Costa Rica

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Pura Vida and Freedom; Why Costa Rica Makes Me Brave

The mere name sounds simple and exotic; just as the people that inhabit this small paradise located in Central America. A few days ago, my life changed completely and the benefactor of such turn was this marvelous and green little country.

I used to live in Mexico City, one of the most densely populated cities and a large urban landscape at its finest. For me, stress, traffic, violence, snobbism and pollution were as much part of my life as my everyday meal. This was life; I called home being stuck in traffic jams for two hours, eternal social charades and barely no contact with nature Little did I know that, in a matter of days, my life would change forever.

One fine day, I got an email with an offer, one I couldn’t refuse even though it was quite scary. It was an open invitation to completely shift my world, asking me to reply within three days. With a bit of determination alongside with the ever enduring love of my family, I decided to grab my passport, pack whatever seemed relevant, say goodbye to a few darling people and fly off south of the border.

Honestly, I had no clue of what to expect. One hears good and bad reviews about everything, but it’s practically needless to say that nothing is conclusive. I must say that, ever since I got here, it’s been magical; everyday ending with stunning the sunsets, followed by weekends spent enjoying the view; the incredible landscapes. Everything is so refreshing.

I find myself, unexpectedly, having conversations here and there, enjoying the knowledge of its youth and its elders. Everyone keeps on wishing “pura vida” (“pure life”) to everyone. The peace that the whole place brings is simply life-changing. My soul feels completely recharged.

But, you may ask yourself, why is it making this woman brave? There are millions of astonishing places in the world. Everywhere we go, somehow, becomes a part of us. After we go somewhere else, we will never be the same since we have unraveled yet another of our deepest mysteries. We have the fortune of inhabiting a planet full of secrets and beauty.

But there’s just something about Costa Rica. The whole philosophy of respect and equality among humans and other species is refreshing. I must say that I’m in love, and that love is precisely what is making me brave.

Everyday I’m standing up against my demons. I’m challenging myself at every waking moment. I’m placing myself in front of the mirror, enjoying what I see since nature is so wonderful and I’m part of it. I’m no longer a simple spectator. Costa Rica has made me feel like I’m part of the world; I’m white, indigenous, black – I’m everyone;  I’m the sea; I’m the animals, the trees, the river and the sky; I’m the sunsets, the cold and the heat; I’m the volcano and the forest. That makes me humble, and yet, powerful. That makes me conscious and brave.

Now, I have accepted that I will never be the same again. Mexico is my homeland, my roots,which I will always adore and honor; but my heart has found a place. It has found a sanctuary in the most unimaginable place. Costa Rica, I conclude, is the land where people become free and brave.

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He said “watch out for the ants,” as we walked down the dirt path towards the river.  Halted by confusion I looked down and saw a distinct moving line of greens and yellows cutting through our path.  I stared in amazement as the leaf cutter ants moved in sync with one another, forming a line that was at least three feet long. I was entranced by a minor act of nature that was almost looked over.  This small but surprising event was one of the many memories formed from my trip to La Fortuna, Costa Rica.

                Carefully stepping over the ants we continued on the path leading us down to the river, where our raft awaited. As we wobbled our way into the raft, we gently glided across the murky water to begin our tour. Gazing up at the sky we transcended under a canopy of trees hanging over us, awakened by the buzzing sounds of the forest. A sense of peace fell upon me as I entered this unfamiliar world.

                As we started along our river tour we were welcomed by the animals that appeared along the river bank. The bright green colored Jesus Christ lizard, who shyly stayed at the edge of the river bank.  The birds were next to present themselves. First greeted by the crane and then we saw the rare Tucan birds, which are known as a sign of good luck. As we moved further along the river, our guide mentioned to us that we might come across some crocodiles.  We wondered if he was joking until a few minutes down the river there it was. A crocodile around 100 feet away from us sat peacefully basking in the sun.  About half way through our journey we slowed down our pace and the tour guide began smacking the water with his paddle.  He then made a howling sound and in reply the trees came alive.  Hovering over us in the trees were the howler monkeys, voicing their presence with a deep echoing sound. My senses were overwhelmed with fascination. My ears rang with glee from being introduced to this unique sound.

Passing the monkeys overhead we took a stop on our tour to a farm originally owned by a gentleman who lived until he was 103. As we walked up about 50 steps that were all hand built, we walked straight into a home with dirt floors, limited walls that only formed a few small rooms, and every piece of furniture  was made from wood off the land. We were greeted by the family with plantains, coffee and cheese. As we sat and ate we learned about the history of the farm. We learned that for years the family started each day by walking up alongside the sun rise. And up until a few years ago they have lived without the use of electricity. They’ve grown organic foods and everything they have needed was grown and made from the farm.  A simplified way of life that is very foreign to my city lifestyle.  Although we visited for only a short time, I got a sense of the calmness the family must have felt almost every day on the farm

 There is a freedom that comes with being in nature that one cannot find within the concrete world of a city.  Being amongst nature in Costa Rica I was constantly gazing at the surrounding beauty, from the colors in a flower to the shapes of tree. There were no advertisements or distracting sounds, just tranquility. This calmness has helped me to reflect on who I am, allowing me to simply exist and not feel pressured to fit into the roles that society creates.  The Costa Rican people have such respect and value for their ecosystem that I am forever grateful to have discovered a place where a sense of harmony exist. I am grateful to have soaked up some of that harmony to carry with me throughout my life.  My gratitude extends pass having a mere experience in nature but to have had the time to rediscover myself. In Costa Rica, they have a saying “ Pura Vida”, meaning pure life. Being in Costa Rica is, Pura Vida.

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Our last few days in Costa Rica were spent at a wonderful place. It was not a resort next to the beach; it was nowhere near civilization. As a matter of fact, we did not even have electricity for most of our time there. However, of our entire stay in Costa Rica, Jose’s farm, a far and remote place named Hacienda Rio Carara, left in me the deepest of impressions.

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Jose at his farm

Jose had an adventurous life. At the age of 20, he sold everything he owned and bought a ticket to Africa. What was supposed to be a six-months trip turned into four years of traveling across multiple continents. Afterwards, Jose literally drifted around for seventeen more years, having worked his way up from crew to captain on luxury yachts. Somehow, during his years of traveling, Jose earned a degree in Agricultural Engineering and now, after two decades, he finally decided to settle down in his home country to build his idea of a sustainable farm.

Listening of Jose talk is a treat. I’ve never met anyone so knowledgeable about nature. Walking around his farm is like getting a tour around an arboretum, where all the trees bear fruits and your tour guide planted everything growing out of the ground. Like many people accustomed to city living, I have never seriously thought about the origin of my food, and seeing these fruits, herbs, and spices in their natural habitat was wholly revelatory.

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A different species of cilantro in Jose’s backyard

Perhaps the most intriguing was the variety on Jose’s farm. The practice of agriculture is in many ways inherently destructive to natural biodiversity since it forces only a few species of plants to be grown on one plot of land. What’s unique about Jose’s farm is it’s more like a big agricultural experiment than a commercial farm. Instead of growing cash crops, Jose chose multiplicity. After having planted everything from turmeric to oranges to sugarcane, he’s only getting started. Nothing is neatly organized in rows, and there is no plot of land used for specific plants. The entire farm looks like a part of the rainforest surrounding it, and that’s just how Jose envisioned it.

What I found the most interesting about Jose was his ideas towards the environmental movement. To him, words like “organic” and “eco” do much more harm than good. He explained how yielding the same amount of “organic” crops sometimes takes five times the resources required, and how “fair-trade” can also cause deforestation when the farmers cut down tree to grow coffee beans. Right or wrong, Jose is a man of opinions, and his opinions are backed by his observations and his own philosophies on sustainability. To Jose, it’s not about following certain doctrines, but rather using nature to its maximum efficiency. There is no dogma, and everything can be attempted as long as it doesn’t violate his fundamental principle of letting nature do its own work. Even GMO, a touchy subject to many in the environmental movement, is not beyond discussion. On paper, his vision looks like the musing of an idealist, but in reality he is deeply practical. What I realized about Jose is that he is, at heart, an engineer and an innovator, and like all engineers, the prospect of trying something new is intoxicating.

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We share a meal with Jose next to candle light

After all he’s seen and done, Jose wants to live a simple lifestyle. It’s hard to imagine such a gentle person was once a sea captain, and for the most part he just smiles and crack jokes. But, when the topic of farming and sustainability comes up, a light bulb switches on. Suddenly this mild-mannered man becomes so excited he could hardly wait to get his ideas out. Every word leads to a new id, and Jose can (and did) talk for hours on his visions.

I don’t know what Jose’s farm will be like in a few years; I don’t think he does either. That’s really what’s the most exciting, and I feel fortunate to have witnessed this beautiful dream in its infancy. After years working on yachts, Jose said the goal of the farm is to “share, not to serve”. I like that, and I look forward to what he’ll share with me the next time I visit.

Click here to check out our Million Ways to Live episode and learn more about Hacienda Rio Carara!

 

monteverde_panoTo those who have visited,Costa Rica embodies the idea of a simple lifestyle and easy living, or as the locals say, Pura Vida. But for me, the true spirit of Costa Rica was not found at its sandy beaches, but up high in its mountains and cloud forests. Away from the crowds, removed from the noises, I found a sense of Pura Vida in a place called Monteverde, from a most unexpected group.

To many Costa Ricans, Monteverde is a bit of an enigma, maybe even a little confusing. Aside from the locals who’ve been there since the time immemorial, in this remote region in Central America, abundant in resources with 6% of the world’s biodiversity, quietly resides a vibrant Quaker community.

The goats on Benito's dairy farm
The goats on Benito’s dairy farm

In the 1950’s, a small population of Quakers from Fairbanks, Alabama, in order to escape the violent social environment brought on by the Korean War, immigrated to Costa Rica. They brought with them the age-old practice of dairy farming as a means of income as well as a vision of a society founded on the principles of Peace, Equality, Simplicity, and Truth. Now, sixty years later, the community has not only planted its roots deeply in this area, but has helped transformed Monteverde into an internationally renowned destination for ecological tourism and research.

We were fortunate enough to have been introduced to this community and was invited to attend a Sunday meeting. Not being familiar with the Quaker ways, many of the activities we observed were fascinating. This society of “friends”, as they call their members, holds a social structure so lacking in hierarchy it looks almost anarchistic. A consensus is reached, but not by explicit voting. Instead, it’s an implicit agreement of group feeling the Quakers call “sense of the meeting”. There is no person or group with executive power, only administrative abilities to make sure the decisions are carried out.

The emphasis on equality permeates throughout every aspect of the community. Instead of a governing body, there are committees; instead of elected leaders, there are clerks and overseers, whose main job is to end assemblies when they run for too long. There are no debates that determine courses of action for the community, instead there are “meetings”, where no one is obligated to speak, and in between speakers it is common to have a minute or two of silence for people to reflect. The clerks and overseers are not chosen based on an electoral process, but instead by appointments of three years cycles, usually to people actively involvements in the community.

In a world where it’s routine to see leaders pander to their constituents, where complex problems are reduced to catch phrases devoid of all nuisances, where people are often either too apathetic or too cynical about government to want to participate, a society of “friends” whose idea of a policy debate is a two hour meeting where one hour is spent sitting in silence seems almost comically out of place. Yet, decisions are made in a timely manner, each person’s opinions are equally respected, and no one feels the pressure to conform to ideas shouted by loud and obtrusive individuals. Amongst Monteverde’s strikingly beautiful landscape and surprisingly cool weather, the Quakers have lived a quiet, peaceful lifestyle since their first establishment. Their traditions and values may have evolved over the years, but the core remains intact.

The Costa Rican phrase of Pura Vida carries with it a longing for simplicity. As one puts it, “Eat well, sleep well, shit well, that’s it.” Yet, as tourism boomed, so too did these words change from a cultural adage describing a way of living to a catch phrase used to entice and entertain. Today, the Pura Vida lifestyle is hardly seen in San Jose or Tamarindo. There, I see the same hustle and bustle as any other big cities and popular tourist destinations. It’s hard to argue with economic development, but it’s even harder to get what Pura Vida really means standing next to a sign for Black Friday. The cloud forest of Monteverde was an escape, and the people there made it a more than memorable one.

Click here to watch our Million Ways to Live episode at Benito’s farm from Monteverde!

 

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I enter online contests all the time.  I never expect to win but my way of thinking is if I don’t enter, I definitely won’t win!  At some point during the spring or summer of 2012, I entered a contest to win a week long stay at a yoga retreat in Montezuma, Costa Rica.  In the fall of that same year, I received an email informing me I had won.

I didn’t know a thing about yoga or meditation when I replied to the email asking for my preferred travel dates.  All I cared about was going on a free trip to a country I had always wanted to visit.  The yoga classes and other activities were optional so I wasn’t even obligated to participate if I didn’t want to and my plan was to skip all that and spend that week learning to surf and lying on the beach.

After a long trip by air, sea and land, I finally made it to Anamaya Yoga Retreat atop a hill overlooking a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding coastline.  After a brief introduction to the place and the people I would be spending the week with, I unpacked, settled into my shared room and slipped into the salt-water infinity pool to relax.  I later glanced at the week’s scheduled events and decided that attending that evening’s group discussion and dinner would be the appropriate thing to do…at least for the first night.

Introductions were brief but personal.  Each person said their name and their reason for attending the retreat.  I felt awkward stating that I was only there because I won the trip so I lied and said I was there to get some well-deserved relaxation and learn more about yoga.  The words just rolled off my tongue and I immediately realized what that meant for me; there would be no early-morning treks to the beach or late nights partying in the town below.  I had just committed myself to 7am yoga classes for the entire week.

Dinner was beyond my expectations.  I’d stayed at all-inclusive resorts before and the food was always just ok.  But Anamaya was not your typical all-inclusive resort.  All participants sat at a huge dinner table complete with yoga-inspired décor and candles that shed a relaxing ambiance over the room.  Light music made sitting with a group of strangers to have a meal even more relaxing.  The meal itself consisted of three courses – soup and appetizers, the main course and desert – and everything was healthy, fresh and organic with all the vegetables and dairy products coming from a nearby farm.

Getting up at 6am the next morning wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be; my bed faced a huge glass door that overlooked the Pacific and the early morning sunrise was so spectacular, I just couldn’t bear to sleep through it.  After a light snack consisting of various fruit, I joined the group for our first yoga class.  This being my first attempt at yoga, I was both embarrassed and intimidated at my lack of ability in comparison to the other more seasoned yogis in the class and I failed miserably. I was unable to do more than half the poses and I ended up in severe pain for the rest of the day.

After breakfast, we gathered around in a circle to discuss our lives more in depth.  I am not used to opening up about my private life in such a setting but everyone was so at ease at doing so that I relaxed and began to open up too.  I instantly felt comfortable in that group of people from all over the world, each with his or her own goals, aspirations, failed relationships, moments of enlightenment and hopes for the future.  Every single person in that circle was there at that moment because they had had something bad happen in their lives and had reached a point where they wanted to change for the better and move forward in a more positive direction.  That was the first time I had ever been surrounded by a group of people who were not afraid to admit they had fallen and wanted to get back up.  Before that, it always seemed that everyone’s lives were perfect and I was the only one who was falling.  We laughed, we cried and we hugged as we shared our inner-most secrets.  Later that day, I received another gift that I have been carrying around with me since that magical, life-changing week in Montezuma; a lesson in living what native Costa Ricans call the Pura Vida.  Translation? Living simply, happily and purely.

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Surfing Lessons in Costa Rica

A few years back, I vowed to learn to surf before turning 50. Then in a blink of an eye, there was only 6 months left to make good on my promise. ‘One day’ phrases start to sound sad instead of inspired if not acted on. At almost 50, ‘one day I will learn to surf’ has to transpire into a lesson or never be mentioned again. So I started researching the best place to learn how to surf, got a couple of unexpected credit card increases, an Air Canada seat sale popped up and before I knew it, I was headed for Costa Rica.

The western coast of Costa Rica has over 37 beaches marked for good surf and each of those with plenty of reputable surf schools. What I soon discovered is that trying to choose a good surf school in Costa Rica is like trying to find a good beer in Belgium. Though they may vary in style, they are all good. All you need to do is just start drinking.

With that resolve, I chose Mal Pais for my destination. The area is actually made up of the fishing village of Mal Pais with two perfectly crescent shaped beaches to the north of it called Playa Carmen and Playa Santa Teresa. Both with magnificent waves rolling in all day long.

For the first three days I looked into surf shop windows and admired all the surfers from afar. I was transfixed by one young man playing in the waves like Fred Astaire dancing on a flight of stairs. He made it look so easy and I found it hard to imagine myself like that. Closer to shore, I studied the beginners, standing up for counts of three to ten seconds, trying to get a straight ride in. That would hopefully be me soon.

On day four, I took the plunge and walked into a surf shop. An adolescent, with wind blown hair, took my $10 deposit and signed me up for an 8 am lesson the next morning.

There were three in the class. A man and a woman who had taken lessons before and were both well under 30 and myself. We practised the jump up onto the board on the beach and then carried our boards into the water. The instructor, a nice guy from San Jose who had been surfing since he was 7, helped carry my board out to the waves.

Ok get on. We’ll catch this one, he said nodding to an oncoming wave. I’m not ready, I thought and there was the wave and the wave kept coming. Time slowed down. You can do it, hop on, he said. So I did. Start paddling, he said. So I did. Ok go, he yelled and shot the board out.

I felt the wave pick the board up. I hesitated for a few seconds and then jumped up. Two seconds later I was down. But what a great two seconds! The strength of the ocean beneath, rushing forward all smooth and powerful. Even the fall was fun, all slow motion with soft foam rumbling in my ears. I shot out of the water, grabbed my board and headed back out.

Good, he said. Try to move in one motion. Hesitation kills the ride. It’s all about going for it, he added. We waited for three consecutive waves to pass. Best to catch the ones coming in single, he said. Then out of a flat surface a solitary perfect wave rose up where before there was none. (A wealth of lessons to be learned right there: faith, patience and full commitment to the task. I imagine mustering these three would help improve most pursuit in my life.)

By the sixth ride I was looking for waves on my own. My eyes on the horizon, a foolish permanent smile on my face.

“Can you feel it?” he asked. I nodded and my age melted away. I was a person, at any age, loving what I was doing.

Now back home on Prince Edward Island, I’m working on how I can get a week on some waves. I heard there is a good surf school and some sweet breaks on the south eastern shore of Cape Breton. Maybe I’ll head there this summer to take a few lessons and celebrate my birthday.

About the Author: I am a writer and photographer living in on a small island on the east coast of Canada where the winters are long and cold. Travel inspires me to jump out of bed in the coldes and darkest of days.

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Costa Rica is known for its exotic surroundings, distinct culture and adventurous activities. When my plane landed in San Jose, Costa Rica that day, I knew that the trip was going to be a memorable experience. As I left the plane and walked through the busy halls I couldn’t help but admire the designs painted on the walls. Colorful figures blending into the background; a combination of the culture that the country is so proud of and astounding artistic skills. Being home schooled, I thought I’ve been to the most interesting countries in the world, before I visited Costa Rica that is.

 

My family rented an apartment in a gorgeous hotel located right on the beach (literally ten feet away from the ocean). Of course the weather was as perfect as it gets so I decided to spend the day learning how to surf. After the frustration and physical exhaustion of training passed, I started to enjoy the cool and salty water, the warm sand beneath my feet, the perfectly aligned waves that made surfing seem easy, and just observing the perfect beach scene as if I was on the cover of a glossy travel magazine.

 

Of course there are so many exciting things to try, so I didn’t waste any time! Next we decided to try paragliding. After traveling up a seemingly endless mountain we reached the top, unloaded and prepared everything for the jump, but what was perhaps the scariest moment of my entire trip was standing on the edge of the cliff, observing the town in the distance that now seemed so much smaller. Then I jumped, jumped off the edge of the mountain into the empty sky, the combination of wind and gravity making me glide powerfully towards the earth. It was one of the most sensational feelings, flying in the sky, feeling as if my body is completely weightless, not worrying about a thing in the world. Ironically the magical flight did end with me landing in a cactus, but nevertheless, it was an unforgettable experience.

 

Next on my to-do list was salsa dancing. Of course as I first came to the class the only feeling I had was the head spinning confusion and awkwardness, but after the first three hours of dancing I started to understand the movements and really enjoy it. Although my entire family came to the first private salsa dancing class, eventually everyone drifted, leaving me alone as I danced, jumped, swirled and laughed to the energetic Spanish music. The class was fascinating, and of course I continued taking the private lessons for the rest of my stay in Costa Rica.

 

My stay in Costa Rica was definitely the most exciting trip I’ve ever taken. Every single day I got to spend on the beach, enjoy the exquisite Spanish cuisine, meet people with the most fascinating stories, and really experience a perfect vacation away from all the worries. I’ve learned to live my life to the fullest and cherish every moment because someday you will remember this as one of the best days of your life (and you don’t want to take that for granted)!

 

About The Author: I’m Svetlana, a 16 year old from Russia who currently lives in Colorado and fluently speaks three languages, I enjoy playing tennis, jogging, and my goal is to attend an Ivy League university after graduation.

The Raconteur in Costa Rica

Sometimes what seems trivial at first, can often free your soul, and invite bliss into your life. It can be something as simple as a rush of breeze, a setting sun, or in my case, the look in her eyes. They possessed the familiarity of an old acquaintance. The wrinkles on her face echoed years of experience and wisdom that she was about to share with me. I smiled at her. Her smile mirrored the warmth of the sun that was about to set behind me. I went back to fixing my camera on the tripod as she slowly strolled along with her walker. Once set up, I glanced back. She was still there, muttering something to the cow that was grazing by the road. I could not make out what she said but the fact that she was speaking English caught my attention. I needed a break from the Spanish that I spoke with the proficiency of a four year old. I walked over. “She’s a shy one”, I said, referring to my earlier failed attempt at making friends with the animal.

Halfway across the world from home, I was about to be set free from certain misconceptions, and preconceptions of the world around me. As my camera captured the golden light of the sun reflecting off the hills surrounding Arenal volcano, clouds of white gently floated above its peak. The continuous clicking of my camera accompanied our conversation along with the rustling of leaves and occasional birdsongs. I was about to be amazed by captivating stories only a 70 something year old could deliver. From her time as a young mother in New York City, to her days sailing solo around the world during her late 50s before moving into the calm midst of the Costa Rican rain forests in La Fortuna, she took me on a vicarious ride of her life. We then talked about war, and politics, and climate change. She eventually blamed it all on overpopulation and even tried to convince me to never have kids. Her voice, a little shaky with age, was endearing. One of the greatest pleasures of travel comes from unexpected conversations with complete strangers. And as they walk away, you’re left to ponder.

What was more beautiful than the raconteur in her though was the fact that she was sharing her memories and timeless wisdom with me, a complete stranger. As we parted ways, she reminded me again that the world did not need more people. “However” she said, “the world does need more hugs.” She hugged me with the warmth that only a mother could offer.

She stopped by a man selling fresh coconut water. As the vendor chopped off the top of the coconut with his sharp machete, she said something in Spanish and the two shared a hearty laugh. As I stood there halfway across the world from home, nostalgia was the last thing on my mind.

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I stood on the black sand beach, surfboard tucked under my arm, watching the local surfers slash and attack the curling beach break. Most of the surfers were kids, who charged the waves with a fearlessness I never had. Each ride lasted only a few seconds before the pounding waves swallowed the riders, leaving behind a trail of spray and bubbling froth that rippled towards the expansive beach. Although the waves violently crashed in the shallow water, I felt at home. This picturesque Costa Rican bay, lively jungle stopping abruptly at the first crab holes on the beach, reminded me of a simpler time in my home state of Hawaii. The only thing I cared about was surfing because it instilled a sense of ownership and freedom in my life. I yearned to feel that way again.

As I baked in the dense humidity under the midday sun, a surfer walked in front of me, waved, and said, “Pura vida.” Literally meaning “pure life,” this common Costa Rican phrase exemplifies the lush beauty of the country and, more so, its residents. I likened pura vida to the word aloha, something that I had heard a great deal of growing up in Hawaii. This passing Tico, local Costa Rican, surfer whistled at me and pointed a hundred yards off shore to a large rock, rich with umbrella trees, protruding roughly forty feet out of the water. Waves collided with the tip of the rock and peeled towards the beach. I strapped the leash around my ankle and jogged into the lukewarm Caribbean Sea.

There is always a high level of risk when surfing a break for the first time. The current, water depth, and waves themselves remain mysterious until you’re out in the surf. It can be frightening, but even a familiar break can be unpredictable. Part of the beauty of surfing is the gratifying sense of accomplishment I get after conquering a new wave. While the rides allow me a glimpse at true bliss, the ability to read the waves and be in tune with the ocean’s movement is what brings me joy. Every wave differs, and it took time for me to analyze how those waves at Playa Cocles in Costa Rica broke before I caught one. I had to romance every rolling wall of water I caught. Some of the eight foot waves tossed me over the falls and punished me below the surface in the washing machine of swirling currents. The beauty of those waves on the surface did not equate to the dark thundering underneath the water. The ability to relax and let the crashing water toss you at its will is incredibly humbling. After years of countless wipeouts I discovered the sheer force of the ocean under the waves. Waves are frightening creatures and there’s a freedom I get from confronting my fear of them.

About seven rides into my session, I saw the wave of the day creeping towards me. I paddled ferociously until the wave lifted me up and pushed me down its face. Water splashed in my eyes as I planted my feet on the board to take the drop. Adrenaline rushed through me as I carved into the bottom turn, rode up the face, and snapped my board back down. Looking down the line, I saw the wave about to barrel. I pumped my board as quick as I could, crouched down, and the lip of the wave curled over my head, enclosing me in a serene tunnel of rushing water. The world became distant and I like a bird gliding on a gust of wind. Sadly, that tube engulfed me and spit me out the backside of the wave after pummeling over me.

I paddled to shore and sat on the beach, admiring the spot I had just surfed. I am not the best surfer, but I held my own out there. With surfing, I am free from the typical competitiveness associated with sports. I surf for the insurmountable happiness it has brought me ever since I was introduced to the sport. Surfing is my escape.

About the Author: Vincent Stevens enjoys juxtaposing ideas and approaching interesting subjects or topics from off-the-beaten-path standpoints in his writing. His travels and life experiences end up in unique memoirs and essays. Vincent was born and raised in Hawaii, but moved to California to attend the University of Redlands, where he graduated with a BA in creative writing.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

 

I look back through my tear-stained eyes for once last blurred glimpse of my parents. A fumble through ticketing and security lead me to a long, dimly lit passageway of seemingly infinite moving sidewalks. A glowing dome surrounds the chamber and the tiny lights that occupy my field of vision change form and hue in time with ambient music. My world is violet, it is blue, it is green, it is golden. People rush past me, but I continue to breathe slowly as I glide through the tunnel, so as not to disturb this stage of my journey. I think about where I am coming from and where I am going. The transition is fleeting, but the emotional response remains within me: I am free from both here and there.

My sister runs marathons. She once tried to explain, “I feel like me when I’m running. I run and I get a pure sense of myself. Without it, I don’t know who I am.” She adds, “You probably don’t understand.” “I get the same feeling from quitting things,” I tell her. She laughs it off, but I am serious. It’s the freedom after my last day of work, or the moment when everything I own is packed in a car, or the realization that I can flow through borders and time zones with ease, that make me understand the perpetuity of my existence. Those in-between moments, those times of metamorphoses during which I’ve renounced my commitments and face an endless world of opportunity, give me a true awareness of myself and of life’s potential.

An escalator whisks me out of the tunnel and delivers me to a gate of departure. I move through the walkway that connects a building at rest to a vehicle in preparation for movement. As I slide into a window seat and murmur casualties to my neighbor, an omnipotent voice cuts in, “If you think you’re on your way to San Jose, California, please get off this plane.” The flight attendant continues, “…because we are headed to San Jose, Costa Rica.” Passengers cheer. An hour later, looking out over a marshmallowed dawn, I attempt to fill the first page of a blank journal that will, in the future, be an account of the past. My idea is to make a list of expectations, of goals, and of things I’d like to change and challenge throughout this next stage of my life. Then I pause. I close the notebook, sip slowly from a tiny bottle of Merlot and take in the white noise. Through yoga and meditation, we are often reminded to relax and to breathe, that there is nowhere to go and nothing to do, when really, we could argue the opposite; We have everywhere to go and everything to do.

I land safely on earth, clear customs, exchange currency and arrange transportation, relieved by the knowledge that this period of motion renders me invulnerable to everyday decisions. Gazing out of a bus window at a metropolitan wilderness that is both foreign and oddly familiar, I am aware once again that freedom is not something to be contained in a place or in an experience because it radiates from within every place and every experience. As we drift out of the city and into the mountains, I take an intermission from my thoughts to appreciate the present moment. It’s times like these that weave places and experiences into the stories that make up our lives. The jungle lies ahead, but for now, I am at peace.

About the Author: Rachel tends to relocate every few months, likely as an attempt to compensate for her suburban upbringing in Toledo, Ohio. Throughout the past ten years, her path has led her from business school in Scandinavia to yoga school in Guatemala, and has always included plenty of nature, couchsurfing and specialty coffee.   She is currently residing in Colombia.

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