My Lesson From the Blue Zone
This morning, as I was dicing fresh ginger and tumeric for a chickpea curry, I was transported back to a semi-cultivated garden I toured a couple weeks ago in Costa Rica. As we trekked through the plot on our way to a waterfall, the guides would point out interesting plants and invite us to taste the fruits and roots of what we encountered. It seemed that each description included the healing properties of the plants and it was this I was fondly remembering as I compared my small, rinsed tubers this morning with the muddy and generous roots from Costa Rica that seemed to grow with such wild abandon. Maybe by ingesting these roots I could summon up a little of that pura vida that I feel like I left back in the jungle.
The region of Costa Rica that I visited, the Nicola Peninsula, is one of five so-called Blue Zones in the world, regions that are characterized by widespread well-being and prolonged lifespans. Research has identified the commonalities of these five, very different, zones: plant-based diets, plentiful movement, strong social connections, and moderate alcohol intake are shared traits of these happy and long-lived cultures.
Based on my experience in Costa Rica, I think there is another, less tangible, characteristic.
A major storm devastated the area mere days before our scheduled arrival. Even after we were assured that the roads were passable and the resort was open for business, I feared the worst.
I need not have worried.
Although the destruction was evident in the flooded yards, potholed roads and washed-away concrete along bridges, the atmosphere was one of lighthearted determination, as people rallied to rebuild the infrastructure before the start of the official high season for tourism.
When asked, the people would speak about the enormity of this flood as compared to the usual deluges of the rainy season. They would describe what was lost and recount some of the more tragic stories. Yet in every retelling, I noticed that something was absent – there was no attachment to the story, no woe-is-me coming through in the tone. The destruction just was. It was a fact, something to be quickly accepted so that the work could begin.
The inhabitants of this peninsula have frequent training in the power of acceptance. Every year, the torrential rains wash away and the dry season scorches. Seismic activity reconfigures waterways and roadways and even reduces concrete to rubble. The wildlife frequently reminds the people that they are merely visitors, as evidenced by a matter-of-fact recounting from a woman about her dog being snatched off its leash by a crocodile.
Our resort had an amazing coffee and juice bar that seemed to be the local equivalent of a Starbucks, where people would bring their laptops and textbooks to work in a communal environment. Only in this coffee shop, the Wi-Fi was anything but a given, as the internet seemed as tempermental as a teenager. And when service was disconnected, the locals seemed to take that as a sign to simply relax for a few minutes or even an entire afternoon.
This attitude of acceptance permeated everything. The country is often described as “laid-back,” but that implies a sense of laziness that is certainly not evident. Instead, the people don’t waste their mental energy on “what ifs” and “why mes.” They reserve their energy and attention for appreciation of what they have and to shape those things they can change.
Pura vida, indeed, and a lesson we can all strive to be better at no matter where in world we reside.