If there is one thing that has kept me going, it is Pura Vida. This is a phrase traditionally said in Costa Rica that roughly translates to, “pure life,” and can be used in a variety of situations. It can be used while greeting locals, while leaping off of a bridge during an intense bungee jumping session, while surfing the blue waters of Manuel Antonio beach, or while zip lining across a dense cloud forest. In fact, screaming “Pura Vida” at the top of your lungs is encouraged by many Costa Ricans, and further emphasizes their love for life, and doing what makes you happy.
Latin Americans know how and when to enjoy their food, and they wont let you forget it. My first year traveling in Ecuador, I noticed that my family would spend a minimum of an hour at the table after a meal, conversing and sharing stories. My stepbrother realized my dazed attitude towards the conversation and promptly asked me what the word for “sobremesa” was in English. I then had to explain that American culture did not have an appreciation for after-dinner conversation, and that it was simply called, “sitting at the table after a meal and chatting.” A sobremesa after dinner seemed to bring the family closer together, and led to valuable connections that I would have never made if I had not been obligated to chat with other members of the table.
Dance like no one is watching!
This one is a given, and you understand what I mean if you have ever walked through any city, small or large, in Latin America: music is everywhere! It’s nearly impossible for me to take a nice stroll without the urge to break out into song and dance, especially while walking past shopping districts that play loud music to attract customers. I recall dancing in bathrooms, restaurants, discotecas, in the backs of pickup trucks, in the waiting room of an adventure tour lobby, on the beach, and even at gas stations. Latin music has an intriguing appeal to it, and if you have never heard a little salsa or bachata I suggest you re-think your life aspirations. Music is a very important (and fun) part of the Latin American culture, and if you look hard enough you will find someone to teach you a few moves. Dance like no one is watching, because if you’re lucky, no one is!
Being on time is not that important.
American society places a large focus on the timeliness of activities we partake in, and arriving late is seen as unacceptable. Unfortunately, at least for me, this adds a layer of unneeded stress. Luckily, other parts of the world have a different perspective of how time should be spent. It is seen as socially acceptable to miss an event or arrive extremely late to said event if another event of greater importance has popped up en route to the first event. Of course, if you have a private date scheduled, it is not as acceptable to stand someone up. (Common sense people!) Believe it or not, if a party invitation tells you the party starts at 10:30, do not expect guests to start showing up until 12 or 1 am! Birthday parties are also one to watch out for- the “party” begins the night before the cumpleañero turns a year older, and the fiesta actually begins at midnight. A mariachi band may or may not be included, but karaoke — and good friends — are always mandatory.