The Simple Life, Costa Rica style

Lindsay Nelson

No hot water. No air-conditioning; only an outdated, rickety fan in the corner re-circulating the 90-degree air. The room is consumed with two double beds, dressed with one thin, scratchy sheet and a single pillow.

Not the Four Seasons, but it was called “moderate” in the Lonely Planet Guide to Costa Rica.

Over winter break I embarked on a vacation to Central America. I borrowed a traveler’s backpack and filled it beyond capacity.

I felt like a true backpacker, although the eight swimsuits and dozen pair of earrings probably weren’t appropriate. I didn’t see a hair dryer for 10 days. I learned to embrace the humidity and rediscovered my naturally curly hair.

Everyone bombarded me with skepticism and layman’s advice (i.e., don’t bring your cell-phone, or high-heels). I still maintained reservations about how broad my “roughing-it” zone actually was.

As it turns out, roughing-it was a misnomer. During that week and a half, the lessons learned reached far beyond the scope of surviving with one pair of sandals and 10 uses for a swimsuit. It was an eye-opening experience to other parts of the world, but even more so into my own way of life.

Three days into our trip we arrived by bus into Tamarindo: a popular surf spot and lively little town. We met an American who owned a local bookstore, and he offered to rent us his apartment.

Within 10 minutes of meeting us, he relinquished his keys and gave no mention of money. He apologized for the towels not being fresh and said goodbye with the national slogan, “Pura Vida!”

Never have I been more excited – to jump into a stranger’s shower and borrow his used bath towel.

The apartment was small, there were no closets and a few cupboards for storage. Shocked at his willingness to trust us with his possessions, I quickly realized he had few to lose.

There were no sentimental nick-knacks, shoeboxes filled with old ticket stubs, or expensive gadgets. No microwave, iron, extra linens, or a surplus of stuff underneath his bathroom sink. This USC graduate only owned two towels! All I could think was, ‘How could he live like this?’

After I returned home to my comfortable downtown apartment and two overstuffed closets filled with clothes, it dawned on me. I browsed through my house and counted 22 towels and two ironing boards. My shower boasted four types of shampoo, three conditioners and two bottles of body wash.

As a culture we overwhelm our lives with “stuff.” We are desperate to give ourselves a choice for everything, even when it comes to which type of soap to use. There is a constant reminder to improve and upgrade what we already use or own, all in pursuit of a simpler life.

When every aspect of life includes a choice, what we want to use today is often buried under what we might use next winter.

After returning home I realized there were so many things I could comfortably live without. Cold showers suddenly felt nice in the hot afternoons and my backpack would’ve been much lighter minus the ‘just in case’ items.

Back in Santa Barbara, it was time to purge some of my worldly possessions here at home. Traveling has given me the opportunity to experience first hand the beauty of life without excess.

Perhaps it is by no coincidence that “Pura Vida” means the “Pure Life.”