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Opinion: Physical activity preserves mental health

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“Sabbaticals for everyone.”

You don’t hear that phrase slung around the office. Sounds more like the basis of a reality TV show following high-ranking executives on their time off. Has network TV really digressed that much?

I’ve never taken a sabbatical from work, but I’ve just spent almost two weeks out of the office. In fact, I was out of the country on a work and witness trip to Costa Rica.

In a sense, it was a short sabbatical in that I rested my mind most of the time. This trip was about physical labor, and I got my share swinging a hammer, sawing lumber, wielding a 35-pound demolition hammer and steering a gasoline tamper.

Getting my head out of the grind of American business was refreshing. Getting another country’s perspective on life and culture was enlightening.

I came home with some takeaways and comparisons that I just can’t shake, and that alone made the trip worthwhile, not to mention the construction work we performed on a two-story church addition.

Postal perspective
When I left for Costa Rica, Springfield Business Journal had just published another story on the U.S. Postal Service’s consideration of consolidating Springfield’s mail processing center. In some circles, the USPS is now a four-letter word. During our time in Liberia, Costa Rica, I became grateful for the USPS because there was no apparent dependable form of mailing letters in the country known as the Switzerland of Central America. There are no street signs or house numbers, and three of the four people we asked (via a translator) had no clue about the nearest post office. Our hosts told us sending a post card back to the states could take a week or a month, give or take. Mail delivery in Costa Rica is more like going on a treasure hunt, with landmarks and written directions the official way to communicate Point A to Point B. Sure seems like a task better suited for mind-readers than official postmen.

Coffee foundations
Coffee and Costa Rica go hand-in-hand. During a tour of the Doka Estate in the region around the Poás Volcano, I discovered that if you drink coffee from Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts or Green Mountain, you’ve likely tasted beans grown from these very plantations. The 4,000-acre Doka Estate sells 70 percent of its beans to those companies. Now, Starbucks and others employ their own proprietary roasting methods to create signature blends. Doka also is home to the unique peaberry coffee bean. Most coffee pods contain two or three beans. Pods with only one bean are called peaberries, and they are said to have a richer, sweeter flavor. I’d have to agree.

American influence
There are many U.S. companies that have made in-roads with Costa Ricans. Wal-Mart Stores last year invested roughly $160 million in opening 24 stores in Costa Rica; KFC, Burger King and Taco Bell – complete with nachos served with french fries – are in mall food courts and on busy street corners; and Coca-Cola and Gatorade commonly refresh the natives, aka Ticos. With all the emphasis on coffee, though, Starbucks is curiously absent. That’s about to change. Starbucks has plans in May to open its first Costa Rican coffee shop. Locals, who naturally tend to lean toward the coffee snob side, seem perturbed that the coffee Starbucks plans to serve won’t be 100 percent Costa Rican. Following Starbucks processing patterns in the 50 countries it operates, any Costa Rican-grown coffee will be exported to the states for roasting, blending and packaging.

Pura Vida
A couple of years ago, building and operating zip line courses in southwest Missouri became all the rage. Five zip line courses were created in the Ozarks in 2010. While we reported on it, the canopy tours here never interested me to the point of spending the cash to go zipping around the Ozarks hills – and billboards. When given the option to go zip lining in Costa Rica, always take it. Our tour, which included a Tarzan swing and a Superman glide the length of six football fields laying flat on our bellies, was more than worth the $57 per person for our group. There were 12 cables ranging from 115-feet to 350-feet high and running lengths of 160 feet to 1,800 feet. Gliding like a bird hundreds of feet above the rainforest valley and snaking river below better explained the meaning of the country’s motto – Pura Vida, or pure life.

Reminding me that I’m never too far from home, Elton John and Will Smith were in Costa Rica during my stay. Sir Elton performed his first concert in Costa Rica, naturally in the capital city of San José, and the Fresh Prince was filming M. Night Shyamalan’s “After Earth,” due out in 2013.

I spotted neither of them, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Either way, it’s nice to be back in business.

Springfield Business Journal editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.[[In-content Ad]]

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