Two years ago, 110-year-old Maria Francisca Castillo Carrillo died (her name was a bit long and complicated so everyone called her Panchita). A few months earlier, I met her when I visited the blue zone on the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica. Blue zones are places where you would have the highest chance of living to 100 years old, and other such zones are located on the Japanese island of Okinawa, on the Greek Island of Ikaria and in the Sardinian mountains.
I have visited all these blue zones and interviewed both researchers and elders, always surprised by the well-being, energy and health of the elderly living in the blue zones. The most alert of all was Panchita. For more than 60 years, she had lived in a wooden shed in the tropical forest. She shared the house with her oldest son Pablo, 93, who would soon move out to live with his new girlfriend.
A large number of seniors are aging with a combination of vision loss and hearing loss, and most of the 110-year-olds that I have met get tired in social situations. Panchita, however, was full of energy and did not look a day over 75. She could easily talk for an hour about everything from the story of her life to politics. Turned out, Panchita was a feminist who never married because she despised the macho culture in Costa Rica. “Men are much better nowadays”, she explained.
In order not to become the husband’s property, her lovers were the fathers of her five children. Exactly how many descendants she had, she did not know. Last time someone counted there were 165 children, grandchildren and, believe it or not, great-great-grandchildren’s children.
Panchita had also served as the village’s medicine woman. She prescribed traditional herbal medicines, a knowledge that had been inherited for generations.
So what did she eat for breakfast, I asked? Here is Panchita’s daily breakfast. Unfortunately, the ingredients are not always easy to find outside her Costa Rican forest.
- 2 oranges
- Costa Rican sweet lemon (I would compare it to the bergamot orange, grown in France and northern Italy)
- Zapotillo tea (also sapodilla) – the tea is made from both the green fruits, the bark and the leaves, and is used to treat everything from cough to gastrointestinal disorders. Seems to be available online.
- A little bit of strawberry yogurt. Homemade.