I just spent a rejuvenating week in Costa Rica. It was my first voyage deep into Central America, and Costa Rica’s diversity of landscapes offers more to adventurous travelers than its Caribbean and Mexican counterparts. Costa Rica has oceans, volcanoes, waterfalls, rivers and natural hot springs. Surfing, zip-lining, kayaking, snorkeling and rafting. Sea turtles, monkeys, dolphins, crocodiles, cows, iguanas, and sloths. Plantains, pineapples, lychees, mangoes, melons, coffee, and ceviche. Costa Rica has it all!
But perhaps the greatest of the country’s bounty of natural resources are the local Costa Ricans themselves. “Ticos” as they call one another, have embraced the concept of Pura Vida, which means a variety of optimistic and enthusiastic salutations and expressions, including this is living!, it’s all good and even a simple hello. For a busy New Yorker like myself who is used to cramming as many productive things into my day as possible (and being stressed out about it), it was a real gift to take a step back and remind myself “Pura Vida.” Tough fall off of the surfboard? Pura Vida. Having to drive slowly because of frogs hopping in front of the car? Pura Vida. This was the kind of thing I could get used to.
This trip was a birthday trip–a fun way to ring in year 30. I knew back in September that I wanted to take a birthday trip somewhere–but the “where” did not fall into place until a few short weeks ago when I was tempted by a Living Social vacation package. Luckily, Costa Rica was on my list, as were surfing and zip-lining–two sports that I could certainly try in Costa Rica. Although I planned on having a celebratory good time, I did not realize that it would also be a trip of introspection. On the flight there, as I gazed out the window, watching the precious atolls protecting reefs, I was flooded with the esprit of Pura Vida—all before I even stepped foot in Costa Rica.
I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect of Costa Rica. Contrary to most of my international adventures, I did little research and planning ahead of time. We landed in San Jose and took a rather treacherous drive to the beach region of Nicoya. After three days at the beach, I felt that all-too-familiar feeling of falling fast and hard.
On day four, I had my grandest Pura Vida moment. As I was biking down the steep hills of Playa Carillo, I took a detour and biked along the shores of the black sand beach. I neither planned nor anticipated that my bike ride would take me to the beach that morning. I peddled along the shore’s path and was struck by the clear, cerulean blue sky. The sun rays seemed to extend from the heavens, illuminating the path in front of me. I had a sudden and intense desire to abandon my beach cruiser run into the ocean. I hadn’t yet been in the ocean by myself because I was pretty terrified of the waves—not the small ones, but the giant ones that you have to literally pummel through to avoid being overtaken. It was around 10 am on a Tuesday morning. It was low tide, so the area of sand where the waves crashed extended for many feet, and no one else was on this stretch of beach. Not wanting to ruin my clothes, I partially disrobed and ran into the ocean. I alternated floating on my back, looking up at the sky and the sun, soaking up the rays and the wisdom of the world around me, with gliding along the gentle waves and fearlessly crashing through the big ones. I felt free. Pura Vida. I was no longer afraid of waves. I was no longer afraid of fear. A rebirth was happening.
I continued to frolic around the ocean. I made a conscious decision to be present in that moment. I knew the clarity I felt and the beauty of the moment would pass, as all of my intense moments of clarity and understanding seem to do. I could have stayed there all morning. As I emerged from the warm Pacific waters, the water seemed bluer, and the fresh air felt fresher. I couldn’t help but notice my footprints in the dark sand–the hot pink of the nail polish on my toes contrasting with the refined volcanic ash that made up Playa Carillo’s beach. With each step, as the pressure of my body weighed against the dark sand causing it to release the salt water that was once confined between the granules of sand, I felt lighter. By the end of my stride back to bicycle, I felt completely enveloped with Pura Vida. As I peddled away from the beach and bid farewell to the Nicoya Peninsula’s healing waters, a yellow butterfly–the quintessential symbol of metamorphosis—appeared, flying right beside me, keeping pace.