Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pura Vida!

Costa Rica...remember a couple years ago when Bella and Michael traveled there with a handful of other middle-schoolers? I was worried about the wild horses and the rickety zip lines and the child-eating crocodiles and the BUGS? Well, I'm happy to report that I was a little crazy back then. None of that exists. Well, at least not in Costa Rica.

We just got back from nine AMAZING days of adventure and I have one thing to tell you friends: you HAVE TO get to Costa Rica. The minute we landed and met our tour director and bus driver - Seidy and Rafa - we felt immediately welcome. And not fake welcome. The Costa Ricans truly love tourists. Did you know that tourism is their number one industry? That much of how and why the country developed was inspired and motivated by the visitors that came, fell in love with, and settled down in Costa Rica over the last two hundred years? It's true. Go there. Ask someone.

My husband, along with two other teachers, lead a group of 24 students (Logan was one), and 8 adults on an ecological tour of the volcanos, mountains and beaches of this beautiful country. We started with visits to the Poas and Arenal volcanos and the town of La Fortuna. The weather was tropical and cloudy. Lush green hills stretched as far as we could see. We kayaked on Lake Arenal, visited Baldi Hot Springs and ate our first of MANY traditional meals: Casado (rice and beans), various meats and fish, and more fresh fruit than we knew what to do with.

The highlight of our time in La Fortuna was a visit to a local elementary school where we provided back packs and school supplies and played with the kids studying English. Ranging ages 6-12, they told our students that they dreamed of being doctors, truck drivers, soccer players, mechanics and teachers. All the boys played soccer and all the girls jumped rope. The cook (yes, they get a hot and healthy lunch each day), served fresh fruit and taught us how to fry plantains. The best part for me was when the principal's daughter asked to take a picture with me. She hugged me tight and said over and over, "It's nice to meet you," in her sweet voice. We teared up when it was time to say good-bye.

Then we were off to the mountains of Monte Verde, literally, Green Mount. I'm not sure I've adequately expressed how green Costa Rica is. The pictures just don't do it justice. There, we zip-lined through rain forests and over tree tops...it was absolutely incredible. Also in the mountains, we rode horses to a natural hot spring, visited a family farm, milked a cow, tried fresh cheeses, planted trees in a reforestation project, toured the rain forests, sampled even more delicious traditional food and learned about our host country. Each activity and encounter was filled with meaning. A warm drizzle followed us through the mountain towns but in no way did that hinder us. In fact, we rediscovered the magic of playing in the rain, getting slightly (or totally, if you forgot your poncho) drenched, skipping and singing and listening to the music of raindrops. No wonder kids love it so much...it's truly enchanting! Grown-ups, if we ever get rain in California again, GO OUTSIDE. Take your umbrella, and the nearest child, and find a way to enjoy this simple and beautiful pleasure.

Next we were off to the beaches. The waters of Manuel Antonio National Park were a fabulous 85 degrees. The sand was soft. And even when the occasional thunderstorm touched down, the waves still welcomed us. We played with monkeys, swam for hours upon hours, walked and ate and shopped and melted into a place that was beginning to feel like home. Even with a packed itinerary, we all felt completely relaxed. And I think I know why...

Throughout our nine days of travel and adventure, Seidy and Rafa taught us so much about the priorities and motivations of Costa Ricans, the most important being Pura Vida. Literally, the phrase means "pure life" with other translations such as "full of life", "this is living", or "real living". It's used both as a greeting or a farewell, as a way of giving thanks or stating that all is good. All the locals say Pura Vida, and they mean it. Life is pure, good. And in Costa Rica, you truly feel what they mean.

On the last day, tired and smelly and wet, we hugged our old and new friends and promised to find each other on one or the other social media platforms. We embraced Seidy and Rafa, and thanked them for sharing with us their beautiful culture and country. But more than anything, we (at least the adults) wondered...How could we possibly bring the peaceful vibe, the welcoming attitude, the slow-down-and-smell-the-rain pace, back to the hustle and bustle? Could we bring Pura Vida to the OC? And keep it sacred?

Pura Vida is a choice people. And it doesn't matter where we live, how long the to-do list is, or what stresses we're facing, we should strive for Pura Vida. Sometimes the simplest things in life are the most fulfilling. Sometimes slowing down is the only way to truly move forward. Sometimes we have to look at things through a different lens to see the meaning. Sometimes a new adventure has the power to propel us off the hamster wheel. The lucky thing is, we always have a choice.

Go to Costa Rica people. I promise, it will inspire and change you.

Pura Vida!

{J}