Have you ever felt nostalgic about a moment before you’ve even left it? Like you know that someday, in the near or far future, you’ll look back on your current reality and you’ll miss it down to your bones?
I’m a firm believer that life’s most beautiful moments are the hardest to put into words. To me, language has always been an art form, a way to explain my human experience while saying to my readers, “This is how it feels to be me. Is this how it feels to be you, too?” But as much as I write, and as much as I journal, and as much as I ponder every adventure my teammates and I have conquered during our journey through Costa Rica, I still can’t find the words to describe exactly how the sun shines in the sky here, or the way the rain glistens on the waxy leaves, or the way that I’ve never heard so much laughter, from both my teammates and complete strangers. I think this is also why I’ve always had a hard time writing about swimming, or the core memories I’ve made with my teammates and closest friends, or stolen glances across a crowded room, and I think it’s why I’m really struggling to put words to what we experienced in the Braulio Carrillo Rainforest today. It’s just too beautiful to reduce to the constructs of our language.
But hey, I didn’t get on a 700-meter long, 100-meter tall, 50 mile per hour zipline while screaming “Do it for the blog!” for nothing, so I’ll try my best.
The Braulio Carrillo National Park is located in the Heredia province of Costa Rica, just outside of San José. Ironically, the park’s two most iconic features oppose each other radically. For one, Braulio Carrillo hosts an enormous expanse of completely virgin forest, untouched by greedy human hands and the need for natural resources and industry. On the other hand, however, the park also features a highway that gives Costa Rican residents and tourists easy access to the rainforest’s breathtaking views, exhilarating adventure park, and its strange yet beautiful inhabitants.
Within the green walls of the rainforest, more than 500 species of birds and 150 species of mammals call the Braulio Carrillo their home, including howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, ocelots, peccaries, and sloths. I think I can speak for all of my teammates when I say, while looking at our itinerary, this is one of the days we were the most excited for. Our day in the rainforest included a “6-in-1” tour in the Braulio Carrillo Adventure Park, including activities such as an aerial tram, zip-line, butterfly garden, terraniums, hanging bridges, and trail walks.
As a self-proclaimed “definitely not a morning person,” I’ll admit that when day three actually got here, it was a little harder to get out of bed than I had originally planned for. Our day started with another 5:00 AM wakeup call in order to make it to the Cariari Country Club for our second swim and dive practice in Costa Rica. Clouds scattered the morning sky, and the sunrise looked vibrantly pink and smoky, like the mountains surrounding us were breathing fire. I watched as my teammates pressed their heads to the bus windows in exhaustion. But even I recognized these yawns and heavy eyes as different from the tiredness I’ve seen in Sioux Falls during our snowky treks to morning practice. It was an appreciative exhaustion–we’re tired, but at least we’re tired here, in paradise.
To my dismay, the pool didn’t magically become 15 degrees warmer overnight, so it once again felt like we were diving into a sheet of ice. I bit my cheek, and I didn’t complain. There are palm trees to your right and a volcano to your left, Cailey, I thought. Pura vida. Swim it out. Suddenly, I became thankful for my mistake in forgetting to reapply sunscreen. My sunburn kept my shoulders warm.
After practice, we enjoyed freshly squeezed orange juice and “café con leche” on the patio of the country club’s golf course, warming up with sunshine and laughter over pancakes, eggs, sausage, and of course, beans and rice. With our stomachs full and our workout complete, we stepped onto the buses with a newfound jubilance and began our one-hour-long drive to the Braulio Carrillo Rainforest. One of my teammates turned on his speaker and I listened as they sang along and strummed the air guitar to Don Mclean’s “American Pie” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
And somewhere between Axl Rose singing his persistent questions, “Where do we go? Oh, where do we go now?” to the entire bus, and Dr. Scholten telling us about the Adrena-line, the park’s largest zipline, I remembered an essential fact about myself: I am terrified of heights. And through reasoning skills, it would probably make sense for me to be terrified of zip-lining, too. As soon as we got off the bus, we were ushered down a long path where we were met with park employees who helped us dress in the correct ziplining gear, complete with a helmet, straps that fit like a diaper, and a chest strap that prevented us from literally hanging upside down while sliding down the wire. They taught us how to prevent ourselves from spinning, how to cross our legs and lean backwards to reach maximum speed, and reminded us not to put our heads too close to the cable. Pura Vida, Cailey. Pura vida.
Braulio Carrillo Adventure Park features ten cables in total, with six short ones at the beginning as “practice rounds,” where we could get the hang of getting into position, steering, and landing. I tried to remain calm and collected, but I noticed the man hooking me to the first cable flash a comforting smile at me after his eyes drifted across my shaky hands, refusing to let go of the tree I was latched to. While riding the first few ziplines, I refused to look directly downwards, keeping my eyes locked on the finish line, on my idea of safety.
But I don’t want to be the kind of person who only exists for who I hope to be in the future, and I don’t want to be the kind of person who regrets the past. During our steep trek up the side of a hill to reach the longer ziplines, between gasping for breath in the humid air and trying to ignore the burning in my calves, I promised myself I’d be exactly where my feet were. And if they were hanging in the air, it meant that I needed to look down at them. I’d bloom where I was planted.
Maybe I can’t explain how exhilarating it felt to ignore my heart beating furiously, cowardly against my chest. And maybe I can’t explain how it felt to laugh into the fresh wind, zipping between carved-out mountains and over trickling streams and through every possible shade of green and below the bluest sky I’ve ever seen. And it’s hard for me to find words to describe my teammates’ faces as they took off into the open air, smiles turned upwards toward the sun before their eyes darted in every direction, drinking in the view, letting themselves exist not only as successful students and athletes, but as people. People who deserve to remember every moment of this experience. People who are learning what pura vida truly means.
Today, pura vida meant bravery. And yes, maybe I was encouraged to zipline not out of my own will but simply out of my own competitive nature to rival my teammates’ courage, but I still did it. Pura vida means picking up the pace when you must, but slowing down when you need, ziplining down a mountain in one moment and taking the aerial tram in the next, watching butterflies flutter by with their royal blue wings and toucans caw in the distance. Pura vida means respecting your own fears but not letting them consume you. Fun fact: when trees in the rainforest are covered by a large number of diverse flowers and plants, it means the tree is actually dying. The other life forms live by hollowing out the original tree and then using that spot to grow and flourish themselves. Life overtakes life. Sometimes, we need to abandon parts of ourselves in order to grow. Today, I abandoned my need for words as I watched the rain trickle down the waxy leaves, long vines, and enormous trees in silence, trying to understand the sacrality of it all, watching as the rain gave the trees life so the trees could give me breath. We breathe in reciprocity with each other. Respecting the little things–every raindrop, every spider’s web, every flower–helped me learn to respect my own role in the world, too.
But pura vida is not meant to be experienced alone; instead, pura vida is a collective courage. Pura vida is the tiny ecosystems on the back of a sloth, the bugs that protect themselves by hiding in the sloth’s hair and feeding on the hair’s microscopic grime, while also protecting the sloth by camouflaging it to the color of the rainforest, covering it in their green excrement (gross, but come on, think about the metaphor). Pura vida is the family of ants carrying pieces of leaves back to their hills in a long train of green, but perhaps more importantly, pura vida is the humans who put up “ant crossing” signs so the tourists remember not to disturb them, not to step on them in their process of building a home. Because that’s exactly what pura vida is, too. It’s making your body, your mind, and your spirit a temple for yourself, just as the rainforest acts as a home for hundreds of beautifully strange creatures. It matters how we lift each other up, how we take care of each other, both human and not. It matters how we choose to be brave, when we choose to ignore our fears. It matters how we tell stories, how we give words to the wordless, how we define a term as broad and as narrow as pura vida.
¡So pura vida, and buenas noches, friends! I’ll catch you here again tomorrow after our visit to the Baldi Hot Springs.
It may sound crazy, but my teammates and I already feel significantly more comfortable navigating the city of San José. We can recognize certain landmarks, like the salmon orange “Hotel Balmoral” sign on the corner of the main avenue, or the little bakery on the corner with the freshly baked and frosted strawberry cakes, or the brightly lit Fiesta Casino with the masked bouncers whose eyes always show an expression somewhere between suspicion and boredom.
I think I can speak for all of us when I say it feels as though we have been here (much!) longer than two days. The sun has already turned my shoulders and cheeks a rosy pink, and I see more lion than girl when I look in the mirror due to the intense humidity. But at the same time, it doesn’t really feel like I’ve changed or traveled anywhere at all. I told one of my teammates that I don’t feel like I’m actually in Costa Rica, just that I’ve been transported to an alternate universe where everything is made of sunshine and the Spanish language. She reminded me that that’s all traveling to another country really is, after all.
Our day today started with our first 5:00 AM wake-up call to make it to practice at the Caliari Country Club. For maybe the first time in my life, my alarm didn’t incite a primal rage in me this morning. I crawled out of bed and looked at my tired eyes in the bathroom mirror, lazily throwing on a swimsuit. “Pura vida,” I mouthed to my reflection. “Pura vida.”
After loading ourselves and our swim bags onto our buses, we watched as the sun began to rise, painting streaks of pastel pinks, violets, and oranges in the sky above the mountains like watercolors. I had considered going back to sleep during our thirty minute bus drive to the pool, but instead, I pressed my head against the window of the bus and watched the colors smear and blur together behind the clouds.
By the time we arrived at the country club, the sun was still hidden behind the half-indoor, half-outdoor gym, complete with treadmills and ping-pong tables. I liked the way it painted the pool deck a burnt golden hue, and I liked the way the wind blew softly, creating ripples on the water’s surface and provoking the greenery around the pool to dance, reaching to us like tentacles, calling us to our non-oxygenated home.
However, I really didn’t like how, without the sun, the unheated pool had time to cool to the 60 degree air overnight. While the divers began their strength and conditioning exercises, lunging and sprinting across the pool deck, the swimmers dove in one-by-one, each of us gasping for air as the cold soaked through our skin and into our bones. Our entire team found ourselves in desperate need for some amount of thermodynamic equilibrium–the divers wanted relief from the sun, the swimmers wanted relief from the freezing water.
But as we continued to swim, I watched as the sun rose higher and higher, stretching her rays farther and farther across the lanes of the pool. Turning it into a game, my teammates and I tried to spring through the dark, cold stretch of the pool until we reached the bright warmth. Throughout practice, I knew I felt tired and out of breath, but the funny thing is, I can’t remember if practice was incredibly hard or not. As my teammate so eloquently stated, “Coach could literally tell me to swim 40x100s right now, and I would be all in. But I’d probably ask if I could swim it on my back so I can get a tan.”
Pura vida is that, too. Finding joy through hardship. Finding warmth in the cold.
After practice, we returned to our hotel for yet another meal with fresh fruit, rice, and beans before we continued on with our guided walking tour of San José. Our tour guide, José Pablo, told us that the goal of this activity was to learn more about the culture of urban Costa Rica, but also to learn what makes Costa Ricans… well, Costa Ricans.
We began our tour at the Plaza de la Cultura, a city square dedicated entirely to the question of “What is art?” The answer? Art is anything that you want it to be, and art exists in any sphere you want to interpret it in. Art can be paintings, drawings, photography, and sculptures, but it can also be the careful way we craft our words to comfort, describe, or entertain. It can be the way we critically think in order to create something completely unique and new. And it can definitely be defined as innovation–something that Costa Ricans value greatly.
This need for innovation was best seen during our next stop: Costa Rica’s National Theater, an extravagant building decorated with original marble statues of significant writers, musicians, and artists, as well as paint mixed together with real gold. Costa Ricans paid for their National Theater by literally taxing themselves, placing a commodity tax on one of their most prized possessions and one thing I desperately needed after practice this morning. Coffee! However, after Costa Rican government officials found that only rich people, or people who could actually afford coffee, were attending the theater, they extended this tax to include rice and beans, two foods featured at every meal, including breakfast.
When the theater began to gain more popularity and success, Costa Ricans attended the theater not only to watch shows, but also to “ooh” and “aah” over the latest technology in the world. In fact, Costa Rica’s National Theater was the first building in San José to feature electricity, making Costa Rica’s capital city one of the first global cities to be considered “plugged in,” just behind New York City and Paris.
Costa Rica has always been advanced in architecture, as well, as this country has prioritized the funding of innovation and technology that allows it to keep up with the rest of the world even through tropical temperatures, earthquakes, and hurricanes. After Paris constructed their famous Eiffel Tower, Costa Rica also desired to construct and own a completely metallic structure.
Naturally, then, as part of our tour, we visited Costa Rica’s first and only completely metal building: a salmon pink-colored elementary school. Although many worried that the material of the building would “cause the children to bake like cookies,” according to our tour guide, the school has been successful in keeping children cool as well as holding up against strong earthquakes.
None of these Costa Rican accomplishments are meant to make the country sound prideful, “uppity,” or vain; in fact, it’s actually quite the opposite. Through every advancement, Costa Ricans have a high tolerance for mistakes. One of the most historically beautiful mistakes is found on the back of the bill worth five colones, Costa Rica’s currency. After commissioning an Italian painter to paint a large mural for their National Theater, Costa Ricans found that the Italians know very little about their actual culture. In the painting, the women are featured wearing clothing far too colorful for traditional Costa Rican women, and the women are dressed in traditional European wear rather than clothes that are effective for the Central American weather. Furthermore, everyone in the painting is wearing shoes, which was uncommon for the time, as shoes were far too expensive for everyone to own and make use of, and the workers are picking the coffee beans and bananas in a way that Costa Ricans know would kill the plant. Above all, perhaps the most obvious mistake is the electric lamp post found in the middle of the beach.
After laughing about and considering how laid back Costa Ricans must be in order to put an inaccurate mural in their most prized building and on the back of their currency, José Pablo led us past my favorite monument on our tour, and his favorite part of the tour to give. On a shady street corner, a seemingly unnoticeable, insignificant sundial is placed on the wall of a museum. At the right time of day, the sun casts shadows down onto the sundial and the time can be read; however, due to an architectural flaw when it was built in 1941, the sundial was built in such a way that once the sun starts setting, the time reading is completely inaccurate and, once the sun passes over the wall behind this natural clock, it is unreadable altogether.
But did the architect fix his mistake by moving his prized sundial to the sidewalk or a more sunny place? Nope. Instead, he accommodated for this mistake by including a corrections board made out of marble underneath, so passerbys can always know what time it is no matter where the sun sits in the sky or what season it is.
Before we moved on with our tour, one of my teammates asked what the Latin words above the sundial–tempus fugit–meant. Smiling a bright, toothy smile, José Pablo looked at our group and slyly stated, “Time flies. And since it does, we better keep moving forward on this tour.”
This is pura vida, too. Pura vida is recognizing our mistakes, but not erasing our progress completely in order to fix them because time is precious. Valuable. Pura vida is laughing at and learning from our own foolishness because ignorance is supposed to be pointed out and fixed (like calling ourselves American when we come from the United States. Costa Ricans are American, too!). Pura vida is forgiving others and yourself because this life is large, and strange, and mysterious, and none of us really have any answers. Our feet are all walking upon this earth for the first time, and I cherish each step I take on the sidewalks of this paradise. Pura vida is waving back at the government worker who waved at our tour group from his truck, welcoming the very obvious tourists to his country. Pura vida is buying the hippo-shaped whistle from the local when you can gamble down the price. Pura vida is wearing Nicaragua’s native flower behind your ear, breaking open the eucalyptus leaves and smelling them, and accepting people for their beauty above their mistakes.
Because pura vida, above all, is human connection. My favorite poet, Raymond Carver, once wrote, “I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.” To understand pura vida, I’ve been staying in tune with our collective human noise. Pura vida is the two young boys weaving between our tour group in the park, their sneakers slapping the pavement as they played tag. It’s the old women giggling like teenagers on a bench in the plaza. It’s the man riding a bike with a cart full of mangoes, stopping to help a blind man cross the street, guiding him with his Spanish-speaking voice. It’s every single, “¡Pura vida!” yelled in public, meant as a greeting, or a thank you, or a goodbye, or a reminder that paradise is exactly what you make it to be.
¡Buenas noches! I’ll catch you here tomorrow for a recap of day three, where we’ll be ziplining and hiking through the Costa Rican rainforests.
At 5:00 AM this morning, 37 of my Augustana University Vikings swim and dive teammates, our two coaches, and I boarded a plane in the brutally cold state of South Dakota. After a short layover in Atlanta, Georgia, we made our way to Costa Rica, a little piece of Central American paradise tucked between Nicaragua and Panama, for a study abroad and training trip led by Dr. Shane Scholten and head coach Lindsie Micko.
While here in Costa Rica, my teammates and I will be taking an exercise science course titled “Cultural and Outdoor Adventures in Costa Rica,” a class that seeks to weave cultural experience and human health together through a diverse opportunity to apply scientific concepts in a third-world country, where health and wellness are viewed from an entirely different perspective thanin South Dakota.
We will study Costa Rican health and wellness culture using kinesiology, biomechanics, and nutrition by applying these concepts to physical activities such as swimming and diving, soccer, surfing, hiking, ziplining, and mountain biking. Throughout our time, although our main goal is to deepen our understanding of personal and social responsibility in Costa Rica as it relates to sports, health, and performance through civic engagement, we also hope to understand how intellectual practices, research, and studying can also make us better swimmers and divers.
For Augustana’s swimmers and divers, our mornings here will start the same way they start in Sioux Falls: far before the sun rises. We will begin almost every morning with a training session–swim practice for the swimmers and strength and conditioning for the divers–at the Cariari Country Club outside of San José, which features an 18-hole golf course, 12 tennis courts, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a gym, and other sport and social facilities for its many members.
However, this is not to say that our time here will be all work and no play. We will also be visiting Braulio Carrillo National Park, which features an aerial tram, zip-lining, butterfly gardens, terrariums, hanging bridges, and nature walks through the homes of howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, ocelots, and peccaries, as well as more than 500 species of birds. When we’re not swimming or diving, we’ll find ways to cross-train by cycling through the mountains, hiking in the Burrito Forest, and learning how to surf on the beaches of Jaco. Even better? We won’t have to worry too much about our sore muscles.
While researching whole body cryotherapy and hot water therapy, we’ll also aid our bodies in recovering by visiting Rio Agrio’s Blue Pools in Alajeula, as well as Poas Volcano National Park’s hot springs. We might even find ourselves taking advantage of the caffeine offered on the Doka Coffee Tour.
Above all, Dr. Scholten has encouraged us to be present, to take time upon how we are feeling or what others are feeling, and to consider how we might lift up one of our teammates or a local citizen. Throughout the day, we are asked to keep a journal in order to pay attention to all of our senses. Although it’s easy to take photos, Dr. Scholten wants us to remember smells, sounds, tastes, and the way the Costa Rican sunshine feels on our skin.
After my first day in Costa Rica, I’ve found that I’m often driven to a contemplative silence. Not because I have nothing to say, but because I don’t want to miss a single thing. Nothing here is muted–not the colors, not the sounds, not the smells, not the people. I keep wondering if my teammates are seeing the same things as I am, like the kaleidoscopic flux of tin buildings, old hotels, and beautiful, pastel-domed churches. I wonder if they recognize all the different people, with their smile lines carved deep into their faces from sun exposure and grinning bravely through tourists’ broken Spanish. I wonder if they keep their eyes on the mountains looming in the distance, clouds covering the peaks in a misty white breath, holding this country in a living, breathing hug.
But even if my teammates and I pay attention to different things, or our eyes are caught by different types of architecture, or we experience our daily “Wow!” moments because of different research, I think we’ll come to understand Costa Rica’s motto in a similar way: “pura vida.” As an English major, I’ve come to make the distinction between the denotation, or dictionary definition, and connotation, or how the word makes me feel, of this term. Pura vida, in a literal sense, means “pure life.” However, as I’ve made my way through this first day in an entirely different country, I’ve made a short list of what emotions the phrase “pura vida” incites in me:
My connotations may change, but that’s all for now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another 5:00 AM practice tomorrow (but maybe even that’s pura vida because at least it’s in the sunshine).
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Augustana Swimming & Diving Costa Rica Blog – Augustana College Vikings
Have you ever felt nostalgic about a moment before you’ve even left it? Like you know that someday, in the near or far future, you’ll look back on your current reality and you’ll miss it down to your bones?