Monday, August 9, 2010


I'm going to try and explain a concept which was initially frustrating for me and my fast track mindset. Pura Vida ('pure life') is simultaneously a greeting, goodbye, declaration, excuse and way of life. It's similar to hakuna matata, but instead of a cast of exuberant characters breaking out in song... your professor arrives 30 minutes late to class and asks if we want a 15 or 20 minute recess...

It has the ability to pop up in every facet of life... for example:
- The plan was to get our student ID's the first week of classes; however the machine was broken down and the secretary nonchalantly stated that the University was waiting for government funding to get it fixed
- Following macaws, ocelots, and capibaras! at the Animal Rehabilitation Center we were walking back to the bus to make the 11am departure time when our spanish profesora, Rrrrrrrosita (make sure to roll that r), spotted a sign for snakes.  She took a few of us with her and we casually strolled through the snake area to see a few (highly venomous) cuddly critters -like this guy! When we got back our director, who speaks in spanish, may have made it clear that we were 30 minutes late (she yelled at us in english!)... Rosita shrugged it off and simply said 'ahhh pura vida'
- When arriving 4 hours later than expected to Manuel Antonio, climbing a near vertical hill while the torrential down pour fuels a raging river which flows over and soaks your only shoes, all in search of a vacant hostel... simply shake it off, laugh a bit and say 'pura vida'

This concept of 'pure life' is evidenced in every facet of life (except traffic... there is nothing relaxed/pure about psychotic taxi drivers and the smog they leave in their tracks) and it isn't simply a good excuse for arriving ridiculously late to class... (looking at you 7am friday class...).

The positive aspects of 'Pura Vida' can be seen and understood through the conversations with ticos and their perspectives on life. I don't want this to sound like I'm on safari observing the ticos in their natural habitat, but the ticos live a much more relaxed lifestyle than what americans are accustomed to (hence the title of tranquilo...). In fact, ticans are so relaxed that every office on campus shuts down at noon and gets to enjoy an hour lunch break! <- fun learning experience.

What may be the most interesting facet of the pura vida lifestyle is the importance of company and conversation. Tican greetings carry a great deal more sentiment (ticos touch cheeks and kiss with the ticas) which is feels like a throwback to the days of spanish chivalry (gracias a Dios -thank God- the ticans don't speak with a lisp...). The conversations that follow are typically very genuine and contain plenty of enthusiastic language / sporadic hand movements - my mamatica informed me that hijueputa (son of a b****) isn't simply an excellent phrase for fútbol games, but that it can also be used as a term of endearment... still trying to understand how that works....

- quick interjection -
My host family consists of:
Ana, my mamatica that makes me enough food to feed the partridge family
Alfredo, my papatica who works somewhere during the week and randomly shows up on his dirt bike (contrary to popular belief he isn't italian and he doesn't resemble a jar of ragu)
Georgina, sister that works in San Jose... i think she´s 26
and Millie, a stupendous sneasing snouser with a sweet looking beard

here's an example of one of Ana's random/delicious combinations (that's fresh startfruit juice :)

typically her dishes involve rice n' beans - the good ol' central american food staple -  but she likes to switch it up. Also, the ketchup in this picture tastes like it has a tablespoon of sugar in every serving

one of my favorite tican dishes, Gallo Pinto (painted rooster) is rice n' beans mixed up via some delicious method along with eggs... It's so much better than leftover croissanwhiches from the Business Cafe....

One more thing, another one of the exchange students lives with my mamaticas sister right next door (our houses have a two foot gap between them) and she gets to enjoy this view from her balcony on a daily basis
Yeah it's real tough surviving here in Costa Rica...


Whenever Alfredo stops home (typically in the afternoon) we all sit down, sip some coffee, and just chat. It's laid back conversation and it can last a few minutes or a couple of hours... it's great. Discussing spanish slang over bocaditos and pilsens (tican hor d'oeuvres) with Ashli's host parents is another great example. It's a way of life which provides plenty of excuses to make an extended stay...

and at the other end of the spectrum.... classes!
- after getting completely lost en route to every classroom, missing a week of dendrology, and finding out that one of my classes doesn't exist... I've finally got a concrete schedule
Advanced Spanish, Evolution, Sources for documenting Costa Rican history - yeah it's a mouthful, Dendrology, and Indigenous Ecology

- I told my history professor that I wanted to learn about the history of Costa Rica and he responded by laughing and explaining that the class is more about analyzing the history of sources utilized to document history as well as investigating the history via the national library & archives
... neato!
- In Dendrology (the study of trees) I quickly found out that there are over 9000 species of vascular plants in Costa Rica

One thing that's interesting about classes here is that they're typically in one large block rather than being divided up throughout the week. For instance my history class starts at 8am and goes til 11:45 on tuesdays..

However at this moment I've got to go look at a few hundred tree species... but before I go, here's a random assortment of pics !

San Jose has it all

Pura Vida !

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