Commode To Joy

finding happy (even in the crappy)

Pura Vida

Mark and I spent most of last week in Costa Rica. Are you picturing sandy beaches? Cause that’s not where we were at all.

Costa Rica’s mountains, Cordillera Central and Cordillera de Talamanca, serve as spine running northwest to southeast through the country. They divide Costa Rica into two halves: Caribbean and Pacific. The Caribbean side is more beach inclined and drier, whereas the Pacific side is largely rainforest. This is the side we visited.

Arenal Volcano

A symbol in the Pacific side’s skyline is the Arenal volcano, the world’s smallest active volcano. It’s also home to wildlife galore. Sloths, lizards, eyelash vipers, leaf-cutter ants, tarantulas, bats that eat their weight in mosquitos every day, wild boar, owls, and many more creatures roam the ground, trees, and skies.

We got to see them all and more on a hanging bridges tour. (Six bridges, all high up in the rainforest, suspended high above the canopy floor. I wanted really badly to jump on one of them, but decided it might not be appreciated by the other bridge walkers.)

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges

Howler monkeys can be heard throughout the day, their call easily mistaken as a dog’s bark. We learned that the howler monkey is the second loudest mammal on the planet, behind the blue whale. Surprising considering how small they are!

Howler Monkey photo courtesy Luis Alvarenga

Because it’s so close to the equator, Costa Rica has twelve hours of sunlight every day of the year. Beyond that, the only consistent aspect of the country is their Pura Vida way of life.

A welcome akin to Hawaii’s “aloha”, Pura Vida is most commonly said as a greeting or goodbye. Meaning “pure life” or “simple life” the phrase is more than a salutation, it’s a way of life for Costa Ricans.

Given how many times I heard and saw the phrase (on billboards, airplanes, and tourist swag, to name a few), I pondered it a lot. Does it mean a more minimalist lifestyle? It wasn’t until Mark and I were en route to a zipline excursion that I saw its intangible qualities play out in front of me.

Allow me to set the scene. Costa Rican roads are narrow, two-lane affairs that wind around the country’s hilly topography. They’re similar to our country roads, only a bit narrower. Add large vehicles to the road or stops for construction, and you’ll find the absolute fastest you’ll drive is 60 mph. Even that is a rare feat.

Orlando, a chatty, happy man who whistled a lot, drove us to the zipline location. He made frequent stops pointing out items of interest along the way, such as craters formed by the last volcano eruption in 1968, and the “itchy plant”, a plant that causes a skin reaction similar to poison ivy.

At one point, he “pulled over” (ahem, stopped nearly in the middle of the road) to point out a large group of coatis, part of the raccoon family. Given what narrow strip of road that remained navigable was temporarily blocked by a wandering coati, the van behind us stopped too.

Orlando opened his window and made chirruping noises at the coati. It ambled along, indifferent to everything. Orlando laughed and waved in childlike glee at the critter. I snapped a picture. All the while, the driver behind us waited patiently, smiling himself.


When the coati finally ambled to the roadside, the driver behind us took his chance to pass, giving a friendly wave to Orlando who was still half hanging out the window.

Pura Vida.

Never ever would an American have been so merrily patient for an oversized vehicle to stop in the road…for wildlife. In fact, I wouldn’t put it past many a driver to risk hitting the coati for the sake of time. (Granted, stopping like that wouldn’t be safe on our interstates or highways, but hopefully you get the point.)

The guy driving the van behind us? At home I imagine an inconvenienced driver, frowning, mouthing, and giving a hand gesture that’s far from friendly.

Pura Vida. Simple life. Take in life’s simpler things. The slow. The happy.

It was a really lovely encounter to witness. What’s more, we were still early for our zipline reservation, an important point to make, given our timeline/deadline obsessed society. How refreshing to see that it’s possible to stop and enjoy – Pura Vida – while still maintaining a schedule.

Zipline Tram

We made it home to the wintery cold of the Midwest. The hustle and bustle of Christmas is as prevalent as ever. It’s now one week to Christmas, which gives all the more reason?

For a Pura Vida approach.

Categories: Odes To Joy

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply