Pura Vida

I am so proud to say that I just had a ten minute conversation in spanish with my host mom. Can you believe that?! Sure, broken Spanish and all, but I have never had any formal Spanish lessons in my live, ever. Literally most (if not, all) of the spanish I know is from Duolingo, and from my stay here. My broken Spanish is thankfully enough for me to tend to my basic needs, so thank God (and Duolingo!).

After much deliberation, I decided to spend my money on a four week trip to Costa Rica, instead of going home to Indonesia. Mom and Dad—I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t miss you, but more than USD 2,000 for a flight to Indonesia is just too much, especially considering I’ll be home for the summer. I found this volunteer program through IVHQ which, including the flights, cost less than USD 2,000. I originally signed up for the eco-agriculture program—where I’ll be working at a coffee plantation—but since the eco-agriculture program doesn’t run through Christmas and New Year, I am doing the holiday program for the first two weeks instead. For the holiday program, we are basically visiting senior homes as well as day cares, where we’ll be providing company as well as assisting them with their Christmas and New Year celebrations.

In hindsight, it’s probably better this way, because the eco-agriculture program takes place in Monteverde, about four hours outside of San José, the capital city of Costa Rica. Although I did envision a pretty relaxing winter break, it is nice to be staying in San José for the holiday program, from where I can visit other places much easier. From what I’ve heard, Monteverde isn’t exactly a very exciting place to live in…not to say that the Cloud Forest and everything else they have there isn’t exciting, but the options around San José are definitely a lot more than in Monteverde. I’m still happy that I’ll be spending time in Monteverde though, because then I’ll have some time to relax before the last semester of my undergraduate career starts.

Costa Rica in one word (or I guess more like phrase) would be pura vida. It literally means “pure life” in Spanish, although in Costa Rica it’s used more as a greeting. I’ll say, “Gracias”, “Adios”, or whatever, and the response would be “Pura vida”. If someone asks you, “¿Cómo estás?”, you can also respond with “Pura vida”. I actually just said “Pura vida” as a good bye to my host mom after dinner today. As I understand it, pura vida is also the way of life of the Ticos. As Urban Dictionary puts it, it’s kind of like “hakuna matata”.

"Pura Vida" according to Urban Dictionary
“Pura Vida” according to Urban Dictionary

In all seriousness though, I’ve really enjoyed Costa Rica so far. Sure, it might be very similar to Indonesia in terms of climate (hot) as well as nature (lots of beaches, jungles, mountains, volcanoes), but it’s very different in terms of culture. Learning and being exposed to different cultures is something that has always piqued my interest, and I will hopefully end this four week trip as a more open-minded, mature, and culturally knowledgeable person.

Below are some things I have noticed about Costa Rica so far.

Roman Catholicism in Costa Rica

It was very surprising to me how religious Costa Rica actually is. It’s really interesting how, in the United States, during Christmas time, you’ll see tons of Santa Claus references wherever you go. On the other hand, in Costa Rica, you’ll see tons of birth of Jesus (el portal) scenes. I remember last week, on the 23rd of December, during dinner with my host mom and house mates, we were talking about Christmas in Costa Rica, and our host mom was talking about how she had baby Jesus Christmas decorations on her Christmas Tree. I believe it’s baby Jesus who’s even credited with giving gifts to children, instead of Santa Claus. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen a single Santa here. Oh, except for the Santa riding the horse during the National Horse Parade.

Tope de Caballos en San José, featuring Santa Claus and his horse
Tope de Caballos en San José, featuring Santa Claus and his horse

Most of the places we’ve visited so far (as part of the holiday program) have some relation to Catholicism; either they’re sponsored by the Church (for instance, the senior home we visited today was managed by nuns), or they at least have Catholic decorations in the building. I would guess that the Church is probably the second most powerful institution in Costa Rica, after the government.

Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, Cartago, Costa Rica
Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, Cartago, Costa Rica


I’ve heard about how in Latin America, it’s quite common to give and receive a light kiss on your cheek as a greeting. Not that I thought people were lying, but I didn’t realize how true this was until I witnessed it myself. Last Wednesday, we helped clear out weeds and repaint this church as part of the holiday program. Right before leaving, the people managing the church prayed for us and then individually hugged and kissed every single one of us.


In general, I’ve felt very safe in Costa Rica. I mean, I still take general precautions and use common sense, such as not flashing around my DSLR in poor neighborhoods, making sure I lock the house before leaving, and things like that. In general though, I feel pretty safe walking around downtown on my own, as well as taking public transportation around (I take the bus to and from work each day, and have only taken the taxi once after getting here).

Downtown San José, Costa Rica
Downtown San José, Costa Rica


For Ticos, it’s all about them rice and beans. Oh, and tortillas too. One of my volunteers actually said, “If I never see rice and beans again, I’m fine with that” after eating so much of them for the past one and a half weeks. Personally, my host mom is amazing and cooks really good food, so I don’t really mind as long as it’s good!

Costa Rica also has a variety of tropical food, which is really exciting for me personally, because I have really missed eating delicious papayas. Seriously, the ones in the US are not decent at all. To my tongue, the papaya in the US taste bitter…maybe it’s just because I’m used to delicious, sweet ones, I dunno. But anyways, last week, while doing the beautification project at the church, they served us really delicious fruits! There were bananas, watermelon, papaya (!!), melon as well as pineapples. Too bad mangoes as well as rambutans aren’t in season.

Speaking of food…Costa Ricans are absolutely obsessed with pizza. Like, seriously! I’ve seen at least six different Pizza Huts here, and even around the San Pedro area (which is where Maximo Nivel—IVHQ’s in-country partner—is located). There’s Monsters Pizza, Pizza Mania, Pizza Ciao, Jeremy’s Pizza, and many more. I have no objections to this though, as I do love Pizza. I told myself that before I leave Costa Rica, I have to eat at Pizza Hut at least once. Here’s my rationale: if you have so many pizzas here in Costa Rica, you have to at least be good at making them right?

Football (or soccer, whichever you prefer)

Ticos love their football. Interestingly, unlike in Indonesia (where people are pretty crazy about football too), Ticos idolize local clubs, more than they do with foreign clubs (such as Manchester United and FC Barcelona). I guess it’s because Ticos are actually good at football, while Indonesians aren’t (at least not yet). If you walk around downtown San José, you’ll see people selling Deportivo Saprissa jerseys (and even posters of the Saprissa team) everywhere. I don’t think I’ve seen many people selling (or wearing) foreign jerseys in fact.

Jerseys in Downtown San José, Costa Rica
Jerseys in Downtown San José, Costa Rica

Note that the above observations are based on my (so far) ten day stay in Costa Rica. I am definitely learning something new every day, and Costa Rica will definitely have a special place in my heart. Pura vida!

For more photos, check out my Flickr account!


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