I decided to unpack all my bags for the first time since we left San Francisco four months ago. I feel like living for a while in Santa Teresa, a lovable beach town in a remote part of Costa Rica. Emptying the bags is a very symbolic gesture and I savor this ritual marking my transition back from nomadic to sedentary lifestyle. The scent of aged blue cheese reaches my nostrils: mold. The wise microorganism picked the items I won’t ever use in a subtropical climate: a down jacket, fancy city shoes and a soft shell windbreaker. When I packed these, ages ago, I thought them necessary but experience now exposes their superfluous nature.
I wash the tainted clothes with hot water and hang them to dry in the morning breeze. Pete, the local pool expert, is fixing the damage done by last night’s fierce rainstorm – the most violent this year – which turned most of the town’s crystal water pools into brown mud ponds. “Clothes get moldy here. There’s no escaping it, you just have to accept it!” says Pete. “We get so much humidity and heat that most things deteriorate twice as fast as anywhere else. Look at this house: they finished building it less than 3 months ago!” He is right: although the building is recent, it doesn’t seem new. Heavy rains and scorching sun already took a toll. Stains indicate water leaks. Wooden window frames don’t slide easily – probably expanding and contracting to the rhythm of moisture and temperature changes. The brand new oven Made in Italy stubbornly refuses to work. A few days ago we met a landlord who re-paints all his rental homes every year after the rainy season. Following his inspiration, he tries a new color every time!
Contemplating the mud pool, the water-stained house and my moldy clothes, I am reminded of a simple truth: all material things are ephemeral. A reality so easy to forget when you live in a European or American city amidst old buildings, cocooned in the comfort of your home, surrounded by fancy furniture and modern appliances, cradled in the illusion that success in life is measured by how much stuff you own. But here, in a hidden piece of paradise between Ocean and jungle, the illusion is much harder to believe: you can almost watch things decay with enough patience. Ticos, as the Costa Ricans like to call themselves, live a very simple life. It has a name – “Pura Vida” – two words you hear dozens of times each day. It is a state of mind: live simply, have fun with friends and family, enjoy and respect nature.
Ironically while homes, cars, appliances and even computers in the Nicoya peninsula see their life span drastically shortened, the place is also one of the planet’s few “Blue Zones” where people live longer than anywhere else, a breeding ground for centenarians. A Costa Rican man at age 60 has about twice the chance of reaching age 90 as does a man living in the United States, France, or even Japan. Scientists explain this with a list of 10 to 20 reasons… which means they really don’t understand. I firmly believe that the “Pura Vida” spirit helps Ticos avoid stress and live longer, happier lives. Could the secret of happiness and longevity simply be to focus on being instead of having?