Pura Vida is basically Costa Rica’s catch phrase. Literally translating to “pure life” it can be used as a response for many situations:
“How are you?”
“Sorry I couldn’t help you with this today.”
A real life “hakuna matata.”
If being picked up in the airport by an almost complete stranger wasn’t bizarre enough, the fact that I was going to be living with him and his family for three months put the icing on the cake. As I got off of the airplane I started to remember the anxiety I used to get when calling a friend’s house and having their parents answer the phone. I’ve always had an adverse reaction to people’s parents, because they are the ones in charge. If they don’t like you, you’re out. Maybe I hadn’t thought this through very well. Would I be out on the street in a matter of days, or even hours?
Julio assured me that his mom was a very friendly person and practically saint-like. This was comforting, but of course Julio had to say that, it’s his mom. But she had agreed to let me stay there without even meeting me, hadn’t she?
Martine welcomed me into her home with open arms. “Would you like me to speak with you in Spanish or English?” she asked me. “Speak to her in Spanish!” Julio interjected. That settled it. From that moment on I was immersed into a “Spanish only” environment. I was liking this already. It was exactly what I had wanted ever since I had started studying Spanish: immersion.
I soon decided that Martine was my spirit animal. She grew up in France, decided to move to England to study English; moved to the U.S., lived in Venice beach for a while, saved money by waiting tables and eventually bought a van with a group of people to drive to Belize. After selling the van in Belize she went on to South America, and eventually took a train, alone, through the amazon to arrive in Brazil. While living in Brazil she reconnected with a friend from England who was living in Costa Rica, and eventually moved there and married him. Her adventures and stories made my backpacking experiences look like a night at the Ritz hotel.
Martine did this during an era before cell phones and GPS signals. We are talking about maps and open roads. Pure life. Pura Vida. Martine had wanted to go to Brazil, so she did. She had wanted to learn Portuguese, so she did. She didn’t wait for someone to go with her, and she didn’t wait for anyone to approve of what she was doing. She just did it. Like I was doing now.
I am constantly humbled by the kindness I receive when traveling and the luck I’ve had with whom I’ve met. From the moment I’d arrived, Martine and her family welcomed me into their home. The kindness Martine showed me was unmatchable to anything I’d ever experienced. Now that I’m sitting in my home in the U.S. trying to wrap my head around everything that happened during those 3 months and I find myself desperately trying to cling to every feeling, emotion, and thought that I ever had in my Casa Tica, Frances, Ingles (French English Costa Rican house). I’m closing my eyes to remember the lessons learned from Martine. I’m thinking about how her eyes would light up with every story she told as if it were happening in that moment instead of years ago. I’m thinking about how Julio and his brother would laugh at her whenever she would say a slang Costa Rican curse word. I’m trying not to think about how much my heart aches at not knowing when or if I will see them all again. I’m trying to stay Pura Vida.
Martine handed me a key and told me that this was my home too now and I could come and go as I pleased. She showed me the kitchen, told me I could eat whenever I wanted to, and cook when I wanted to, but she would be cooking enough for everyone. And so it became my home, and they became like family.
Whenever I missed my family, whenever I became homesick, I would find comfort in Martine. We would go to church on Sundays and have wine after. We would read books on the couch and I would ask her what words meant in Spanish. She would tell me what it was like raising 7 children, and now her grandchildren. She wasn’t ashamed or shy of emotions and told me about life’s hardships and what she’d done to overcome them. She gave me advice when she didn’t realize that she was giving me advice.
I never once saw Martine get frustrated or angry about anything. “She’s like a saint” Julio had said, and now I know that he was right. Nothing really seemed to bother her, not even the big-ass spiders in the house that would show up every now and then. “Que linda araña!” (What a pretty spider!) She would say. One day I saw the cat outside, covered in mud and carrying a massive rat in its mouth: its possum-like tail dragging on the ground. I wanted to vomit. Martine just laughed saying something like, “It’s better that she catches them outside of the house than let them in the house.” You could never find a trace of negativity on her face, even from something that normal people would be grossed out at. Pura Vida.
When I wait at the bus stop people begin affectionately recognize me as “the gringa staying at Martine’s house.” They aren’t the least bit surprised that she’s taken in a foreign guest. No one is a stranger to Martine’s kindness.
I start to wonder what it would be like to host someone for three months. I constantly prayed, “Please God don’t let me get on their nerves.” I’m not sure that I could show the same kindness to an almost complete stranger (the main reason being that I still live with my parents), but I’d like to think that I would. I believe that we all get so wrapped up in what’s “ours”, that we fail to see how beautiful it is to share something.
An odd family reunion occurred one Saturday afternoon in the Casa Tica, Frances, Ingles. All of Martine’s children (apart from one daughter who lives in Spain) gathered in a room to have a meeting. Martine stayed outside of the meeting playing with her grandkids. She saw the curiosity on my face and said; “Oh they’re just in that room discussing what they’re going to do with the house after I die.” She said it just as if she were reporting the weather; (sunny with a slight chance of last will and testament.) She laughed and continued, “I told them I don’t care what they do, so they’re just going to stay in there and yell at each other for a while. I’m happy I’m out here playing with the kids.” Even during the discussion of death, Pura Vida.
I want to be her when I grow up.
Some people define a spirit animal as a “an otherworldly guide who appears to offer love, healing, and support during difficult times.” Which is why I say that Martine is my spirit animal. Not to be dramatic, but at times, life in Costa Rica seemed a bit otherworldly. Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in neutral ways, and sometimes in bad ways, but whatever direction it took, I always had a place to call home and a person to ask me “Como le fue?” (How’d it go?). I was never alone and I will never be able to thank my Familia Tica Frances Ingles (French, English, Costa Rican family) enough.