THE OLDEST MAN IN THE WORLD - A LIVING LEGEND
Frasquia, Bolivia - Monday November 11, 2013
Note: not to be reprinted without permission. By Terry Sebastian.
In a dilapidated straw-roof mud-hut with a dirt floor lives a man named Carmelo Flores Laura. He was born in 1890 in a remote tiny village that hugs the Bolivian Andes, over 4000 msl far, far away from civilization.
Carmelo, who is 123 years-old, shows no signs of fading in spite of living for over a century in the most extreme conditions.
What are his secrets?
Certainly drinking the pure glacier water that flows from the nearby snow-capped Andes has added to his longevity, along with eating Quinoa without any processed foods. One of his favourite snacks is dried pig stomach. His traditional Andean diet also includes chewing coca leaves which are rich in nutritional properties.
Life certainly wasn't easy growing up in Bolivia when he was a youngster. "Kids in the country were not allowed to study. I wanted to be educated, it's my only regret in life but at that time one could be killed for not working the fields," he states.
Although there are very few children in the village of Frasquia, things may have not changed that much in rural Bolivia where an estimated 250,000 children under the age of 14 are put to work on farms or on city streets.
After a rough childhood Flores fought and survived the brutal Chaco war against Paraguay in 1933, but is something he's forgotten, "except for surviving on eating skunks."
"I still have many dreams but due to my age, the only things I do now are look after my chickens and keep active by walking everyday."
If you do walk around the barren landscape in Frasquia there isn't much to look at, except the winding hand-laid stone pathways leading to a handful of adobe huts - It's quite a charming contrast set against the towering Mount Illampu.
Trees don't grow at this altitude, but people from the Aymara culture take advantage of everything and nothing goes to waste. Take for instance "Bosta" which is dried cow dung or "cow patties" are the only source of heat for homes and fuel used for cooking. Bosta fills Carmelo's room along with it's pungent odour.
Another popular remedy in the Aymara culture is urine. It is used in everything from washing hair & clothes, to brushing teeth, drinking and applying to skin to keep "youthful."
Maybe these are the secrets why he has never fallen seriously ill throughout his life.
In September 2013 The Governor of La Paz César Cocarico awarded a medal to Flores and gifted him a microwave (good thing electricity was installed in the hamlet recently), recognizing him as the oldest person on the planet. The Governor later told Flores' Grandson Edwin that anyone who wanted to visit the 123 year-old Aymara man needed a permission letter from the Governor.
Is this due to his celebrity status, or whether officials just don't want the world to see the dreadful conditions in which Indigenous people of Bolivia live in? In this land-locked developing country it's almost the norm for people to live in harsh conditions in the Altiplano where the sun is super-intense during the day and temperatures drop to -10c at night.
We decided to visit him anyway without the bureaucracy and brought him gifts of fruits, coca leaves and cigarettes, along with a few Bolivianos (currency), which were very much appreciated. His kindness and authenticity shone through as we offered him coca-leaves in true Pachamama (Mother Earth) tradition.
After his wife died 10 years ago he realized that his only goal in life was to be a good Father and Husband. "It's something I'm very proud of - being completely devoted to my wife and kids," he exclaims teary-eyed.
"The best advice I can give is for husbands not to abuse their wives, be kind. When my wife and I were married this was actually written in wedding vows in Bolivia - Not to hit your wife."
An official visit in September by Bolivian President Evo Morales promised Flores a new house along with a handsome monthly bonus for becoming "a living legend."
"At this point nothing has been planned or received," says his Grandson Edwin. "We are wondering if it was all just a political stunt for next year's election."
"The only thing I would like is a nicer place to live, but a new poncho would make me very happy right now." as Flores chews on the sacred coca leaves.
For a gallery of photos please click on the photos or here: http://www.terrysebastian.com/p166122060