now that´s another story.
After a good lunch of pizza and gallo pinto (the ubiquitous rice and beans here), we visited the Serpentarium (definitely NOT my cup of tea), the tree frogs, hummingbird garden, and finally, hiked down (yes, down!) to see three waterfalls. We were really lucky because at the end, there was a shuttle which took us back to the entrance so we didn´t even need to hike back up.
I´m really going to miss my host family when we move on to the next phase of our trip. I was initially pretty nervous about going into someone else’s home with only a smattering of English but it’s been wonderful. However, the trip must go on and we will next be visiting Tortuguera, a place on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica famous as a nesting ground for turtles which come to the beach to lay eggs. It´s the beginning of the season for green turtles to nest (nesting season goes from June through October) so we´re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll get to see one. Until then, pura vida!