Pura vida: upon leaving home for the first time

Scintilla bonus prompt (from Saturday): Talk about a time when you left home.

Subtitle: why every high school and college student should travel overseas

She was seventeen, sort of confident, sort of not, but eager for adventure. She clutched a brand new passport in her hand and carried a backpack filled with notebook, books, camera and pens and a small suitcase filled with clothes. There were no cell phones in those days, or any other hand held technology. She didn’t have an e-mail account, but was already looking forward to receiving handwritten letters from home.

She was me, twenty years ago.  The first time I left home was to spend one month in Costa Rica. A driver welcomed me at the airport with a sign and a smile, and proceeded to weave in and out of brisk and moderately scary traffic until we arrived at my destination: a family home in a small town called Santa Ana. The family was friendly, kind, open to my questions and my hesitation as I stumbled over the language.

Monday through Friday I studied Spanish on a mountain top finca, a school/farm with an amazing view of the Santa Ana valley. Most of my classmates were college students. I was about to enter my senior year of high school. This situation was very attractive, and a little uncomfortable. We got to know one another quickly as we practiced Spanish and explored the community, enjoying gallo pinto and cerveza fria on hot nights.

I remember going out one evening to celebrate a local holiday, and perceived the magic of the town at twilight. Marimbas played lightly, their wooden bars struck just so for the rhythm to float through the air. We strolled freely while the men sipped sugarcane liquor and watched the people walk by. The colors, sounds and spices of the streets filled my heart. It was pura vida.

(Pura Vida literally means pura = pure and vida = life, but the real meaning is closer to “this is living!” or “cool!”)

It was summer time, but I doubt I brought sunscreen, preferring to darken my skin under the hot sun. The weather was sublime – warm, tropical, soft. On weekends we traveled to volcanoes, beaches. One week away from my family stretched into two, then three. Suddenly it was time to go home.

I returned home, a little wiser and a little older.

I hadn’t asked to go away. Instead, my father invited me to travel on his dime for the very first time and helped me secure my first passport. So let’s remind ourselves that I hadn’t said to my parents, “Guys, I’m going to go to a foreign country to study Spanish, drink my first shots of tequila, kiss a (gasp) college sophomore, and play the traveler – in a place where there’s no way you can truly know what I’m up to or how things are going until you get a post card stamped two weeks prior to its arrival on your door step”.

The next time I’d leave home, I did ask.

But I was careful to not to say to my parents, “Mom and Dad, now I’m going to go to Mexico to study Spanish (some more), sleep in a hammock on the beach, ride a horse in the jungle with a ten-year-old guide and no water, still never wear sunscreen, drink more than what is good for me, dance in local discos until 4 am, ask you to send me some more money, and spend far too much time with an unemployed but cute guy named Alvaro (who speaks excellent Spanish).”

Instead, I said, “Mom and Dad, I’m going to Mexico to study Spanish and anthropology at an excellent university in the Yucatan, live with a lovely and well respected family, and visit ancient ruins and apply that knowledge to future learnings and a brilliant and bilingual career.”

And I did all that, and a little bit more.

Though I didn’t ask to go on my first overseas trip, I’m certainly glad I had the opportunity. The memories created by leaving home stayed with me, and to this day I always look to the South when I want to get away. My time in Costa Rica inspired wanderlust in me, and for that I am ever grateful.

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3 thoughts on “Pura vida: upon leaving home for the first time

  1. My Homepage says:

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  2. jake klipp says:

    i run a gym out of milwaukee, wi called pura vida jiu jitsu. our instructor is from costa rica. i really like the flowery image you have on your page. is this something you own? if be really interested in putting it on some of our gear. please let me know who i can talk to about getting permission for that. thanks! great piece! jake klipp

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