How Snorkeling Changed My Perception of Hardship

Costa Rica, although it is only about the size of West Virginia, is a country teeming with life. During a snorkeling excursion off the Caribbean coast in Cahuita National Park, I had the pleasure of witnessing firsthand the biodiversity the country has to offer.

During the first five minutes of my snorkeling adventure, I felt like I was drowning. Adjusting a mask with my hands while treading water with my flipper-adorned feet proved to be more difficult than I had imagined. My vision blurred as my mask filled with seawater, and when I gasped for air, I inhaled only a salty brine. The ocean seemed to laugh as the current pulled me in all directions and wave after wave rose to slap me across the face.  In that moment of chaos, I understood that one of us would have to surrender the fight. It would clearly not be the ocean.

Dreading the swim of shame back to the boat, I chose to surrender differently. Floating on my back long enough to pull the straps of the mask taut, I took several deep breaths before turning face down in the waves. I stopped fighting and left my fate to the push and pull of the sea. What followed was the most peaceful swim of my life.

Just under the surface of the water lay an awesome display of movement and color. Fish of all kinds floated in and out of my frame of view. While moments before I had been in a state of alarm, I began to breathe slowly enough to be able to take in the beauty of the reef. For the next hour, I enjoyed my little adventure, allowing the current to take me wherever it pleased.

There is a certain futility in battling mother nature. No matter the circumstance, her raw, untamable power will always win. In the same way that a single stream of water can carve out a continent or the steady crashing of waves can reduce a boat to rubble, nature will always run its course. The people of Costa Rica have always recognized not only the sanctity of the environment but also the power it holds.

Girl sitting on edge of boat shipwrecked on Costa Rican beach
The wreckage of an old ship on the Caribbean coast, in the process of being reclaimed by the sea
Girl standing in front of waterfall in Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica
A “catarata” (waterfall) in the famous Manuel Antonio National Park. The stones were smooth from years of erosion by the water

The term “Pura Vida” or “pure life” holds itself at the very core of the Costa Rican identity. Through my adventures in Costa Rica, snorkeling, and otherwise, I have come to understand what “Pura Vida” truly means. The tides of life will always bring hardship along with blessings, but it is how we view them that matters. Sometimes it can be tempting to hold our heads up high in opposition to struggle, slowly drowning ourselves in worry and panic. As for me, I chose to slow down, take a breath, and enjoy the beauty that comes with each obstacle. Though I might have sore legs and a bit of a sunburn to show for it, from now on I plan to go wherever the tide takes me, and I know it will be worth it every time.

Quote painted on wall: Conserva lo que tienes, olvida lo que te duele, lucha por lo que quieres, valora lo que posees, perdona a los que te hieren y disfruta a los que te aman
A mantra painted on the wall of a restaurant in Puerto Viejo is an explanation of Pura Vida. It reads: Keep what you have, forget what pains you, fight for what you love, value what you have, forgive those who hurt you, and enjoy those that love you.

Darcy Adreon is a student at the University of Kentucky and an ISA Identity & Inclusion Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in San Jose, Costa Rica

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