…and Ni Sa Bula Vinaka… or Aloha…
If there were just one phrase to evoke Costa Rica it would be ¡Pura Vida!
“What does it mean?” you ask.
Well, it’s roughly the equivalent of bula bula! (pronounced mboola mboola) – or more formally – ni sa bula vinaka! (pronounced nee-sahm-boola-vee-nahka!) in Fijian.
“Thanks for nothing!” you say if you’ve never visited Costa Rica or the Fiji islands. How about Aloha from Hawaii?
There’s something about the most laid back beautiful tropical places on earth that bring words like these into the lexicon and they all have somewhat vague but similar meanings.
Literally “pura vida” translates from Spanish to English as “pure life,” but it can mean much more than that. Like it’s south Pacific cousin, bula, it can mean hello, goodbye, good luck, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, now this is living, “that’s life” with a shrug, and even gesundheit depending on the context.
When we hear Ticos use it we insert the literal translation and it always seems to fit.
Another phrase you won’t find in dictionaries but you may hear in Costa Rica with the general meaning of “good” or “it’s all good” is “tuanis.” Its usage becomes clear when you understand its origin in a sort of Central American version of pig Latin.
In the 1800’s a Salvadorean general (who later became president) named Francisco Malespín was concerned that his messages were being intercepted by spies and created a simple code where a=e, i=o, b=t, m=p, f=g, and p=m. Thus, buenos (the plural of good) becomes “tuanis.”
All these phrases are being absorbed by global pop-culture, utilized as marketing slogans by the tourism boards of their respective countries, and converted into trademarks for clothing companies (bula fashions are a little bizarre because they specialize in snowboard apparel…), but we like the original spirit of well wishes and can’t resist saying ¡Pura Vida! for now