“La Vida Pura” and other Helpful Costa Rican Phrases

La Pura Vida

It’s helpful to learn a local catchphrase when you’re traveling. For example, tourists visiting Detroit should learn how to say “Just take the money! Don’t shoot!” before leaving the crumbling ruins of their hotel. I don’t know exactly where people yell “YOLO!” but apparently that’s a thing. Maybe in Boulder, Colorado while rock climbing? Or “YOLO!” might be what Millennials yell before they mug people in Detroit.

Here in Costa Rica the phrase of the land is “La Vida Pura.” This translates directly as “the pure life.” That sounds hokey, but keep in mind Costa Ricans live in a laid-back eco-utopia (at least in the tourist strongholds up in the mountains, where I am.) Based on context, I think “the pure life” means breathing fresh air, valuing friendship and recreation over ambition, and also wandering around poking sloths with sticks. People here are very friendly, and refreshingly unconcerned with getting exact change or receiving it promptly. Last night I had to remind the lodge I’m staying at that I hadn’t paid for dinner three times before I finally convinced them I should fork over cash. People are too busy living la vida pure to get caught up in the rat race.

Be careful though, because “la vida punta” apparently means “the whore life.” Which I’m kind of interested in finding out about, but I’ve now been told repeatedly has nothing to do with the organic coffee farms, zip line industry, or sloth racing wildlife which adorn Costa Rica.

I found this out from a helpful tour guide earlier today, who taught me several useful local idioms, then additional idioms which sound similar but are actually nicknames for “vagina.” He told me all of these false cognates straight-faced, as a warning, as if I might inadvertently try to buy one of their avocados the size of a microwave but say “Vagina vagina vagina” instead by accident. Which would be easy, apparently, due to just how many words in colloquial Spanish are euphemisms for lady parts.

Incidentally, teaching me a Spanish phrase, then warning me not to say that exact phrase but with a slightly different vowel, has the interesting effect of negating both. I cannot remember a single useful local maxim or a nickname for vaginas. So things could get really difficult for me if I decide to stay here and become a gynecologist.

I took Spanish in high school and college, but have not advanced much in linguistics since then. It’s trickling back a little at a time, in between douses of rum, but I’m not going to jump into any complex geopolitical discussions in Spanish anytime soon. (I would, of course, inadvertently discuss female anatomy.) For instance, I can’t remember how to say “said” in Spanish. I think maybe it’s “veer,” except past tense, so “vea.” But it’s one of those weird words I had to do worksheets for, which means it’s probably some screwball thing like “veo” or “veogasa” or “vagina.” Thus I rely on a lot of pointing and smiling to communicate here.

Also, what does “el Diablo Blanco” mean and why does everybody keep calling me that?

I assume it means “Revered One.”

Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.