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“Pure Life” in Costa Rica

Kevin Check '96, MA'03
March 31, 2010

Translated literally, pura vida means “pure life,” but for the Costa Rican people, it's more like a way of life. Although I’m not sure I ever came to fully grasp the meaning of the phrase, I would best describe it as equivalent to the way that Americans use the word "cool." It is certainly a fitting phrase to sum up my journey to Costa Rica.

In March 2010, more than 20 Badger alumni and friends, along with “adopted” Badgers from Penn State, UCLA and the University of Iowa, embarked on a journey to explore the natural wonders of Costa Rica. I think it is fair to say that after nine days, and many hours of riding on boats and buses together, we left the country as friends.

Our journey started in San Jose, the country’s capital and largest city, where we took in a museum and saw the city from our tour bus. San Jose is a bustling city of more than 350,000 people.

The remainder of our stay in this beautiful country was spent exploring the country’s beautiful natural resources. We saw countless species of birds, incredible scenery including two spectacular volcanoes, and lots of caimans and crocodiles – many of which were more than large enough to quickly bring an unfortunate end to any traveler’s trip.

Our guide, Jorge, assured us that they are relatively docile creatures and posed no real threat. Given that our group’s riverboat drove to within only a few feet of a 10-foot crocodile, this traveler is glad Jorge was right. The rest of the fun also included tours of a coffee plantation and a pineapple plantation, zip-lining through the jungle canopy, a visit to a natural hot springs and a walk on hanging mountain suspension bridges.

Something I’ll never forget? A two-night stay in the rain forest lodge, where I was awakened by the sound of howler monkeys in the trees just outside my window. Despite the remote location, our rain forest lodge had a computer with an internet connection and a WiFi hotspot for those with mobile devices – further proof that we truly live in a connected world.

Costa Rica is known for, among many other things, its microclimates. As the saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather in Wisconsin, just wait an hour.” You could likewise say, “If you don’t like the weather in Costa Rica, just drive an hour.”

For a country approximately the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica’s weather is extremely variable. You could start off your day in shorts and a t-shirt in San Jose, and be wearing pants and a jacket a short time later in the mountains.

Friendly people, beautiful scenery, great weather: I’ve already promised myself that I’ll return to Costa Rica. If you get a chance to visit, do it. And if you happen to see a Costa Rican tour guide wearing an embroidered Bucky Badger on his lapel, be sure to say “hello” from his friends in Wisconsin.

Pura vida!

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