Health and Old Age Places with High Longevity: Vilcabamba, Ecuador Part 1

About the area of Vilcabamba in Ecuador which has a high level of longevity, about the area and the life of the people there.


Location. Ecuador, situated near the top of the map of South America, is bound by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Peru on the east and south, and Colombia to the north. Its capital city, Quito, sits just below the equator. Three hundred mi. due south from Quito lies the city of Loja, the capital of Ecuador's southernmost province. From Loja you go 30 mi. steadily upward in a southeasterly direction along a winding road to reach Vilcabamba, a valley one mi. high in altitude, one half mile in size, and with a scant population of 1,000 people.

Longevity. Vilcabamba has been studied and restudied, ever since the 1940 census revealed some astonishing facts about the long life of the valley's inhabitants. Eighteen percent of the population was over 65 years of age, as compared to 4% elsewhere in Ecuador and 9% in the U.S. Eleven percent was over 70, and 9 persons had lived to be anywhere from 100 to 130. In 1969, Dr. Miguel Salvador, president of Ecuador's Society of Cardiologists, on a government mission with 8 other doctors, thoroughly examined 628 longevos or extremely old people in Vilcabamba. The medical group found men of 90 still ploughing the fields side by side with younger men, women of 100 and more still gathering strands of sheep's wool or working in the local bakery, and other aged men treading the muddy ooze to make adobe, the material from which Vilcabambans build their houses. More astonishing, the Salvador mission found a total absence of serious ailments, notably heart disease. These findings have been more recently confirmed by Dr. David Davies of University College, London, and Dr. Alexander Leaf of Harvard University, both gerontologists of note. Vilcabamba has now become popularly known as the "island of immunity" or "island of health and longevity."

Living There. In the language of the Shuara Indians, who 1st inhabited the valley, vilca means "sacred" and bamba "valley." While Vilcabamba is boxed in by mountains, one peak towers like a guardian over the valley. This is 7,500'-high Mondango--literally "Altar of the Incas." The valley is crossed by 2 shallow, rushing rivers, the Vilcabamba and the Chamba. Dr. Davies describes Vilcabamba as a place of "utter tranquillity." The temperature year round never varies from 70 deg. Fahrenheit, the wind always blows from the same direction, and each year the valley receives the same amount of sun. Because of its altitude, Vilcabamba has no snakes, spiders, mosquitoes. Instead, there is what filmmaker Gene Ayers has called "a kaleidoscopic variety of flowers, fruits, vegetables, fireflies, songbirds, and domestic animals." After the paradisiacal tone of the reports about Vilcabamba, foreigners are apt to be taken aback by the limited sanitation facilities. Ecuadoran officials have introduced modern hygiene to the area slowly, since the people have lived so long and healthily under primitive conditions. In any event Vilcabamba's curative powers exist in a mysterious realm beyond modern notions of health standards. Albert Kramer, an American suffering from a heart ailment, simply went there to live for a year in an adobe farmhouse he rented, and he experienced what is technically known as "cardiological compensation," a spontaneous improvement in heart condition.

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