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Pura Vida

Pura Vida

Transient in meaning, in relevance, in purpose. To define pura vida is to misunderstand the term. In Taoism this is considered the uncarved block. The infinite possibility of the positive. Words can act as the raw material through which meaning can be defined after the fact.

As with any trend, perhaps most trends, the meaning can be defined on a bell curve, denoting the point at which the words were uttered enough times for a substantial definition to be found. Until, the curve reaches its zenith and each subsequent use simply expands the meaning, losing its sure footing on the peak and falling irreparably to the floor of common meaning. It's here where it has found its purpose, its calling.

While a motto is not required of a country, a few countries have nonetheless acquired them. These mottos are rarely the taglines adopted by public relations firms to sell some propagated allure of the truth to entice travelers into checking visa requirements and taking time off work. No. These are the words of the people who have come to take on a meaning greater than the sum of each utterance. 

Rare do we find these words with such an expansive set of meanings, even more rare that they are positive words (unlike a certain English word starting with the letter 'F'). In Costa Rica, people say pura vida, this translates loosely into a thousand different meanings none of which can be summed up succinctly. The words themselves lose their power in the translation. For there is something that can only be heard in the power of its utterance; again and again in its multitude of uses.  Pura Vida’s a parable for the Costa Rica’s relaxed attitude and paraphrase for thoughts that need not be said. In short it's a way of life.

Pura vida's shouted from the rooftops at parades and festivals, it's a response to como estas? (how are you?) and you're welcome. It's both a greeting and a goodbye. It's a statement about life, how it is and how it should be.

The words themselves are used so casually that, on the surface, they don't seem to carry the great weight of their direct translation, pure life, but the words are a vaccine. A subtle incantation whose every utterance transforms perceptions of the world around them. It's as if the whole country has unconsciously adopted the law of attraction, also known as like begets like, subtly influencing everyone to adopt a positive attitude toward life.

It's brilliant. And it's working. To ask whether it's the chicken or the egg is missing the point. Costa Ricans have an unbridled vitality. The whole country does. Just look at its rainforests, its rolling hills and verdant valleys, its natural springs and violent volcanic eruptions. It's green even in the cracks between the cement and the potholes on the roads where plants absorb the moisture and spring to life after the rains. It's in the people's growing environmental awareness and in the empty spaces where other countries would maintain their standing armies. Costa Rica is pure life. It's not a gimmick. It wasn't invented by the tourism industry and it's not just something that a tour guide spouts off on a rafting trip. It's on the lips of every day laborer working 12 hours a day, every street vendor hawking fruit on the corner, every post office worker (that must be a hell of a job in a country without addresses) and lotto ticket retailer, cop, lawyer and judge. Because in Costa Rica, that's all there is: pura vida