The Funny Mexican Origins of Costa Rica’s Pura Vida Spirit
Pura Vida! No two words are more synonymous – both literally and figuratively – with a place than this pair is with Costa Rica.
I may not have been sure about this when I landed in this magical country a few weeks ago, but after six days of adventuring everywhere from Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast, to San Jose and the Cloud Forest in the country’s interior, and Manuel Antonio on the Pacific I can honestly say with a great degree of certainty that ubiquitous doesn’t even begin to describe how deep the pura vida spirit is embedded in Costa Rica.
The phrase, which literally translates into “pure life,” is used by everyone for just about everything.
Good morning, hello, good-bye, ok, wow, thank God, indeed, good luck, agreed…
Pura vida not only serves as a viable substitution for all of these (and more) words and expressions, it’s actually preferred!
The country’s amazingly verdant natural environs, like the stream pictured above that I came across while hiking in the Cloud Forest, also support the pura vida aesthetic. Mother Nature shows off here like few other places I’ve ever seen, a distinction the people of Costa Rica seem more than determined to maintain.
Given all this, it’s funny that the whole pura vida vibe that has really come to define Costa Rica likely never would’ve materialized if not for a Mexican comedy produced in the 1950’s.
¡Pura Vida! (the movie) stars Antonio Espino y Mora as Melquiades Ledezma, a bumbling dolt who gets kicked out of his village. The reason: he’s bad luck…
Did you notice the first mention of “pura vida” at the 2:05 mark? All throughout the movie Melquiades repeats the phrase, often inappropriately as he does in the clip, much in the fashion that persists in Costa Rica today.
So, how did it happen that such an innocuous phrase from such a silly movie from a whole other country came to define the very essence of the proud Republic of Costa Rica?
Well, as far as I learned during my visit, ¡Pura Vida! (the movie) was simply such a big hit in Costa Rica that the phrase, and all the disparate ways Melquiades applied it, just stuck – an unintended consequence of cinema influencing real life… and yielding a wonderfully uncommon result.