IN SEARCH OF THE PURA VIDA Costa Rica's se­cret to a happy life.

What’s the se­cret to a happy life? It might just lie in lush Costa Rica, says Sian Lewis

In the Moment - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy: Sian Lewis

he night sky above me is sprin­kled with stars as I sit in the prow of a lit­tle shing boat. Rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing on the hori­zon is the jun­gle-fringed coast­line of Curu Wildlife Refuge (www.cu­ruwildlif­er­efuge.com). When we reach deep wa­ter, the boat’s cap­tain kills the engine and reaches his hand into the inky black ocean. Sud­den bright sparks ash like re at the tips of his ngers. It’s bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cence, brighter than I’ve ever seen it be­fore. Without fur­ther ado I jump in, my body light­ing up the ocean around me, my ex­trem­i­ties ra­di­at­ing light un­der­wa­ter and mir­ror­ing the bright stars above me. The cap­tain gives me a hand as I clam­ber back into the boat and grins at my happy, as­ton­ished face. “Pura vida,” he smiles back.

Pura vida – trans­lat­able as ‘the pure life’ or ‘the sim­ple life’ – has be­come in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked with Costa Rica, but the phrase is more than a tourist board gim­mick. It’s a phi­los­o­phy, a way of life, even a com­monly used ex­pres­sion to mean “hello”, “good­bye” or “it’s all good”. In this small, lush Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­try, they take the sim­ple things se­ri­ously.

It seems to work, too; Costa Rica is one of the safest, best ed­u­cated and green­est coun­tries in Latin Amer­ica, and is home to some of the world’s long­est liv­ing peo­ple, too – on the Ni­coya Penin­sula, lo­cals fre­quently live well past 100. I’m on a mis­sion to

T

nd out the se­crets of the pura vida, and per­haps take a lit­tle of it home with me.

Costa Rica is a coun­try of two halves, cleaved north to south by moun­tains, with the Pa­cific on one side and the trop­i­cal Caribbean ocean on the other. Eden-like, it’s home to fer­tile green val­leys full of farms and fruit trees, high moun­tains anked with cool cloud forests, nat­u­ral hot springs and miles and miles of beau­ti­ful beaches where world-class surf­ing waves roll end­lessly into the shore. Even bet­ter, it’s com­pact enough that you can criss-cross most of it in a few weeks.

The savvy lo­cals know that their boun­ti­ful coun­try is spe­cial – per­haps that’s why there’s such a big fo­cus on green, earth-friendly liv­ing. Places to stay of­ten sport leaves in­stead of stars, show­ing o their eco-cre­den­tials so that trav­ellers can pick eth­i­cally-sound ho­tels and hos­tels. Plas­tic is used as spar­ingly as pos­si­ble, and there’s a big fo­cus on us­ing lo­cally-sourced in­gre­di­ents in food and even in skin­care.

I meet Maria Laura Que­sada, the founder of Bios­fera (www.bios­fer­aprod­ucts.com), who makes or­ganic creams and lo­tions from her ru­ral work­shop. Her brand is car­bon neu­tral, and vis­i­tors to the work­shop even get to plant a fruit tree be­fore they leave. “We take look­ing af­ter our en­vi­ron­ment se­ri­ously in Costa Rica and value sus­tain­able in­no­va­tion,” she says. “We live in an in­cred­i­bly abun­dant coun­try and I love be­ing able

“It’s im­pos­si­ble to road trip around without be­ing tempted to stop at each

road­side cof­fee plan­ta­tion”

to use things we grow our­selves in my prod­ucts, such as chamomile and cu­cum­ber.”

Maria Laura’s prod­ucts smell good enough to eat, but my favourite lo­cal treat is Costa Ri­can co ee. It’s im­pos­si­ble to road trip around without be­ing tempted to stop at each road­side co ee plan­ta­tion to try their brews, and I fall in love with Café Tres Gen­era­ciones (www.dokaes­tate.com), just out­side San José, where rows of bright cof­fee bushes are fringed by wild­flow­ers that are a haven for but­ter­flies.

In search of more good things to eat, I head to Finca Don Juan in For­tuna, an eco-farm sit­ting in the Toblerone-shaped shadow of Costa Rica’s iconic dor­mant vol­cano, Are­nal. Here, farm­ers in sun­hats show us how to har­vest pineap­ples, point out the rain­bow of trop­i­cal ow­ers they grow and then help us to de­cide what to har­vest for a farm-to-ta­ble lunch, choos­ing from rows of huge let­tuces and vines droop­ing with ripe red toma­toes. “Try this!” says Juan, hand­ing us a bright red berry and smil­ing mis­chie­vously. It’s

synsepa­lum dulci cum, the ‘mir­a­cle berry’ – we chew it and then try bit­ing into a lemon, whose cit­russy sour­ness mirac­u­lously tastes de­li­ciously sweet, our taste­buds tricked by the berries.

Tra­di­tional meth­ods of farm­ing and pro­duc­tion are be­ing re­vived in Costa Rica, but there are some parts of the coun­try where they never left. In the Matambu in­dige­nous re­serve on the

Ni­coya Penin­sula, a com­mu­nity of Chorotega peo­ple still fol­low the old ways. Ezekiel Aguirre Perez, a pot­ter, sto­ry­teller and mem­ber of the in­dige­nous coun­cil, takes us on a ram­ble along an an­cient wood­land trail and then sits down at his wheel to show us how his fam­ily have made clay pots for cen­turies. I ask him about pura vida and if he knows the se­cret to the Ni­coyan’s long, happy lives. “We get a lot of sleep. We eat good fresh food. And we have strong fam­ily con­nec­tions,” he says, his baby grand­son tod­dling around the pot­ter’s wheel as he ef­fort­lessly spins a beau­ti­ful, sim­ple pot.

The tra­di­tional wooden huts and for­est trails of the re­serve may be in con­trast to the mod­ern, cos­mopoli­tan vibe of Costa Rica’s coast, but life here is just as laid back. Miles of white sand tinged pink at sunset and big, punchy but de­li­ciously warm waves make Costa Rica a mecca for surfers, and the Har­mony Ho­tel (www.har­monynosara.com) on Guiones beach is the per­fect base for some aqua ther­apy. Af­ter a yoga ses­sion to loosen my limbs, I bor­row a hefty wooden long­board from Har­mony’s quiver of surf­boards and pad­dle out, watch­ing lo­cal wave-chasers pop up against the golden set­ting sun and catch­ing a wave of my own back to­wards the palm trees on the shore.

The next evening is my last, and as our lit­tle shing boat speeds back to shore, it sends those sparks of bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cence shoot­ing away from it, like a magic spell. Night swim­ming be­neath the stars is a sim­ple, achiev­able and nat­u­ral plea­sure, like so much of the good stu in Costa Rica. Per­haps that will be my piece of the pura vida to take away – a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for slow, sim­ple earth-lov­ing liv­ing.

Clock­wise from top: rolling wavesI=GA PDEO ?KQJPNU = OQN JC IA??= KJA KB PDA =>[email protected]=JP J=PERA BNQEPO 1E=J LE?GO HQJ?D =P $EJ?= "KJ (Q=J Costa Rica has many hot springs.

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