Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pura Vida


Pura Vida is a motto in Costa Rica that captures the national zeitgeist in a way similar to that of Aloha in Hawaii and Hakuna Matata in singing/dancing duos of meerkats and warthogs. Literally translating to "pure life," Ticos (as Costa Ricans are familiarly called) dole out well-wishes of pura vida on all occasions. In practice, pura vida can be used to say "thank you," "you're welcome," "have a nice day," "I like drugs/anonymous sex," you name it. The only other word that comes to mind with such versatility is "fuck," which I rarely heard during my recent week in Costa Rica.

I did hear a lot of Spanish and I had much occasion to practice the language, allowing me to feel comfortable in checking #29 off my list. And aside from the frequest pura vidas sprinkling their speech, I didn't notice too many other lingual nuances of Tico Spanish the way that Cuban, Mexican or Castillian versions of the language instantly set themselves apart. And that blending into the surrounding Central American Latino culture characterized much more than the language.

Unlike so many of their neighbors, Costa Rica is a peaceful country with less political upheaval and no standing army. Here the tourist is king and the natural world is his kingdom. Within a few hours' drive of the airport, you can experience beaches (in August 2009, Jaco Beach hosted the World Surfing Championships), mountains, volcanoes, rain forests, cities and more. While you won't experience much high culture in the form of museums, symphonies or theaters, your camera will go crazy with all the amazing vistas and unusual animals.

More to come soon... heading out for the night. Check back early next week for a full report on my Costa Rican adventure!

OK, so it's taken me four days but I'm going to make my best effort to finish this post. In between contemplating my future, drinking with friends, embarking on a new exercise mission and lord knows what else - I put a bit more thought into what I got out of my Costa Rican adventure.

Normally, I find these travelogues easy to write. I love going to a new place, making various observations (or judgments) and then bringing those hopefully witty insights to you, dear readers.

However, I have had a tough time coming up with a way to frame my experience. At first, I thought it might be because my previously blogged journeys to Cancun and Portland were largely solo enterprises where I had plenty of time to opine, journal and explore. In contrast, I took this trip with three friends and had to make a real effort to carve out "me time," a commodity I value much more after three months of unemployment.

More than that, I think having trouble writing more than just a "If it's Monday then we must be open ocean kayaking," type record of this trip stems from there being minimal meat beyond the observations. Costa Rica is an absurdly beautiful country. The scenery is breathtaking - whether it's the beach, the mountains or even the synagogue sanctuary. The people are nice, they are patient with your middling Spanish and they generally go out of their way for tourists. The food is tasty and I ate my weight in black beans and rice and plantains (often in the same breakfast).

If you're looking for a relaxing vacation in a great natural setting that is generally affordable and safer than many other developing nations, go to Costa Rica. Hell, even take the kids. Plenty of other people did.

If you're looking for inspiration for anything literary or juicy, you might have to dig a little deeper and mingle with locals on topics other than the negative side effects of the rainy season or the tasty queso palmito. Or maybe that's all there is to it. Like that super-sweet cheerleader who is fun to be around but lousy when you want to dissect The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Costa Rica entices you with its looks but can disappoint when you want something a tad more real.

And in the end that may not be an entirely bad thing. After months of deep self-reflection and ridiculously laborious job hunting, a vacation with less effort and investigation may have been precisely what the Department of Labor bureaucrat ordered.

For those who do want to know about my first attempt at snorkeling, being stuck at the San Jose Chabad kids' Shabbos dinner table or how I managed to make 5 new Facebook friends while traveling in a foreign country, I'm happy to oblige. In the meantime, accept this humble reporting, hasta luego and of course, Pura Vida!


Jannah said...

As my first "real" vacation anywhere it was fabulous!! I know I was blown away but just how nice and perfect everything seemed. Maybe dissect that? A whole country that seems perfectly staged to meet tourist expectations of a Central American vacation is worthy of a second look. The small town bar of La Fortuna with the required creepy locals, to the dirty big city (and of course a discussion here on why the synagogue needs such stringent security as to give 4 fab females such a hard time), to the stereotypical surfer town of Jaco, and finally the beach/rainforest paradise of Manuel Antonio. Everything was wonderful and it made me want to go behind the curtain, so to speak, to see what the country was really like!! I am sure CR has so much more to offer than all the touristy stuff. I mean come on, crocodiles AND macaws on the side of the road? It just seems too good to be true and everyone can’t really be that happy all the time! But who knows, maybe if it is that perfect I would be happy all the time too!

Shtetl Fabulous said...

I have to admit that I too was somewhat skeptical about the "perfection" we experienced in Costa Rica. There was definitely a Disneyland aspect to the entire country that was both strange and wonderful.

Or maybe they just figured out the formula that appeals to American tourists and are riding it until the wheels come off while their neighbors - Belize, Panama, Nicaragua - offer more "reality."

Just nice to know I'm not the only one who sensed the eerie perfection.