Pura Vida & Monkey Hugs

Trip Start Feb 24, 2012
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Trip End Aug 04, 2012


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Flag of Costa Rica  , Limón,
Thursday, May 3, 2012

Costa Rica brings to mind many things – lush tropical forests, clear blue oceans, and beautiful nature of every type in between. On our way to Costa Rica we had heard one phrase: Costa Rica is Pura Vida.  Pura vida directly translates to pure life.  Before we had been there it just seemed like one of those things that tourists pass on as a rumor.  How can a culture be described as pure life?  But after spending a few weeks there, I am beginning to understand.



Every Central America country has a recent story of a civil war that tore about the country.  We have gone through Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and frequently heard stories of how the war affected people that are still alive today.  In most countries someone my age would have lived through war years as a child.  That doesn't necessarily mean that they saw fighting, but that they lived with the fear that there was killing around them.  There knew people in their family that disappeared or died.  That was the norm.

Costa Rica didn’t have a war.  It has had peace and prosperity due to bananas and then tourism.  The phrase Pura Vida was not just made up by the tourism bureau, but is actually a part of life for Ticos (people from Costa Rica).  The more time we spent in Costa Rica, the more we heard people saying it. 

The first place we stayed was a beach called Avellanas.  We arrived at dusk and were not having luck finding a place to stay that was not a 5 star hotel or a room that should have been a prison cell.  Then we drove past a house on the beach with a broken surf board out front with CAMPING written on it.  The man turned out to be an entrepreneurial fisherman who let people pitch a tent on his sandy backyard.  He pointed to the hose where we could shower, then to fridge were we could put food to keep it away from the monkeys, then waved good night and said Pura Vida.  We both looked at each other and thought maybe he was joking, but no, that is how it is in Costa Rica. 



The more we traveled, the more we heard it.  The man who had just towed our broken down car on a Sunday said pura vida as he promised us he would fix it the next day.  The man who stamped our passport on the way out of the country said pura vida and sent us on our way.  The two locals who were chatting in the middle of the super market parted ways with a pura vida and a smile.

It can be used many ways:

-¡Hola José!, ¿Pura vida?            -Hi Joe, ¿Pura vida?
-Muy bien, gracias a Dios.            -Very well, thank God.

-¡Buenos Días Laura! ¿Cómo te vas?            - Hey, Laura! How’s it going?
-Pura vida, ¿y vos?                                        - Pura vida, and you?

-¡Nos vemos mañana!                        -See you tomorrow!
-Pura vida, ¡chiao!                              -Pura vida, bye!

-¡Muchas gracias!                        -Thank you very much!
-¡Pura vida!                                 -¡Pura vida!

-¿Usted conoce a María?                    -Do you know Maria?
-¡Claro! Ella es muy pura vida.            -Sure! She’s very pura vida.

Sure, the phrase has been appropriated by hotels, coffee shops, bars, clothing companies, tour companies, and yoga shops as a way to promote the country -- but it hasn’t lost its roots as an every day expression.  It is still the way that Ticos identify their national philosophy of taking it easy, enjoying life, spending time with family, purely living.

This way of approaching life or living it to the fullest encapsulates our trip to this point.  We are not just getting through life; we are living life purely.  Since Joe and I met in the Peace Corps and neither of us have a base we didn’t know what to do afterwards.  For us we needed to live life to the fullest together and then decide.  For us the most natural way was to buy a truck and cruise around for a bit.  It sounded like an adventure we both wanted.  We set out without having to a plan.  We intentionally didn't want focus on anything else but pure life.  With this we have had the luxury of time to discuss what the next adventures will be.  But aside from discussing future lives we are living a really pure life right now.

We didn’t start with a fixed plan.  We thought about heading south and seeing what we saw. We have met some great people, seen some unexpected sites, and had some unexpected experiences.  Traveling for me is the time when life is the purest.  Everything is moment to moment.  Figuring out where to get food.  Finding a place to sleep.  Maneuvering through red tape at police checks and border crossings.  And discovering those unexpected joys. 

When we were on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica we debated going to an animal rescue shelter.  We were against the idea of going to a zoo, but when we asked about the place it was more than that.  Lots of animals need a temporary home before they can be taken from inhabited areas and released into the wild.  There is a black market trade for exotic pet species.  Poachers kill mother monkeys to get baby monkeys.  Sloths think that power lines are tree limbs and get hurt.  Boa constrictors end up eating toy poodles.  All these animals need to be housed, cared for, and treated until they can be released.  The shelter in Cahuita works with local authorities to take in stranded and hurt animals and release them again.  When they are in the shelter they offer tours to raise money to keep the place running. 

The very first thing we did on the tour was go into the monkey play house.  There was about 12 young howler monkeys at that moment who were being taken care of until they were old enough find their own troop and reintegrate into the wild.  As soon as I walked in the door a 1 year old monkey named Brad Pitt jumped onto me and wrapped his arms, legs, and tails around me.  It was the best hug ever.  He just wanted to cuddle and be pet.  He didn’t have a mom so would take to anyone who hugged him back.  Being hugged by a monkey was one of those moments of pura vida – living life to the fullest, discovering a new joy.  I had no idea that monkeys were so loving and gentle. 



I am thankful to have this chance to move around and try new things. I have learned heaps about myself, Joe, la Monja, parts of Central America, and the value of monkey hugs.  I hope with these insights that I can incorporat
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