I opened my inbox one day to find an email with a peculiar subject line. "Congratulations, you have won a trip to Anamaya Yoga Retreat in sunny Costa Rica". I promptly deleted it but a nagging feeling prompted me to retrieve that email and read it again to be sure it was, in fact, just another scam. Four months after I reread that email, I boarded a plane for San Jose, Costa Rica. A long drive through the countryside that led to a ferry that took me across the gulf of Nicoya and onto the small Pacific Coast village of Montezuma was the beginning of an unforgettable journey…one that taught me an important lesson in life and in living it to the fullest.
There wasn’t much going on at Anamaya Yoga Retreat on my 4th day in Montezuma, Costa Rica. I developed a routine of waking early, watching the sunset, reading in the hammock, taking a dip in the infinity pool and checking emails all before breakfast was even served. On this day, I decided to break the routine and do something a little different. I didn’t want to waste the day sitting by the pool so I strolled down the hill into the village and spent the day exploring the little streets and surf shops and enjoying the beach. The village had so much energetic ambiance. Smiling, energetic people of all walks of life, embracing the day and one another. I can still feel that ambiance now if I close my eyes and bring myself back there.
It was the hottest morning in Montezuma since I’d arrived and the walk down the hill was torture. I was only half way down the hill when a young man on a motorbike stopped. “Senorita, I take you to bottom of the hill if you like.” He was wearing a nice shirt and khaki shorts which gave him an air of coolness and confidence - like he often picked up strange women who were about to pass out while walking down that hill. I usually don’t take rides from strangers but I didn’t think I was going to make it any further without collapsing. I took him up on his offer and a few minutes later he dropped me off at the beach. With a wave and a friendly “Buenos dias”, he sped off.
I walked a few feet to the beach and plopped myself down in the sand in a shaded area and relaxed for a bit. A storm had passed near Montezuma the previous night and the water was extremely rough. I tried to go for a swim but the waves were too powerful and the undertow too dangerous. The smell of Cerviche and Empanadas in the restaurant a few meters away filled the air. The sounds of palm trees rustling in the gentle breeze and locals and tourists going about their daily business lulled me. A dog chased a stick nearby while some children egged him on. A stray cat sat near a food cart, waiting for a hand-out. The rhythmic sound of the waves coming ashore, like a lullaby, gently rocked me to sleep.
Shouting zapped me out of my trance to see people on the beach pointing to something in the water; some brave, fool-hardy surfers were attempting to surf dangerously rough waters close to some jagged rocks. It looked like the scene might end in tragedy but, fortunately, the surfers made it safely to shore. Welcome to Costa Rica – home of adventure seekers, lovers of life and daredevils!
By late-morning, the heat was really getting to me and I started to feel dehydrated. I was craving a refreshing fruit smoothie but didn’t want to pay the going rate of about 7 dollars for one at a tourist trap. So off I went, up and down those little streets, in search of a reasonably-priced smoothie. At the end of a side street, I noticed an interestingly-decorated, outdoor smoothie bar. The thatched-roof and colorful plants sprouting from the walls caught my eye. It looked like just my kind of place!
A free-spirited and friendly, young man was eager to take on the challenge of making me something that was refreshing but not-too-sweet. It took a long time for him to make it as he carefully thought out each ingredient and made sure it was mixed to perfection by allowing me to taste it at intervals. After some mixing and shaking and adding of various exotic fruit, some of which I never heard of, he placed his finished masterpiece before me. For the price of 3 dollars, I received a delicious, orange-colored smoothie in a massive glass.
I stayed at the bar and took a seat. “So, are you from around here?” I asked him. “Yes, born and raised in Costa Rica, just down the road a little bit.” He obviously loved his life in Montezuma and at one point, he asked if I knew what "Pura Vida" meant. To me "Pura Vida" meant The Pure Life and it was what I had witnessed over and over again while traveling through the country. Natural, untouched, simple and pure. He went on to explain it in more depth for me. “That is how most people interpret it. You see, 'Pura Vida' can be a greeting, a state of mind, a way of life. You meet someone walking down the street, you say 'Pura Vida'. You catch the perfect wave while surfing, you say 'Pura Vida'. You have a wonderful day, instead of saying goodnight, you say 'Pura Vida'. You find a great smoothie bar while walking the streets of Montezuma, you say 'this is Pura Vida'. It can mean anything but always something good. Anytime something good happens, “Pura Vida” is the appropriate thing to say.” Made sense to me. How can you not be living the “Pura Vida” in a country that is considered to be one of the happiest in the world according to the Happy Planet Index?
It was mid-afternoon when I started walking up that steep hill to Anamaya. I made it to the top without collapsing in the ditch. There was still enough daylight left to hike to Montezuma Falls. I had gone there the day before and chickened out of jumping off the falls into the pool below but now I was determined not to leave Costa Rica without taking that plunge.
The path to the falls was steep and rocky. I stopped to take a rest mid-way down the trail and that is when I became fully aware of my surroundings. The growling of nearby howler monkeys, the buzz of millions of tropical insects, the sound of the distant waves crashing onto the beach below, the trees rustling in the gentle breeze. The rainforest sounded so alive. It was like the forest itself was living and breathing.
I made it to the waterfalls and again, paused to take in the beautiful sight before me. Beautiful, cascading water falling into a crystal clear, blue pool beneath a canopy of thick rainforest. Before I could talk myself out of it again, I took the leap into the clear, refreshing water. If there is one thing I absolutely hate, it is missed opportunity. I take every chance that comes my way because, sometimes, you only get one chance to do something. And to think, if I had not listened to that little voice in my head telling me to read that email again, I would have missed out on the time of my life and would never know what it is like to live the Pura Vida.