Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Costa Rican Homecoming
  |  Gorp.com

In addition to their progressive environmentalism, CRROBS courses are rather touchy-feely. They are designed that way. Each morning, breakfast begins with an inspirational quote. During the day, different students take on the role of leader, medic, and cook. And in the evening, we recap the day's highs and lows. Much of this seems silly, but the talks and rituals help form a bond and ease the inevitable conflicts that arise in stressful situations. We also have to get used to new "nature names" given to us by the group leaders: LeAnne, Laura, and Rex become Arbol, Viento, and Araqa for the trip's duration.

These names aren't the only new ones we have to learn. An integral part of the CCROBS experience is living in the homes of locals. These "homestays" allow students to become guests rather than visitors, a subtle distinction that offers a greater understanding of Costa Rican culture than most visitors will ever know.

Our first homestay is with the Zamoras, one of six families in the remote, 40-square-mile village of Piedras Blancas who welcome CRROBS students into their homes. It's a symbiotic relationship: Respect for and understanding of Tico traditions and customs are hallmarks of the course. CRROBS has built a schoolhouse for the children of Piedras Blancas where the children learn English from an Outward Bound sponsored teacher. Outward Bound also employs six campesinos, or country farmers, as instructors. Families are compensated for the cost of housing students, and service projects are a part of nearly all courses. The school has become a part of the community, and the community takes care of its own.

Despite our haggard appearance after three days in the rainforest, Orlando and Magda Zamora invite us inside with sincere warmth. The wooden house, built by Orlando and his friends, is about 20 feet by 30 feet. Peeking in, I marvel silently at the wood-burning stove—which must have weighed 300 pounds—and wonder how it got from town into the house. The nearest road is two days away.

The family's warmth is engaging, and I feel the calming effect of living life a bit more slowly, a bit more intentionally—something Costa Ricans refer to as pura vida, literally "pure life." Our meals consist of rice and beans with Lizano salsa—the same thing we'd have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner over the next few days. I sit and wonder if I could make a go of life in the country when Luis, Orlando's youngest sun, grabs my camera, looks through the lens, and pretends to snap a photo. The flash goes off and he stares at me, frightened and wide-eyed. I laugh and he laughs; the exchange helps me realize that while living here would be a challenge for this big-city Jersey boy, the most meaningful parts of ourselves transcend age, culture, and environment.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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