The True Meaning of "Pura Vida" - My Family Travels

“Pura vida” is a Spanish phrase that is unique to the small Central American nation of Costa Rica. In just two small words, it encapsulates more than could be said in thousands. When I visited Costa Rica with my Spanish teacher and six classmates, I learned much more than just some new Spanish phrases.
        On our first full day we were scheduled to go zip-lining near the Poas volcano. The road we had planned to take was closed due to mudslides, so we had to take a longer route. The unexpected detour led us to a general store in a small town where we stopped for food and tried some of the local favorites, like these chewy coconut and molasses cookies that became a staple during the rest of the trip. Down the road we came across the beautiful La Paz waterfall where we stopped to take pictures. Unplanned surprises like these are what stand out most vividly in my memory.


        Two days later, our group was picked up by Francisco, who would be our driver for the rest of the trip. Francisco ended up being so much more than that. He was our tour guide, photographer, Spanish tutor, bodyguard, Salsa dancing teacher, nurse, and pretty much our temporary dad. He took us to a gift shop near the Tabacón resort that houses hundreds of iguanas and found us a restaurant one night where he taught us to salsa dance. When I got sick after dinner, he rushed to the bar to buy me a ginger ale and came into the bathroom where I was throwing up to make sure I was alright. Francisco told us all about his family, whom he was away from on Father’s Day to guide us on our trip.
        The coolest thing Francisco showed us was totally unintentional – one of those unexpected surprises. On day four we drove from San Jose to the Tirimbina Rainforest and needed a place to eat lunch. We stopped at an open-air restaurant by the Los Chorros waterfall that was in the middle of a garden filled with hummingbirds – hundreds of them. They whizzed around our heads while we were eating, and if we stood still long enough, they would fly so close that we could feel the puffs of air from their wings on our shirts. They flew so fast and rested so seldom that it was nearly impossible to take pictures of them, so we gave up and just watched. It was mesmerizing.

“Pura vida,” which directly translates to “pure life,” can take on different meanings based on its context. Sometimes it is used to describe the importance of the environment to Costa Rica, a country that deeply values its wildlife and depends heavily on ecotourism. It can also signify the spirit of living life to the fullest regardless of wealth or income. To me, “pura vida” became a way of reminding myself that there is more to travel than the pictures you post on Facebook. Many of my best memories from the trip are things that cannot be captured on film or even described in words, like the taste of maracuyá (passion fruit juice) or the smell of the air up in the mountains. Though these things cannot be recorded, we know they will always stay with us. We travel to places like Costa Rica because we want them to change us, and they will change us forever if we let them.


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