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  • Writer's pictureElana

Pura Vida

Updated: Dec 25, 2018

My family has just returned from a week together in Costa Rica. You may or may not know that we’ve been there once before, about 10 years ago.

I’m going to share a very fun story from my past… from that trip. If you didn’t already know it, it will probably make you simultaneously laugh and roll your eyes at me. But I love it…

The first trip to Costa Rica was at a time in my life where I was feeling unhappy and confused. I was in a job at a consumer packaged goods company that I didn’t like, where I would get yelled at frequently by my boss for no reason whatsoever and then cry in the bathroom a lot. I was also in a relationship that had been going on for 4 years, but I had been trying to get out of for the past year. I had been living at home with my parents and had just signed a lease for my own apartment nearby. And then we went to Costa Rica.

Vacation happy is always such an unfair comparison against real life. I know this. But this trip changed me and set me on a different course than the one I was on. It’s not the last time that I drastically changed directions and ended up much happier because of it.

On this trip, my sisters and I were referred to by the staff as “the unit” because we were always together. This trip was the first time we all went diving together as the “von Zur Family Divers” or so we named ourselves. We went on excursions to see monkeys and go zip lining. In between beach lounging sessions, we also did a lot of activities, such as daily dance lessons, beach volleyball, or weird pool games (where my sister Jordana had to jump on the back of the most sunburnt man in the world. Aka “lobster man”).

The unit, in our matchy matchy outfits

Our whole clan, in the bus on our way to the resort

The most significant of these activities were the dance lessons (pronounced “lay-sons”). These lay-sons were taught by a man named Jorge, who was an excellent dancer and teacher… although he didn’t speak any English. He was frequently featured in the nightly entertainment as well as being the dance lesson instructor. Every day at a certain time it was dance lesson time and every time I was there, ready to dance. Salsa, merengue, cha-cha were all featured. I planned my days around these classes. And I swooned over dreamy Jorge, the dance instructor. A few times he chose me to demonstrate or be his partner during the lessons. He was an amazing dancer and leader who made me feel like an amazing dancer too (even though I had no idea what I was doing). A few nights, we hung out with the staff after the nightly entertainment and as the week went on, my bond with Jorge strengthened (with a little translation help from his friend). On our last day, after we checked out of our room, Jorge and I danced by the pool (not as part of a lesson) and he gave me a chocolate heart. It sounds silly now, looking back, but in the moment I was so in love. It was my very own Dirty Dancing love story. I was so upset to be leaving that I cried until I threw up. I cried the whole way home. I cried for days after we got home. I wasn’t only heartbroken by the lost potential love, but also because I really dreaded returning to real life… to a life I didn’t want.

In Costa Rica, they say “pura vida” which means “pure life”. I loved everything about their culture and mentality and certainly did not embody the meaning of “pura vida” in my own life back home. How could I feel so strongly for a man I had known for one week, who I couldn’t communicate with without a translator? And more importantly, how could I feel stronger feelings toward him than the man I was actually in a relationship with. I ended that relationship as soon as we got home. After buying a learn-to-speak-Spanish CD and creating a version of my resume that was meant for applying to resorts in Costa Rica, I got a new job in Toronto, cancelled the lease of my new apartment near home and moved to the big city. Several months later, I reconnected with an old friend who turned out to later become my husband. He happens to be of Caribbean descent … just sayin’. Pura Vida.

Dance lessons with Jorge

Hangin’ with Jorge on the beach

Fast forward 10 years. My family has grown from the original five to five plus spouses plus babies. Total of 11 people (so far). We rented a casa and cooked our own meals. We had a private pool and walked down (and back up) a big steep hill to get to the beach. We worked our play time around nap schedules, meals, and avoided being outside in the peak heat of mid-day. And this trip was equally amazing, equally fun, equally stinkin’ hot (a 38 degree day can be just plain unpleasant!), but in such different ways.

A different kind of unit, our little family on the plane getting ready for take-off

With 11 people, we needed our own bus to get to our Casa

Instead of “the unit” being matchy matchy, our husbands were

Hangin’ with my babe on the beach

The best part of this trip, aside from all being together all week, was that I was not upset in the least to be coming home. I was happy to be coming home. I wasn’t leaving my potential future behind me, I was bringing my future with me. What a great feeling to return from a vacation to a life that I love, full of people I love. Pura Vida!


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