South of the equator in Ecuador, in the rugged Andes mountains near the border with Peru, lies the valley of Vilcabamba.
South of the equator in Ecuador, in the rugged Andes mountains near the border with Peru, lies the valley of Vilcabamba. It is a place that has been singled out by nature for special privileges - indeed to some people it is a sacred valley because its climate is equable - all the year round it stays between 18 and 25 degrees Centigrade (64.4 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit), its air clean and pure, its vegetation lush and varied and its people almost unbelievably healthy and long-lived.
SYNOPSIS: Visitors to Vilcabamba have to pass through the valley of Kenara and Palmira. Many claim that there is "something special" about the area and yet its inhabitants are in many respects like millions of poor country-folk everywhere - hard working, uncomplicated and relatively serene. They live hard, sparse lives and as far as earthly goods are concerned they are well below the poverty line.
Jose Maria Roa is 126 years old and like everyone in his village he has worked strenuously for survival all his life. Yet, in common with the extraordinarily high proportion of centenarians and over living in the region, he seems to have been blessed with a special brand of gentility - a freedom from the corrosive effects of hatred, violence and competition.
The road to Vilcabamba has been improved recently - but the people still live mostly in reed and mud huts and there is no plumbing, electricity, telephones, newspapers, restaurants, hotels, television or radio.
But men like Augustin Reinoso aged 138, care little for the trappings of the 20th century. They treat the doctors, journalists and sight-seers who find their way into the valley with polite tolerance - and attribute their long and healthy lives to the many medicinal herbs that grow on the surrounding hillsides. Recently an Italian scientific mission, headed by Dr. Luciano Sdraffa, undertook a study of Vilcabamba's "viejos" and found that all of them were completely free from any signs of heart diseases, had normal blood pressure and showed no indications of being susceptible to diabetes.
Senor Reinoso's birth certificate - he was born on the 11th of May 1838 and has lived happily ever since without the benefit of medical check-ups. Doctors who visit Vilcabamba and examine its inhabitants are interested in knowing if factors common to exceptional longevity can be identified.
But the "viejos" say that although the doctors are curious about their fit bodies, they themselves are more interested in the human heart. Their society is oriented towards the mystical, the religious and the romantic. Some of the man compose poetry and say that love gives "spirit" to their lives, while 90-year-old women talk without embarrassment of the happiness that comes from lying in the arms of the man they love.
Senora Mendoza aged 100 - convincing the Italian team that her hearing is still perfect. In 1969 an Ecuadorian medical mission reported that they found the people of Vilcabamba "amazing" and concluded that the valley was indeed a natural island of immunity from the physical and psychological problems that shorten lives elsewhere. A comparative youngster, Manuel Pating aged 90, walks home after a day's work in the fields with his family.