They say it all the time the Costa Ricans do. Its the celebratory unofficial greeting I think. One of them told me it means "the great life!" Another said it was the same thing as the Africans saying "hakuna matata". Which I guess is the same thing, Australians would say "no worries" the Costa Ricans mean it, at least the ones I've met. The say it with gusto.
Its not an easy life. But of course its more like the wish for one. And they wish it on each other and on us. The burrows that pull the banana carts at the banana plantation we visited get along well. The workers there are paid a wage for each evidence of a pruned tip of the flower during that phase of the growing process. They make a living but will by no means realize their dreams this way. There are so many jobs but its hardly what moat Americans would consider the good life. Like so many places I've seen around the world they seem happy enough and some we've met on this trip have truly celebrated the pura vida.
Yesterday we were at the Rios Tropicales eco lodge and farm ... Rafa, the lodge owner, a visionary and inspiring Costa Rican that built the lodge met us at the top of our gruelling hike out from the river gorge. We were filming along the way and stopped several times to look at bats in the nook of a tree or to gently view a fer-de-lance viper that was so nearly invisible as it sat coiled on open ground that it took me five full minutes to see what everyone was pointing at. "No, left of the gray stick...just up from the brown leaf, look its right there." Finally it came into view. So deadly I was told, that to be bitten by one would mean not leaving the mountain. Each step after that and I was thinking it took me that long to see one in the open. What about the countless unseen snakes that were only a bite away? They can strike something like two times their body length. They don't go looking for trouble though, and the key is to stay on the trail. Cutting switchbacks makes a mess of a good trail, and if snakes keep a hiker on the beaten path where reptiles rarely set up shop, that's good enough for me. Up at the top of that climb was where Rafa was waiting.
He keeps buying jungle to protect it and farm land to convert it back to jungle. He was gracious and generous with his time as well as sharing his lodge and staff with us. Rafa is not out to horde the good life to himself, but to make Costa Rica the place where everyone enjoys pura vida as the rainforest is put back to what it was. There is enough agricultural land still working in other areas of Costa Rica and so when Rafa buys land that isn't being farmed any longer he is creating economy where farmers have moved on leaving a razed terrain behind. Rafa knows and is not bashful about describing what is at stake. Its not some tree hugger mythology he embraces. Its the grassland dust bowl effect he is striving to avoid. Not that there is anything to fear in the same sense of the American dust bowl since drought seems a long way off from this place. Because the areas that were rainforest are now grazing land at best, there is no way for a forest to return on its own. So Rafa looks for areas that would benefit from certain kinds of plants...
Bamboo along a stretch will provide fast growing and harvestable products to build with. The early presence of the bamboo helps the other replanted trees to survive, this one near a water source, a stand of this species on a hill top and underbrush over there. Eventually it returns to a full fledged rain forest. He pointed to the hill we walked up ... an ancient jungle, then to an area far more immature ... a twenty year old reforestation project. It looked the same only, slightly... shorter. Then in anther direction and he says, "I just bought that one and we have begun the early stages of planting."
He jokes, "my wife buys new shoes, I buy more jungles. Pura vida!". Its very impressive. We walked down to the talapia pond. They feed them cilantro. There is another area where mules and horses are allowed to graze because it fertilizes the ground and keeps the weeds from overtaking the saplings that have become tall enough to not be eaten as well. That area is along a river bed and the presence of the animals and forest has returned a watershed to what was lost during the slash and burn ranching decades ago. Rafa points to a mound, "that is a species of leaf cutter ants, we need them during these first three years.". Pura vida, for now its a good life for the little green sailboat looking insects. They trail each other all day long with cuts of flat greens to bring back to the hive. There they grow a kind of fungus on the leaves for their own food, apparently one of the only creatures besides man to grow its own food.
Walking backwards, I was filming as our hosts chat casually with Rafa about carbon and Ricardo Molina, our Costa Rican sound man, not a small man, steps, also backward into soaking wet mud up to his knees. He extracted one foot, shouting, "mi zapato"--- my shoe. It was there in the hole but he was left wearing only a sock. The rest of the day was squishy, but he did not disappoint us, as he laughed histericaly and when we finally got him cleaned up he turned to me and said ... haha, pura vida
Now I'm aboard a longboat on the six hour ride upriver to Rio Indio lodge in Nicaragua for the next segment. We've already seen three crocodiles. They are the true top of this food chain. And by the looks of them I don't think they've missed many meals.
A good life indeed.