Pura Vida means Pure Life or Pure Living. It’s the motto of Costa Rica and anyone who spends any real time here will come to understand why. The connection with nature, with the universe, and by proxy with other people is so incredibly pure, rich and fulfilling.
Just outside the tourist town of La Fortune I was hiking up the side of an extinct volcano name Cerro Chato. The name means “pug-nosed hill” because it’s relatively small and flat for a volcano. The lava that once flowed through Cerro Chato millennia ago, abandoned it for nearby Mount Arenal, leaving the Cerro Chato crater to host beautiful Lago Chato.
Nature has a way of teaching lessons if you’re listening. The day I was to climb Cerro Chato it was raining lightly and the clouds were enveloping most of the 3740 ft/1140m hill. I was seriously considering canceling my hike due to the rain, but a fellow hosteler made a comment that shattered my indecision.
If you wait on the rain to stop, you’ll never do anything – Vincent
Ok, I can take that. Hiking in chilly rain, I can do that.
So I girded my spirits and tightened my pack straps and set off down the slick brick road. Drivers waved at me, probably wondering if I’d lost my mind. The road leading to the trail was crowned and bricked, but slick and very steep. I tried to maintain my spirits, “you can do this” repeating constantly in the back of my mind.
I walked among terraced hills, where a sustainable organic farm was carved into the hillside.
I peered down my droplet adorned nose at the brightly color flowers and bushes as I ascended into the mists.
The path was muddy and steep, my shoes were soaked and filling up with grit. In many places there were stairs, with each step being more than 20″ tall. I slipped and slid, I took two steps forward and one step back. I couldn’t see the view because I was literally in the clouds. I was frustrated and irritated that nature was aspiring against me. My mood became darker, but I was determined to press on. I wasn’t giving up and I wasn’t turning back.
By the time I reached the crest of the caldera and started down the inside toward the lake, I was not a happy hiker. Why was life doing this me? I’d quit my job, sold my car, flown over a thousand miles and all I wanted was to see the view and not be cold and wet. Is that so little to ask?
And then I reached a place in the trail that had washed out. I might have been able to make it down to the water, but I was in no mood to swim and wasn’t entirely sure I could make it back up the washed out trail. I was tired, hungry and cold, so I called it quits just short of my goal. I made it this far, I bested the physical challenge of the hike. I didn’t need to actually reach the water to prove anything to anybody.
Grump, grump, grump…
On the way back the trail was still shrouded in mists, which meant I wasn’t going to see the view of the surrounding countryside. The mists were so dense I could barely make out the trees on the side of the path. All the little details of my new life were marching through my mind like little town criers, demanding my attention and my worry. How was I going to get dry, what had I gotten myself into, was all this really worth it? Every worry and concern I’d had over the last few weeks came marching back.
And then it hit me! I was completely missing the point. I hadn’t uprooted my whole life to chase a fairy tale, to say I climbed Cerro Chato. I hadn’t come here to see the view specifically or precisely to swim in the caldera lake. I had done all these things to find a new life. I didn’t need to hack and hew that life out of the oceans of possibility before me.
I just had to live it, accept what comes, find the beauty of every moment.
So I let go of the little details. I banished the worried town criers of my mind. I opened my soul to the mists, and they answered. Suddenly the cold wet mists shifted into a beautiful sea of peace and tranquility. I could feel a connection to the life around me that nearly knocked me down. Somehow the mists connected me to the jungle around me, and to every living thing in it.
I stood silent on the mist wrapped path, completely stunned. The world made perfect sense for that brief moment, and joy overwhelmed me.
This is why I’m here. This is why we’re all here, wherever here may be.
It’s to connect and experience. To love and to share. To let ourselves be human even if that means being a little less efficient. To grow and flourish and be part of a world far, far larger than ourselves. The trick is to open our souls to the beauty and quit focussing on the negative. Every experience has both beauty and darkness, we just have to choose how we view it.
Unbelievably, once I’d grasped that little life lesson, the one that the mountain and the mists had been trying to force me to see all day, the mists cleared and the rain stopped. The vistas opened up and I could see the surrounding countryside. It was almost like nature said, “Ok, I see you heard my lesson. Now let me reward you with the best I have to offer.”
The world was once again a spectacular place. All that had changed was my control. I released control and leaned into the risk. I accepted both the beauty and the darkness, the risk and the reward, the chance of failure and the challenge.
I think that’s how any fairy tale works. You put in the effort, you show up, you handle the adversity, you don’t give up, you keep following your heart and your dreams… And then as any hero, you learn the lesson you were meant to learn, you recognize the moral of the story, and you have your eureka moment.