When you land at the international airport in Alajuela, it is very possible the first words you will hear from a local is "Pura Vida". And, as you are destined to visit our hotel, the first Spanish words you will say are also likely to be the same - "Pura Vida" . . . as in "is this the free taxi to the Pura Vida Hotel?".
In your case you will be asking for the free taxi to the hotel, in their case they are probably saying "hi there!" or "great day isn't it!" or "so nice to see you!" or "see you later, friend!". Pura Vida is as close to the national motto as any phrase ever will be. If you want to see a Tico (local person) smile, just say "Pura Vida" and they will likely as not smile and say it back to you.
There are a number of explanations for the use of Pura Vida (literally "Pure Life") in the daily affairs of every Costa Rican. You will hear it over and over again as Ticos smile at meeting an old friend or as they say goodbye to a relative after Sunday lunch . . . "Pura Vida!". Pura Vida is unique to Costa Rica and it is probably the most used phrase of any . . . it is also the reason why there are 3 very different lodging places near the airport called Pura Vida Hotel (us), Pura Vida Spa (not us) and Pura Vida Motel (where beds are rented by the hour, also not us).
The explanation that you hear most often goes like this. Costa Ricans started using the expression "Pura Vida" after watching the premier of a Mexican movie called "Pura Vida" in 1956. We have another more interesting theory based on “chicken soup” (see below for our explanation). By 1970 everyone was using the expression on a daily basis because the words conveyed the state of happiness, peace, and tranquility that political stability, a small country and freedom bring to Costa Ricans.
This period (1970 onwards) was a time of enormous change in what was being laid down as the groundwork for one of the most critical of all advances in Costa Rica - the national park system. Poas Volcano, which you can see from the Pura Vida Hotel garden, was the first such park designated in 1971. Quite extraordinary to think that more than 25% of the country was protected in the 15 years that followed.
Nowadays, the expression "Pura Vida" has become so popular that it has been added to Costa Rican Spanish dictionaries as an idiom to greet, or to show appreciation. Pura Vida is a word that identifies a Costa Rican wherever he or she may be.
When you say "Pura Vida" the facial expression of the person changes and the person smiles. It is a word very meaningful to Costa Ricans. It reminds them of home and beauty and peace.
Now . . . about that chicken soup explanation.
Wiki says "Some foreigners view the phrase as an expression of a leisurely lifestyle, of disregard for time, and of wanton friendliness. However, Costa Ricans use the phrase to express a philosophy of strong community, perseverance, resilience in overcoming difficulties with good spirits, enjoying life slowly, and celebrating good fortune of magnitudes small and large alike."
What I thought I heard (but cannot google as yet) is that hundreds of years ago, the new Andalusian settlers realized that they were broke and starving in the New World. The Andalusians were the first real settlers after the mess the conquistadors made.
The Andalusians of Southern Spain had been attracted by posters on the walls of Seville (in the 1600's?) telling a special tale of potential in a small country with a Rich Coast. If they would come and colonize, they'd have "neither glory nor riches" but they could make an honest living without interference from conquistadors or papal edicts and no taxes for a few hundred years. And even if they did get a papal edict they could feel free to ignore it and same goes for oxcart driving. The downside, unlike the rest of centro america they'd not be able to accumulate any slaves and "there'd be no gold for the grabbing", the wall poster went on.
This attracted a certain kind of settler . . . a farmer, a small holder, a shopkeeper, a teacher, a lottery seller and such. They boarded the boats at Cadiz with their meager worldly possessions, some bags of rice and beans and a few tools and set sail for Limon. On landing they quickly hailed a taxi oxcarto and headed for the central valley, some stopping off to found Orosi and Turialba and others going on to the small settlement of a few thousand souls eking a living in San Jose (the progeny of future BN tellers and residents of my village) .
Along the way encampments were setup in the shade of Pejibaye palms (ask us about Pejibaye when you get here). The settlers decided to boil some water for tea. And, of course, a small bunch of ripe pejibaye happened to drop in the water. It didn't smell too good but they were hungry and fished a couple out to eat. Dipped in Mayo de Cadiz, they didn't taste too bad . . . but we digress.
The remainder became soup for the evening. And it was pretty OK. The next evening they found some veggies and threw them in to the soup and it tasted better. As time went on soup became a favorite at the end of the day just as dusk set. Over the years you could hear the locals declaring it "pretty darn good" in the local dialect of the day. In later years they experimented further and, after a hard day toiling in the camote fields, they'd come home to really good soup, toss in a camote and would declare it "the best thing!"
As time went on they decided to add chicken bones to get a better stock and this was to be declared and even better thing, "the best thing of the day!"
Progress came to the little villages of Turialba and the town of San Jose which periodically exchanged with Cartago to become the capitol of this outpost managed from Guatemala. Priests were occasionally sent down to try and figure out how to make a buck but most never reported back to home base. They stopped in San Ramon and Atenas and Alajuela and just loved the local soup and set up shop as chicken farmers and Jewish tailors (there is a degree of confusion in 17th century history in CR).
As the Andalusian settlers got better organized they moved from a subsistence level to something more settled, more pleasant. And then, on special occasions, they added a whole chicken to the soup . . . and it was declared "the best thing (perhaps ever)" . . . at the end of a hard days toil. Sitting back after a couple of platefuls you could hear it from the kitchen tables of San Carlos, Orosi, San Pedro and Heredia . . . the words that truly expressed the pleasurable contented peaceful family feeling . . . "Pura Vida!".
OK IMHO, Berni