Pura Vida…this term is spoken by everyone in Costa Rica from the cab drivers to the store owners and the surfers when parting ways after a surf session. Pura Vida translates to “Pure Life”…it’s on the tourist trinkets and towels and wooden spoons. The term seems ubiquitous throughout the country. Being a lifelong contrarian with reflexive opposition to any sort of group think, I want to write this slogan off as tourist propaganda. But I am wrong. It’s not a gimmick.
Pura Vida evokes a tranquil and content style of living that is mindful and relaxed, problems just melt away. There is very little violent crime. Nobody honks the horn when they get cut off which happens frequently in Jaco where there are no stop lights. Everyone is warm and welcoming. There is no point getting upset when issues arise. Be chill..Tranquilo….“Everything slows down when you arrive in Costa Rica” explains photography instructor Carlos Sanchez. He’s right. This doesn’t just apply to the locals, but also seems to apply to those visiting Costa Rica. Don’t expect a quick call back, nor be surprised when someone doesn’t show up on time, and don’t expect an apology for being late either. The country attracts people that seek and embrace this Pura Vida lifestyle. Sometimes they don’t realize it until they arrive, but it’s a very real mantra here and most people find this easy to embrace. It’s a relaxed way of life that is a significant contrast to lifestyles in most of the rest of the World.
Meet School of the World (SOTW) student, Tanay Segu. Tanay’s approach is the embodiment of the Pura Vida ethic. In some ways, Tanay is a pretty typical SOTW student. Tanay is athletic, open minded, and inquisitive. Tanay was born and raised in a Chitamani, India and just earned his Masters Degree in Financial Management from Middlesex University in London and Tanay plans to continue his studies with the goal of becoming a Certified Public Accountant. Tanay has a slight frame, dark skin, and an infectious smile that exudes genuine warmth and kindness. He wears collared shirts buttoned all the way up and the way he speaks reminds me of British royalty. However, he doesn’t just talk, Tanay is also a good listener. Tanay has vast knowledge about a wide variety of topics. He speaks German as well as English. He is a licensed yoga instructor and has traveled much of Europe. He seems to have the world on a string and his excitement and intellectual curiosity are infectious. He’s not arrogant and I doubt he has ever had an enemy nor been in a fistfight.
Tanay came to the SOTW on March 1st with plans to stay for one month to fulfill the dream of learning how to surf. He enrolled in surf classes which is two hours each day learning to surf in the Jaco waves. After two weeks, he was having so much fun that he also enrolled in Spanish classes for the remaining two weeks of his stay so he could better communicate with the locals and learn the culture. He fell in love with the SOTW. As the end of March drew near, Tanay’s funds were running low but he was about to go home – or so he thought.
There is no Indian embassy in Costa Rica and the closest one is in Panama. The other students left and the SOTW closed down and Tanay was stuck. The Indian consulate told him that he’s the ONLY Indian traveler in all of Central America so there’s no demand for flights to get him home. He could possibly go through Europe but India isn’t allowing flights from Europe either, so there is no easy solution to get him back home.
Tanay’s dad wired him some money and SOTW owners agreed to let him stay at the school for free given the situation. Tanay has become fast friends with Pedro who oversees the building and is the only other person that lives at the school during this pandemic.
So many people would blow a gasket in this situation. However, Tanay has embraced the Pura Vida spirit of Costa Rica and he is making the most of this adventure. His family wants him home and he would like to get home, but this is an unprecedented situation. Sadly, the COVID-19 virus is rapidly spreading in India, and we still don’t know how this will all play out.
Rather than wringing his hands all day and being upset about the situation, Tanay has become good friends with the SOTW surf instructors, and they go on daily excursions together to explore the Costa Rican countryside. Tanay is taking advantage of this unique opportunity to make this one of the most memorable experiences of his life.
Shane: Tell me about your experience first arriving at the SOTW.
Tanay: When I first arrived, the school was full. There were students from all over including Canada, Israel, Switzerland, Germany, and England.
Shane: No Americans?
Tanay: Oddly not but it was incredible meeting people from so many different cultures and walks of life. The second day I was here, we had a huge potluck dinner at the school, and we all made friends and then walked down to the bars in Jaco afterwards. It was an incredible experience. I immediately felt comfortable here.
Shane: How did surf lessons go?
Tanay: Some days the surf instructor Ivan would be teaching me and other days Estaban was my instructor. I was actually riding waves on my very first day so I picked it up quickly with instruction. It was really helpful having two different instructors since they each had slightly different ways of teaching. The first week, my balance on the board was problematic but that improved each day with practice. Four hours a day is a lot of surfing and it was exhilarating. Every Wednesday morning, we’d watch videos of us catching waves so we could see what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong. Each week, I could see my improvement and that was really helpful. Having so much professional instruction made all the difference.
Shane: Tell me about Spanish lessons.
Tanay: After being here for a little over a week, I decided I wanted to learn Spanish and signed up for two weeks of Spanish classes. It was so much more than just taking a class. We went on different activities which were super interesting. We spoke no English in class, so it was full immersion. One day, we went to buy fruits and vegetables at a local market. Another day, we took a trip up into the mountains to experience the jungle. Another time, we cooked “Gallo Pinto”, which is a traditional breakfast dish of black beans and rice mixed together. During each of these excursions we learned Spanish words and Costa Rican culture.
Shane: Tell me about what happened when the COVID-19 epidemic took hold.
Tanay: There were 20-25 students here for the first part of March so the school was totally full when the COVID-19 epidemic was initially taking hold. All of the students were talking about it and we were a little nervous, but we didn’t really know what was going to happen. A few of the students left on the weekend of March 13-15th for fear of what was happening with the virus. However, we were still surfing and taking classes like normal.
Then it started getting intense….the Costa Rican government declared a State of Emergency on Monday, March 16th restricting all non Costa Rican citizens from entering the country. The first person died in Costa Rica of COVID-19 two days later on Wednesday the 18th. We came back after the first surf session on Thursday morning the 19th, and Julia told us that the second surf session was cancelled and that the government had ordered all schools to close.
Everyone started calling frantically to try to move up their flights or to book an emergency “Rescue” flight out of the country. Flights were cancelled and I’d sit on hold on the phone for hours at a time and then they still wouldn’t have a solution for me. A lot of us were calling the embassies to try to find a way out. It was chaotic and very frustrating. All beaches were closed a few days later on March 23rd and a strict 7pm driving curfew was instituted. A nice German couple Max and Nikki took the 1.5hr cab ride all the way to the airport and their flight was cancelled at the last minute and they had to pay to come all the way back to the school. It was a weird feeling not knowing what was going to happen and how we would get home.
Shane: How many students were still at the school?
Tanay: There were 13 students remaining but seven of them left the weekend the beaches closed. That left the German couple Max and Nikki, a really fun Israeli German guy named Mohammed, Michelle from Canada, Melanie from Switzerland, and me. So we were six students and the SOTW program coordinator Julia from Switzerland, a total of seven people.
Shane: What was that like? It sounds like a reality show with an ever shrinking cast.
Tanay: Perhaps but we actually had a blast. It was a really good group of people and the surf instructors Ivan, Yogi, and Cristian would come hang out with us. We had a full week together where nobody left and so we started a really fun daily routine. I’d lead a 90 minute yoga class to start off each morning and Julia would follow up with a 60 minute surfboard balancing class after that. We’d have full participation and it was a lot of fun. That would wear us out.
We’d then take lunch and have drinks and play cards and darts all afternoon. Most evenings, we’d hike to el Miro or another vista area where we could watch the sunset together. It was quite nice.
On the last weekend of March, Mohammed, Max & Nikki caught a flight back to Germany and Michelle went home to Canada. That left Melanie, me and Julia and then they both booked a flight back home to Switzerland. It was Melanie’s birthday party the day before she was flying home and she was so sad to be leaving. Even with all of the stress, she loved SOTW and Costa Rica and didn’t want to leave. All bakeries were closed so we had some bread and we drizzled honey all over it and stuck a candle in it and the few of us remaining sang happy birthday to her. It was a little bit sad to be honest since we knew we were all parting ways but we made the best of it.
Shane: And that left you all alone…and you’ve been the only student remaining at the school for the last 60+ days. What is that like?
Tanay: It’s not ideal but I am fine. India isn’t even letting Indian citizens back into the country right now. The embassy in Panama is the closest embassy and the Indian consulate told me that I am the only Indian traveler that is stuck in all of Central America. I wondered if I should be proud of this fact or I am really not sure how to think of it. There are a few Indian people that have settled here but very few Indian people visit here and they even told me that I was the first Indian tourist in all of Costa Rica in 2020 which was quite surprising.
Now I am a guest of the house. The house is SOTW of course. The owner Falcon was so kind to allow me to stay here at no cost until I can find my way home.
Shane: What are you doing with your time?
Tanay: The SOTW surf instructors are very nice and two of them have become very good friends – Cristian and Yogi. The three of us go hiking six or seven hours at a time most days and other times we go mountain biking or jogging in the jungle up high in the mountains. We cook meals together and sometimes catch a sunset. Lately, I’ve been on a big jogging kick and have been running twice a day. I don’t like to be confined to an indoor space especially here since Costa Rica is such a beautiful country to explore. I’m grateful for my new friends and I am making the best out of a tricky situation.
Shane: What’s your exit strategy? How are you going to get home?
Tanay: I’m not sure. I’d be willing to take a boat even but they still probably won’t take me in. A vaccine would be nice!
Shane: So you’re stuck…yet you are smiling. Maybe Costa Rica will give you an honorary dual citizenship for being so chill about it all. Pura Vida. Your attitude in the face of adversity is commendable. Do you have any life advice to share?
Tanay: Being in your early 20’s is a unique time in your life so take advantage of it. Travel as much as you can. See as many different cultures as you can. Get to know people from around the world and learn as much as you can from them and their culture. Travel Travel Travel!
*Tanay is still lampooned at the school. We will update the story as it develops.*
Words by: Shane Matteson. Shane is a small business owner, avid environmentalist, and proud father. Shane is a former student at the SOTW and is currently loving life living in Playa Hermosa eagerly waiting for the quarantine to lift so he can surf daily for the first time in his life.