Will the real Pura Vida please stand up?

About ten years ago, a surfer friend of mine came back from a two week vacation in Costa Rica with two catchy things, 1) Gonorrhea, and 2) the phrase Pura Vida. That was the first I’d heard of the latter one, and I couldn’t help but wonder how it might be related to the first. A few years later, I made the connection: I was renting a room in a house outside of Venice beach in Mar Vista, and my landlord, who also had property in Costa Rica, came over nearly every day to get stoned and play his bongos in the living room. One day, in between taking bong hits from his 5 foot Vaporizer, he rambled on about how he was building an ecolodge called Pura Vida in Costa Rica, and would we (my roommates and I) like to be ‘hostesses’ at his beachfront fantasy resort? He would ‘bring us customers’ and only take a small ‘finder’s fee.’ At that point, I knew exactly how 1 and 2 were related, and I wanted no part of Pura Vida.

When Tree and I crossed the border into Costa Rica, I told him that no matter how tempting it may be, we were not allowed to say those two words. If someone says them to us, that’s fine, we´ll just smile and keep walking. I couldn’t help but think of Pura Vida as a gateway phrase: first you say it, just to be polite, and the next thing you know your private parts hurt.

And yet, for the last six weeks, I´ve listened to Ticos (Costa Ricans) say Pura Vida, and not once have I heard one use the national phrase as a drunken battle cry for bad behavior. In fact, from the mouths of Ticos, Pura Vida is often used as a greeting, a farewell, and as a way to express gratitude or satisfaction. It can also refer to someone who is nice and friendly.

Finally, I asked an older Tico to explain to me what Pura Vida means, precisely, and he suggested that I stop thinking of the phrase as words but more as an expression of life. And then I got it: Pura Vida is a way of life that extols balance, slow living, strong community, being in the moment, soaking up the sun, riding your bike, playing soccer with your neighbors, laughing easily, celebrating good fortune of magnitudes small and large alike, living in harmony with nature, and most importantly, giving back as much, if not more, than one takes from life. It turns out that I LOVE PURA VIDA!!!

I just hope that as Costa Rica continues to grow in popularity as a worldwide travel destination that it can fend off the darkside of tourism and maintain its purity of life.

Tree and I have enjoyed our time immensely in this incredible country, but now it´s time to move on to Panama. Let the adventure continue!

Thank you Costa Rica! Pura Vida!


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  1. great post. pura vida

  2. Tim Widmer says:

    time to move on..

  3. Aloha!

  4. PS. Nice use of the Christian fish Stevie.

  5. umm, thats not a fish, its a wave. You can't surf a fish dumb dumb. 🙂


  6. actually, you can surf a fish, nevermind.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Awesome commentary. Really enjoyed getting to know you in Costa Rica and living Pura Vida!–Renee

  8. The South Africans have a similar word: ubuntu. It is a lifestyle of peace, sharing being a part of a greater whole.

  9. Hey everyone, sorry but Google Blogger went down for 12 hours and it appears that many comments were erased. Sorry about that. We're back up now though. 🙂

  10. Veronica says:

    I can't express
    You already know

    I have decided to come back to CR end of July
    Pura Vida forever
    <3 <3 <3

  11. Anonymous says:

    I learned a related expression in Nicaragua… "Puta Vida" It's a little less positive, except when it's on a t-shirt in which it is just humorous.

  12. Allison says:

    Hanging out in Costa Rica now. saw your sticker in at the Low Tide. Awesome blog.


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