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Adventurer seeks deeper meaning of ‘pura vida’

October 11, 2011

Richard Bangs is one of Costa Rica’s biggest fans. The Washington, D.C., native has visited the country 12 times since the 1970s and recently featured it in his adventure travel series, “Adventures with Purpose.” The series is distributed by American Public Television and focuses on “travel that makes a difference and positively impacts the world” by seeking ecological problems and solutions.

The series’ most recent episode is titled “Quest for Pura Vida” and was filmed over the course of 16 days in some of Costa Rica’s most biologically diverse locations, including Corcovado National Park on southwestern Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, the Monteverde cloud forest in north-central Costa Rica, and Tortuguero National Park on the northern Caribbean coast.

A crew of Costa Rican photographers, guides, park rangers and video producers, including Roberto Miranda, accompanied Bangs on his expedition.

“Richard Bangs has made many good friends here,” Miranda said. “He is a person who truly knows Costa Rica.”

Bangs maintains that Costa Rica gives him “a sense of well-being felt few places on earth,” but Costa Rica’s natural wonders also dealt Bangs and the crew a few challenges. Executive producer John Givens pointed out that the humidity and heat were problematic for sensitive camera equipment. But Bangs said the most difficult part of filming the episode didn’t happen until he arrived back at the Small World Travel production offices in Seattle, Washington.

“My biggest concern was how to squeeze all the amazing stories and all the wonder of Costa Rica into a one-hour film. It deserves a miniseries,” Bangs said. “We managed to wrestle down the footage into something that works, but the cutting room floor was knee-deep in incredible footage.” 

The final product is a fast-paced, adventure-packed episode that runs 50 minutes. The episode premiered in Costa Rica Sept. 1 to a full house at San José’s Sala Garbo theater. The episode’s U.S. premiere took place Sept. 13 at The Explorers Club in New York City.

Rocío Echeverri, executive director of the Costa Rican nonprofit organization Pro-Parques, traveled with Bangs during filming and helped organize the San José premiere.

“I feel honored to be a part of it and to know that we helped make it possible. It’s not only the national parks that people will be seeing. When 650 PBS stations are broadcasting this, the people will see the parks, but they will remember that all of this beauty is here in Costa Rica,” Echeverri said. 

Echeverri pointed out that one-quarter of Costa Rica’s land is environmentally protected. Bangs praised this fact and included it in the film’s introduction by asking viewers this question: “How did Costa Ricans fend off the miners, loggers, farmers, burners, developers and others who have felled and flattened rain forests around the world? How did they trick time?”

Bangs tries to answer that question in the film, in addition to trying to define the meaning of “pura vida,” Costa Rica’s quintessential catchphrase.

“I’m still questing,” Bangs said. “‘Pura vida’ is one of those elusive constructs that I’m not sure you ever really grasp; it’s more of a feeling.”

Interestingly enough, Bangs said his favorite place in Costa Rica is the arrivals hall at Juan Santamaría International Airport outside San José.

“That’s where I feel like I am about to step into a glorious dream,” he said.

For a preview of “Quest for Pura Vida” and to download a list of stations airing the program, go to Bangs’ website at www.richardbangs.com.

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