In Costa Rica, the Vibe is "Pura Vida"

The crew of Ocean Watch trek overland in Costa Rica. "Herb's Watch" for our April 29, 2010, CW Reckonings.

costa rica 368

Off Costa Rica, these brown boobies symbolized the mellow spirit of Pura Vida.Herb Mccormick

For a lot of good reasons-primarily its distant Central American location, coupled with a lack of natural harbors or anchorages-you don't see a lot of American-flagged cruising boats in Costa Rica, but you do see a lot of Americans. We began to discover that fact shortly after anchoring off the tony Los Sueños Resort & Marina, more or less sandwiched between the surfing town of Jaca, to the south, and the rather bustling port of Puntarenas, to the north, and taking the dinghy into shore.

Look up the word "ritzy" in the dictionary and you might see an illustration of Los Sueños, complete with its row upon row of sport-fishing boats, its high-end hotel, the gargantuan pool and the adjacent golf course. The marina bar ("The Hook Up")-adorned with flat-screened TVs blaring ESPN (not the Spanish version we were used to from our South American travels, with 24/7 soccer coverage, but the U.S. feed from Bristol, Connecticut)-was chock full of gringos slaking their thirsts between bouts with the billfish.

On our ongoing voyage Around the Americas (www.aroundtheamericas.org) aboard our 64-foot cutter, Ocean Watch, such scenes have been few and far between. Had that been the sole place we visited during our layover in Costa Rica, our impressions of the country would've been warped and misconstrued. Fortunately, we hired a car, put Los Sueños in the rear-view mirror and had a good look around. That's when we discovered what the Costa Ricans refer to as "Pura Vida."

Herb McCormick| |The active volcano called Arenal was a highlight of our cross-country road trip in Costa Rica.|

Strictly translated, Pura Vida means "pure life." In the Costa Rican sense, as we were to discover, the meaning of Pura Vida is far deeper and much more expansive. Pura Vida is a state of mind as well as a way of life, one that puts high value on the great outdoors, the natural world, and good times with great friends.

Over the next few days we put over a thousand kilometers on our rental car and literally drove across the country, from the Pacific coast where we'd arrived from the Galapagos Islands, to the mellow Rasta town of Cahuita, hard by the Caribbean Sea. There, we had a snorkel along the reef that is part of the Cahuita National Park (Costa Ricans love their parks; there are nearly fifty in all), complete with a couple of close encounters with disinterested reef sharks. After a sweaty walk through the park and back into town, where we saw cappuccino and howler monkeys, sloths and all sorts of butterflies, we kicked back with a couple of cold, tasty Imperial cervezas, the local favorite.

Pura vida, baby, pura vida.

In the course of our road trip, we also took in the active volcano called Arenal, the high inland mountains and coastal seascapes, and all sorts of wildlife, including crocs, iguanas, and hummingbirds. The entire escapade was a blast. But of everything we encountered, the generous, funny, peaceful, engaged Costa Ricans we met were the more memorable of all.

Too soon, we were back on our way, keeping to our tight schedule, bound for Mexico. The second night out, we were visited by a flock of brown boobies who fluttered down on our bowsprit just in time for a gorgeous sunset.

Costa Rica was in our wake, but the spirit of Pura Vida lingered on.