Costa Rica, the land of Pura Vida.
You hear some people say it. You see it on ads and billboards. You read about it. But, what exactly is “Pura Vida”?
Urban Dictionary defines it as: the law of the land in Costa Rica, literally translated in Spanish as pure life; the expression is used in many forms, from a greeting, to a synonym for “excellent.” They follow this lifestyle and are some of the most wonderful people on earth. A synonym of “hakuna matata.” Life is wonderful; enjoy it!
I randomly found this article on Pura Vida (<— click on this link to read more about it) as eloquently written by Ryan Van Velzer. He says:
Transient in meaning, in relevance, in purpose. To define pura vida is to misunderstand the term….
….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….
Now, if the rest of the world would only adapt this philosophy to our everyday lives, it would be so much simpler! Then again, not everybody is Costa Rican and to live by this “motto” if you will is much deeper and profound that just saying pura vida or wearing a shirt with a pura vida logo.
What comes to mind when you think of Costa Rica?
Lush greenery, cloud forests, rain forests, volcanoes and exotic waterfalls. A perfect playground for the adventurous and outdoor lovers. At first, those were my impressions too. Then a friend mentioned she went to go surfing in Costa Rica. I was surprised to hear that there are a lot of good size surfing communities along its coasts. I don’t surf so what do I know, eh?
Then this perfect opportunity came along while browsing online for budget vacations. I am such a cheapskate sometimes I embarrass myself. As long as I get to go somewhere, as long as I can pack my bags and get on that airplane, I don’t care, take me away!!!
Casa Zen Guesthouse and Yoga Center answered my wanderlust this time. Out of the many yoga retreats I have checked out, not just in Costa Rica, this one fit my budget plus its location interested me.
If you are an avid surfer, you would probably have heard of Santa Teresa in the Nicoya Peninsula. But where is that?
As you can see, it is a tiny little spot in the map that is Costa Rica. San Jose, the capital of the country and the international airport in Alajuela is about six hours away and that includes a scenic hour and a half ferry boat ride across the Gulf of Nicoya. There is Liberia airport which is closer but the flights didn’t work for our schedule. We had to stay overnight in Alajuela because the shuttle ride to Santa Teresa was only at eight in the morning. So all the considerable time and effort we have to put into this journey made it all the more exciting for me.
A little unassuming coastal village facing the Pacific, Santa Teresa became popular because of its swells and long stretches of sandy beaches. After the surfers made camp here in the early 60s and 70s and foreigners falling in love with the place and deciding to stay, Santa Teresa together with its adjacent neighbors, Mal Pais and Playa Carmen have all become popular surfing destinations.
A few years later followed the emergence of the yoga retreats. Yogis and surfers all living in harmony in paradise. All striving to achieve that balance and simplicity in life. From the most luxurious spa resorts to the simpler hostel type accommodations, there is a yoga center for everyone.
I have never been to a yoga retreat before in my life so this was the perfect time and place for me to do so. I have been practicing yoga for about three years now. I do not claim to be an advanced practitioner nor do I consider myself a beginner either. Lucky me, my hubby also does yoga sporadically through his own fitness regime so he is not totally ignorant of the poses. I drag him along, naturally.
Our day consisted of waking up early around 6am due to jet lag (Costa Rica is two hours behind Florida) and mostly because my hubby was woken up from the heat. This was a budget place so there was no air conditioning. The bathrooms were shared and there was no hot water either (which you didn’t really need). They did have a fan in the room and also provided an extra standing fan but the heat was just too much for my hubby. The concrete house a few feet across our room didn’t help much with ventilation and air circulation. I didn’t anticipate that he would be totally miserable. And if he was miserable, his attitude made me miserable too! So much for pura vida.
So I tried to do my best to make my stay a little less miserable and not be affected by all his negativity. After all, I wanted and planned this off the beaten path kind of travel. Once my hubby cooled down, his mood changed. Everyday we ate a healthy breakfast of toast and fresh fruit which was included in the yoga package. At least the coffee was good enough for him so that helped his sour mood a lot. He certainly likes his coffee and Costa Rica is well known for that.
After breakfast was morning yoga, an hour and a half sometimes two hours depending on the instructor. It was THE best yoga I have ever done! Grueling, challenging yet beautifully good for my body. I have never sweat that much doing a downward dog! The open air wooden deck and the sounds of the waves crashing from a distance helped with the ambience.
After class, if it wasn’t raining, we went for a short walk along Santa Teresa’s bumpy, muddy, pot hole filled roads checking out potential dinner and lunch places or if there was a downpour, which most of the time there was since it was the beginning of the wet season, we stayed inside Casa Zen and hung out by the rancho socializing, reading or playing with our phones since Wifi was better here than in our rooms. One time, hubby and I decided to go to the beach in the rain and played in the waves. Much to my surprise, the waters were deliciously warm!
It was a short two minute walk to the beach through the public access road that was just outside Casa Zen. We could see surfers with their boards pass by but we couldn’t see them surfing. Maybe because it was too rocky around the area. Must be some secret spot a few minutes down the beach.
early morning views
the access road to the beach
the access road from the beach to the main road
not a soul in sight
After lunch, again because it was too hot to go back inside our room, the second floor of the rancho became our second bedroom where we took short naps.
Every Saturday afternoon, an organic market was held near the beach. Locals and expats took part in selling fresh produce and whatever trade or trinkets they have to sell. Our stay fell on a Saturday so we decided to check it out. It was all very communal and family-like. Everybody was oozing the pura vida vibe, even the dogs have embraced this lifestyle! We bought some yummy freshly baked banana bread which came highly recommended.
In the evenings, there was another yoga session. These weren’t mandatory by the way so depending on the instructor, the class size varied. Some of the guests have been staying here for weeks so they know the teachers already. I haven’t done this much exercise since I was in high school so by the time evening yoga came, I fell asleep every time we did Savasana, the candle light definitely does not help at all. Talk about ultimate relaxation.
I have never felt so healthy and flexible in my life. I fell asleep easily and woke up energized. Again, thats me, not my hubby. However, he admitted that he liked the yoga work outs because it helped his sore neck and shoulder muscles. Though I learned my lesson not to sit beside my hubby because he makes me laugh and lose my concentration especially when it came to the difficult ones when he attempts the pose and ends up clumsily doing it.
From the start, we decided to leave a day early instead of the 4-day retreat that we booked for. We still wanted to do touristy stuff and check out volcanos and waterfalls. And I’ve had enough of my hubby’s complaints about the heat so off we go next to regular air-conditioned hotel rooms. He was also complaining about the lack of activities/things to do that he was obviously bored. He definitely needs to learn the art of doing nothing.
I left our itinerary for Santa Teresa open because I really didn’t know what we would end up doing. Spontaneity was the name of the game here where the weather dictates your activities. One day after raining most morning and well into after lunch, the sun decided to shine so I decided that we explore the area and rent an ATV. Because of the terrible road conditions, this was the preferred mode of transportation for most of the locals and visitors anyway so there were plenty of ATV rentals around.
Coming up next… our ATV adventures in Santa Teresa!!!