The first time I saw “Pura Vida” was completely unromantic. The phrase was in an email signature that I read on my couch—swaddled by my robe, blanket, and cats—a valiant effort that ultimately failed the battle against winter’s warfare.
I had reached out to a tour company about a waterfall hike, two weeks prior to a Costa Rica yoga teacher retreat I booked last summer.
Flying solo, I had two personal goals:
- To remember what sunshine felt like in the dead of winter
- To get reinspired after a three-year hiatus from teaching yoga
My logical, no-frills goals would later be replaced with two deeper concepts, teased already in the title of this blog post. But, I wasn’t able to see them yet.
In my typical Type-A fashion, I was absurdly stressed before leaving the grind for paradise.
Crazy how the before and after of travel as we get older, with ever-increasing responsibilities, can almost total an elegant adventure in a collision of our own making.
Anyway, I remember how that email signature stood out to me, overtaking the usual “thanks” and “cheers.”
Even with my survival basics Spanish, I knew what it meant—and how arresting that phrase was…
It isn’t about keeping a city weird, an odd slogan that never caught on in Portland and kind of did in Austin. Pura Vida is about the simple life…legit simplicity.
I’ve been hung up on Costa Rica since 2011, back when Mr. H and I had a trip booked that we canceled.
That was the year I quit my full-time marketing job to pursue an artistic career, teaching dance while finishing my first book and launching this cute blog. Travel budget wasn’t exactly a thing then.
My infatuation with Costa Rica never faltered, making me feel like a love-sick teen that got stood up at the movies. I had also been pining over a yoga retreat for many years.
When the two came together, I told Mr. H it was something I had to do. And, he told me to go.
After I booked the trip, I had a silly moment of buyer’s remorse. I was worried I had built up Costa Rica way too much. Others warned me it wasn’t great (always nice to hear when you’ve spent thousands of dollars on a trip of a lifetime, right?).
And when I was on what can only be described as the American party plane from Houston to Costa Rica, I wondered again if I had signed up for a weeklong tourist immersion instead of a mind, body, spirit one.
But I ignored judgment and apprehension, in favor of a beautiful experience from start to finish.
I love to have soundtracks for trips, new albums by my favorite artists that I haven’t listened to yet. It’s especially travel perfection that Bonobo’s most recent album is called “Migration.”
Because I’m free of distractions—not playing music while working, for example—I can relish the sounds like no other time. It makes the album even more special, associated with this unforgettable place—suspended gracefully in my memory.
Although we didn’t have bonobos at our retreat, we did have howler monkeys.
The male with the big balls woke us up at 4am sharp the first two days. Then he appeared to accept our group and kept it down until the more reasonable hour of 6:30am.
So for those that warned me Costa Rica wasn’t great. They did it wrong.
I guess I did it right by flying into Liberia instead of messing with San Jose. I did it right by staying in Nosara, which caters to surfers and yogis. Fresh coconut water for a buck? Yes, please!
I completely disconnected for the first time in many years. WiFi, when available, really isn’t the same. And thankfully it isn’t.
Because who wants high-speed anything when it’s so much sweeter to slow down?
Only 700 miles from the equator—the closest I’d ever been—I was refueled by the Pura Vida radiating from the big delicious sun.
Yep, as cliche as it sounds, I was about ready to become an expat like all the rest of them. It was like hitting a reset button I didn’t think I had anymore.
There’s just something about:
- Seeing “buterfly” misspelled in a poster ad for a park at customs.
- The feeling of waking up in another country.
- Getting used to “Tico Time” where everything moves at a glacial place on purpose.
- Our driver, Rico, slamming on his breaks to miss various animals: a monstrous iguana/dragon crossing the road, a herd of cows trotting with determination, a daring horse illuminated by the headlights.
- Swimming twice a day at a minimum.
- Salty hair and skin.
- A cold Imperial beer, anytime.
- The white cows and horses that make the countryside even more luminescent.
Top all that off with the purpose of this trip, a yoga teacher retreat with 30 hours of anatomy and practice, tucked away in the jungle above the Pacific Ocean at Ahki Retreat.
Our small group had this gem to ourselves, with Chef Daniela, who made three fresh, organic healthy meals each day that were both energizing and inspiring. We practiced yoga in an open-air studio overlooking Mother Nature’s Central American handiwork.
At Ahki, the relaxation nudge was masterfully executed. Sacred thought went into every architectural detail and inescapable peace happened the second you wandered in.
Then top all THAT off with great people and great conversation, new friends that give life new meaning. The stories you never thought you would hear.
Someone finding yoga after recovering from cancer. Someone going deeper into their practice after losing their spouse, much too young from a heart attack.
Then, there were the meditations… (Holy shit, I know!)
I cried during the first meditation in the treetop shala. The repetition of “let go” always does me in.
I smiled during frequent morning meditations on the beach, where we could sit as long as we liked before exploring other meditative forms…walking, running, swimming.
I found myself during a fire ceremony under the stars in the cool sand. We each had to write down something we wanted to destroy and something we wanted to ignite, then burn those pieces of paper.
I won’t share what others tossed in the fire, since they were personal. But, I already shared mine with you guys. I chose to destroy control and ignite beauty.
Without knowing this would happen to me all week, I embodied these deeper concepts. I couldn’t help myself in Costa Rica.
From the first hello to two strangers that would become my roomies, and by the end of the week, my beautiful friends.
To the last day, when I decided to face one of my fears and go ziplining for the first time.
I was terrified, as it was the second longest ziplining course in the world. What’s great about having so many legs on one course is that you start to loosen up.
So, eventually I released the death grip, lay back, and spun around while gazing at the blue skies. Below me was the canopy and a river. Off to the side was a waterfall and the ocean.
The last day on any trip is always fragile and precious. To end it with flying over the jungle is all too fitting for the themes of less control and more beauty. This poignant memory is still so damn lovely in my mind and I know I’ll never forget it.
A place like Costa Rica can be misunderstood when people try to turn it into something it’s not—or force a contrived experience that will never play out the way it did in their mind.
Pura Vida is about leaving your expectations behind, relinquishing control and welcoming beauty in the wildness of simplicity. Every local I met was a complete nature nerd, and they want you to appreciate and enjoy it like they do. In fact, they expect that.
Costa Rica will challenge you with its vibrant Pura Vida anthem. You may not get it when you’re there, and hopefully you’ll find it elsewhere someday. Or you’ll accept it body and soul…and stay forever, like many do.
Me? I came home. I’m writing this post from my couch in dreary Portland, once again swaddled by my robe, blankets, and cats.
But, I took a piece of the Pura Vida with me. I tucked it inside the jungle of my wild heart, and I’ll always keep it there.