Literally translated as ‘pure life’, pura vida is the phrase most commonly associated with Costa Rica. Most foreigners imbue the term with a sense of the ‘laid back’, hippy or surfer lifestyle where time is of little importance and friendship taken for granted. Indeed, the most credible origin of the word is that it developed from the interaction between the surfing pioneers of the mid 1950’s and the local Costa Ricans (or Ticos) they encountered.
Whatever it’s beginnings there is no doubting that it has become part of the vernacular and Costa Ricans claim it to belong to pachuco, a slang or common speech somewhat removed from Spanish and very particular to Ticos. Used as a greeting, a goodbye, sometimes as an agreement, this versatile phrase, often shortened to a brief pura, signifies something deeper to Costa Ricans. It embodies a philosophy in which communal ties are strong and close; difficulties are overcome with a resilient and happy spirit, where life is enjoyed leisurely and to the full, and where fortune of whatever size is heartily celebrated.
Upon meeting your typical Costa Rican, in a bar for example, handshakes are exchanged to, ‘Todo bien?’ This literally translates as ‘all good’ and much like the English, ‘Alright?’ is at once both a question and an answer.
‘Si todo bien. Pura vida’, comes the reply to which the initiator will respond, ‘Pura vida.’ Thus both parties are assured of each other’s health and a commitment to the Costa Rican philosophy of life is affirmed. It’ll then be time to use some more pachuco and enjoy an agila, or eagle which represents a beer. The eagle is the symbol on the label of Imperial, one of Costa Rica’s best known beers. Perhaps it’ll be instead a quartro plumas, or four feathers, again taken from a label only this time from a bottle of Cacique (guaro), a cane spirit. Both might be enjoyed with huevos de pinguino, penguin’s eggs (testicles), which is pachuco for ice cubes. (In Costa Rica it is the custom, as with other drinks, to drink beer over ice.) Glasses are raised and clinked to, ‘Salud’, health, and then for good measure, ‘Pura Vida’.