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Obtaining and maintaining a “pura vida” within and beyond Costa Rica.

W: Christina Ausley
P: Emma Bissell
Mary Kathryn Carpenter
Alayna Clay

A Pure Life

The streets of Monteverde are a rush. Motorcycles speed by and people dash to their destinations, but under the hustle and bustle, a waft of freshly baked bread and sugared pastries momentarily replaces the lingering scent of exhaust fumes.


A nearby bakery is painted pastel yellow, boasting a humble display of toasted apple, mango and guava fritters among delicate powdered doughnuts and lightly glazed braids of pastry.


“Prueba la fruta de la guayaba,” a man in a floured white apron suggests with a smile. “Try the guava.”


A local shopper realizes he spent his last few colones just moments before, apologizes, and explains he’ll return tomorrow.


“No, tómalo, puedes pagarme en otro momento,” he assures without hesitation, handing over a pair of tongs and a small red plastic basket. “No, take it, you can pay me another time.”


Reassuring the baker again that he can come back for the pastry when he has the money, the baker declines. He takes the tongs and places the flaky pastry into a white paper bag. Handing it over with a smile, he leaves him with just two words that explain the entirety of his trust and generosity.


“Pura vida,” he says. “Pure life.”

Royner Santamaria demonstrates guiding of a pair of oxen as a sample of their pura vida lifestyle as part of the El Trapiche tour. Using nothing more than their hands and a few tools, farmers like Royner Santamaria mold the homemade caramelized sugar cane into the traditional Costa Rican bars of browned sugar, known as tapa de dulce. Vida Magazine | Mary Kathryn Carpenter

Similar to a saying like 'hakuna matata, “pura vida” is a Costa Rican way to say hello and goodbye to both friends and strangers, but the phrase itself cannot be concretely defined or restricted within one single explanation. Rather, pura vida is something a little different to everyone who speaks it, though collectively reciprocated under a common understanding of one another’s way of life.


To coffee, chocolate and sugarcane farmer, Royner Santamaria, pura vida can mean living in the moment and being where one’s feet are. Not in the past, not in the future. Pura vida can reflect who an individual is, where they are, who they’re with and what they’re doing.


While roasting coffee beans and producing caramelized brown sugar blocks known as tapa de dulce as part of the El Trapiche sugar plantation, Santamaria finds his own definition of pura vida, because he finds pura vida in the place that he is at any given time.

He demonstrates pura vida within his own daily tasks of directing oxen along a dusty road with a red, hand-painted cart in tow, taking a machete to tall stalks of sugarcane and in his own rough hands and sore fingers after hand-picking a basket full of coffee beans.


“Pura vida para mi es como disfrutar la vida, disfrutar el lugar que tenemos, para mi es, el lugar que estoy,” Santamaria said. “Pura vida for me is like enjoying life, to enjoy the place we have; for me, it is the place that I am.”

To Jovan Rodriguez, on the other hand, pura vida is adrenaline. It is excitement for life, an engagement with life and an engagement with what may lie outside one’s comfort zone.


After moving to Costa Rica and running 100% Aventura for almost 10 years, an adventure park offering a variety of daring activities like Central America’s longest zip-line, Rodriguez achieves and delivers this sense of pura vida through clipped carabiners and suspended steel cables.


“There are not very many things that you can offer people that provide such enjoyment,” Rodriguez said. “It’s unbelievable how much joy you can provide people out of life.”


Additionally, to Rodriguez, it is a sense of not only receiving the joy of life, but giving it to others as well.


“Pura vida is a part of the culture here. Even the poorest of the poorest, they will invite you in and give you whatever they have in their cupboards,” he said. “That right there is pura vida. So, for me, it is a very powerful saying. Incorporate it into your life, you know, just pure life, pure life, pure life.”

The sun sets over a tranquil Costa Rican community as families and friends enjoy their time on the Playa Jacó. Forest bathing guide, Manuela Siegfried, invites locals and visitors into the tranquility and pure life of Costa Rica’s forests and biodiversity. Vida Magazine | Emma Bissell

On the contrary, pura vida is not entirely excitement and adrenaline to pharmacist William Castro.


As he spends many of his days preparing necessary medications for other Monteverde locals, he defines his own version of pura vida through a healthy and calm life both physically and mentally. His form of pura vida is both tangible within a variety of prescribed remedies, and abstract within the realm of a healthy mind and soul.


“Es como estar bien, es una frase que encierra relajación,” Castro said. “It is like to be well, it is a phrase that contains the relaxed.”


For Manuela Siegfried, a Costa Rican local, pura vida within the country has to do with something more concrete, something physically absent.


For her, it is the fact that there has been no standing military since 1948. She finds freedom within a pure life as her worries of weapons and war has diminished. Instead, she focuses on the therapy of the surrounding Costa Rican forests and wildlife.


“We couldn’t even imagine having an army or something,” Siegfried said. “And the good thing is, you feel this sense of peace in people here. They don’t grow up with weapons, and that’s a big change.”


Rather, the country shifts its focus and budget toward education. A pura vida becomes a balance between the nation and the state, and therefore, a balance between the people and their government. Pura vida is a determination of cultural identity and personal values. For Costa Rica, that balance is peace, that balance is education and that determination is strength in the self as they collectively refrain from a standing military.


The influence of pura vida has run deep in the lives of some Costa Rican visitors as well. For holistic healer of Just Love Yoga and Reiki, Laura Fidler, this influence ran so deep she will move with her family from the United States to Costa Rica in November of 2018.

“The trapping of our society makes us lose a lot of ourselves, competing for positions in the workplace or the bigger and better house,” Fidler said. “In Costa Rica, it’s so different when people don’t compare themselves to each other. The unpretentious nature of Costa Rica was freeing, like you don’t have to have all of this infrastructure, and people can navigate their own worlds.”


Fidler said, for her, pura vida is autonomy and self-regulation. Pura vida is being the master of one’s own destiny. When an individual has control of their own destiny, she says, they get down to the core of what is truly meaningful to them in any given moment. Fidler says those who live by the same mantra will naturally help you in your journey as you help them in theirs.


“Nobody influences what or who you decide to be,” she said. “So if you want to surf, go surf. If you want to climb a tree and pick a coconut, do it. If you want to go see a volcano, go find it. No one is going to stop you, and anyone you ask will help you get to where you want to be.”

"No one is going to stop you, and anyone you ask will help you get to where you want to be."

-Laura Fidler

Though she believes the advertising and corporate domination of developed nations such as the United States may make the path of pura vida more difficult, she also supports that others do not necessarily need to go to Costa Rica to find themselves and a pure life. Regardless of where you are physically, Fidler says pura vida comes from one place and one place only: within yourself.


Simply, though, she looks forward to the fresh fruit and biodiversity of the life that awaits her and her family in Costa Rica as they pursue their own path under pura vida.


“Honestly, I just can’t wait to walk out into my backyard and pick a mango,” she said. “The beauty of nature is overwhelming. You feel free and infinite and microscopic all at the same time. It’s a wonderful perspective, to be in a place that is so wild but not threatening or unsafe.”


Though many define pura vida under their own lifestyles, these differing mantras in collection are what define pura vida.


It is freedom under the ownership and influence of one’s life.


And a pure life, at that.

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