Living a 'pura vida' in Costa Rica

By Sheridan Salcedo | 2/15/12 4:38pm

It has been about a month now here in San Jose, Costa Rica, and I have already found a lot to love about this country. The city of San Jose,while it has its endearments, doesn’t speak for the natural beauty of the country that I love so much. The tropical rainforest, nearby in every direction, couldn’t feel further away amidst all the sounds and smells of the city. The smell of gas is strong in many areas, and is often mixed with the smell of sewage or other foul city smells. Every door and window is barred up, and to get into my house I have to go through two gates and a locked door. Sometimes all the bars seem like overkill, but apparently theft is pretty prevalent if you are not careful. My neighborhood is manned by security guards on bikes, but walking alone at night is not advisable, especially for women.

When walking anywhere in the city women face a constant stream of cat calls and honks from men passing in cars and trucks, or on the side of the road. Looking back that description seems pretty glum but, like I said, the city also has its finer points. Most of the houses have a nice little yard or patio area once you pass through the first gate. My house also has a central patio area where my house mom, Myrna, grows herbs and vegetables. There are lots of flowers in bloom throughout the city, and many of the houses are vibrant red orange and yellow colors.

My university is a beautiful arts school in the outskirts of the city. It has a very open layout with palm trees and other plants integrated into the spaces. It is one of the more expensive universities in the country, and the class difference between the ticos (Costa Ricans) who attend classes there, and the ticos I see in the city is pretty obvious. Some really nice houses and buildings, including the university, make for a stark contrast when compared to the small and somewhat ramshackle houses made with mismatched materials, that I pass on many thin one-way streets in the city outskirts. My professors, many of whom commute into San Jose from surrounding provinces, encourage us to leave the city to explore the finer points of Costa Rica. While a great night life, with a wide variety of bars from salsa to electronic music, a few nice parks, museums and historic buildings can all be found in the city center, I would have to agree: the beaches, volcanoes, and national parks have blown me away in away that the city hasn’t. Travel from San Jose on bus is really cheap, as little as $5 for a five-hour bus ride to the Caribbean cost.

Otherwise, travel and living expenses are about equal to those in the U.S. Clothes and luxuries are actually more expensive here, while food and drinks are a little bit cheaper. I have visited beaches along the southern Pacific cost that have lived up to what I had imagined a pristine, tropical beach would be. The beaches are gorgeous, but my bus rides through the vast densely vegetated mountains, and visits to volcanoes have made the biggest impression on me. In a four-hour bus ride it is easy to see the incredible biodiversity that has made Costa Rica one of the biggest ecotourism destinations in the world.

When I got to the country, in our Veritas orientation, we were encouraged to travel as much as possible, but were also told that even four months in Costa Rica is not nearly enough time to see everything that Costa has to offer, even though it is just over a third the size of Michigan.

Above all, whether I am passing through the countryside, on the beach, or in the city, the hospitality and friendliness of the ticos has really stood out to me. It is very easy to meet locals wherever I go, and they pride themselves on their “pura vida” lifestyle. Pura vida translates to pure life, and is used commonly as a greeting, to thank someone, to say goodbye, and in any other positive context. To the ticos it means living lightly; enjoying the moment, not rushing through your day, and being happy. To me, the pura vida mindset promotes a general feeling of happiness and kindness between strangers and friends.

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