Living the Blue Zone Life – the Real Deal

As a general rule, longevity in most, if not all, of the Blue Zones, is not what it used to be. Fast food (and processed foods) combined with the lack of physical work/exercise are, in my view, the two main reasons. And it’s most likely a trend that won’t stop any time soon. Social connections are now of course different as well, and Facebook does not provide the true sense of human-to-human connection that, deep down, we all crave for. So how did we find someone in Costa Rica who appears to be bucking this trend?

After spending a week in the luxury of an expat estate volunteering with Wendy and Erich, it was time to “get local” again, and to also get back closer to Costa Rica’s Blue Zone in the Nicoya Peninsula. The mountainous and much less-inhabited region of Monteverde was our next destination. Although still on Costa Rica’s main land, so technically not in the Blue Zone, the Nicoya Peninsula is visible from the many of Monteverde’s high vistas, across the Gulf of Nicoya.

Hermida in Monteverde

Quite literally on the day we left Wendy and Erich’s, we did some quick research on Monteverde lodging and found a Cabin on Monteverde Coffee Farm on Airbnb.  

The last 90 minutes of our drive up gave us a taste of Costa Rica’s infamously bad roads. Monteverde has only had roads (and electricity) for 40 years. Prior to that, all transportation was on horse or by foot via trails, not roads. None of the mountain roads are paved and some are pretty intense, both in terms of road quality and the sharp drop-offs with no guard railings.

Monteverde is known for its cloud forest ecosystem and, especially this time of year, having lots of rain. The rain causes frequent landslides, and bridges and other stream crossings are often washed out. Needless to say, the area feels a bit cut off from civilization.

Still living a Blue Zone lifestyle

It was this relative isolation which allowed us to meet someone who, in our experience, seems to embody a Blue Zone lifestyle still today. Hermida, in her 60s only, manages her own coffee farm which includes 2 cabins she rents out to tourists.  We, like other foreigner guests, were immediately made to feel like members of her family.

We arrived Saturday evening, just in time for dinner which we shared with two other tourists. Immediately after dinner, Hermida announced it was time for church and invited us to come along! We all walked together up the gravel road to the main village. I was expecting that that we’d be attending the local small Catholic church that I’d seen on the drive in, but we passed it (lights were off there), and ended up on the second floor of someone’s house. Not only that, our arrival for the service meant that the congregation had just doubled in size!

The service was led by a young Costa Rican, Jose, along with his wife Jennifer, who had moved to this small village to start a church and simply be of service to the community by teaching English and helping the elderly. 

Pastor Jose, Jennifer and half the congregation

Scientific evidence points to having a belief in God, or at least in something bigger than us, increases longevity. Not only does community often come with belief in God, through, for example, church attendance, but a belief that there are forces at work that we can’t control can help in coping with stress. In it’s extreme, one can, I believe, surrender all personal responsibility for working to create the life we want, but taken holistically, it’s a fact that a religious/spiritual practice contributes to a longer life.

Strong genes

Hermedia is one of 16 children. Her parents are both still alive at 91 and 85. Frankly speaking, age has treated her father better, who still works every day on his farm of over 400 acres of lush, rolling pastures and about 300 head of cattle. Giving birth to 16 children had to have been hard on her Mother, although she is still very much alive and alert. Hermida took us to visit them on a night she stayed with her parents, something each of the 16 kids take turns doing every day.

We drove Hermida to her parents’ house, less than half an hour by car (never able to drive more than 20 km/hr). Had we not driven her she would have walked for an hour and half each direction, up and down the hills between her farm and her parents’. Frequent and strenuous walking is another Blue Zone characteristic, especially in Costa Rica.

Keep on Working

We asked Efrain, Hermida’s Father, what his longevity secret was and he was clear that hard work was key.  Not only does it provide physical exercise, but there’s the bigger picture of having a purpose for your life. In the Blue Zone’s book, Dan Buettner refers to this as the number one longevity factor in Nicoya – a plan de vida, or life purpose.

Keeping a focus on family comes next, and Hermida is living this out daily as well. Her own children, all adults now, live in the area, including one who lives at home with her. He was born with some learning and developmental disabilities, but he functions well on the farm with daily chores which include milking the cow. Hermida’s love and dedication to him, and to her other children and grandchildren, was obvious.

Friends and Community

In addition to meeting her family, Hermida introduced us to her neighbors, Rosa and Rafael, aged 95 and 94, respectively. Rosa is is very good physical shape and the only medication she takes is a small anti-depressant. Throughout her life Rosa was a very social person, also deeply religious and active in her church, but her age keeps her largely housebound now, living in a very simple home. Sadly, the resultant reduced social interaction brought her down emotionally in recent years.

Hermida of course inherited her Father’s trait of hard work and having a plan de vida. In the words of her granddaughter she is a “tornado of activity”, constantly busy with either cooking, roasting coffee or organizing workers on her farm (mostly migrant workers from Nicagragua) to harvest bananas, plantains or the countless other number of fruits and vegetables she has growing, not to mention caring for (or slaughtering) a pig or chicken. She buys very little from the super market. Salt, rice and oil – otherwise, virtually everything she eats is from her own farm or near by.

Here’s a 30-second video showing a typical day in the kitchen which illustrates how truly local her daily existence (and eating) is.

Although we had only planned to stay in Monteverde for a couple of days, we ended up spending almost the entire week there, living in the presence of Hermida and experiencing her true Blue Zone lifestyle. This is a lifestyle which in time will be harder and harder to experience fully, even in the original Blue Zones.

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