Something in the Water in Nicoya?

The chapter covering Costa Rica in the “Blue Zones” book (the inspiration for our journey) starts with the following lead-in:

“Tortillas and beans, hard work, and something in the water?”

As we experienced in the Blue Zone of Okinawa, the book proved to paint a vivid and accurate picture of what we are experiencing so far in Costa Rica’s Blue Zone.

Tortillas on every corner

We have found ourselves eating tortillas every day at some point or another, all made from maize (corn). Beans as well, both red and black, often for both breakfast and dinner. Meat is fairly common, eaten either in soups or cooked inside tamales, but the quantity of meat is relatively low. It seems a large portion of protein consumed comes from beans.

We purposely began our Costa Rican adventures in the town of Nicoya, which is almost right in the middle of the Nicoya Peninsula, an area in the northwest of the country on the Pacific Ocean. The Gulf of Nicoya to the east separates much of the peninsula from Costa Rica’s main land mass. This is the area of Costa Rica which Dan Buettner and his National Geographic team identified as being one of the five “official” Blue Zones. The fact that Nicoya is somewhat geographically cut off from the rest of the country, and is even geologically different, may play a role in why Nicoya ended up as a Blue Zone. Stomach cancer rates here are, according to “the book”, 24% lower than the rest of Costa Rica, a pretty significant statistic.

Not a tourist hot-spot

Nicoya is by no means a tourist town and during the two weeks that we’ve been here, we have seen or heard less than 10 foreigners. That’s unusual for a visit to Costa Rica, as this country hosts well over 2 million tourists a year. Not to mention the many foreigners who have moved here in search of pura vida (“pure life”), Costa Rica’s catch phrase/brand. Nicoya has no hotels aimed at tourists, and about the only global brands one sees when walking the streets are Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Pretty much everything else is local, aside from a recently built KFC on the edge of town.

Costa Rica is not a typical emerging market. I was surprised to see that most families own cars (and nice ones), versus the proliferation of motorcycles one sees in many of Asia’s emerging market countries. The public health system in Costa Rica is one of the best, maybe even the best, in Central America, and from the looks of how the police show up on the streets (well equipped) and interact with the population (they are friendly), corruption doesn’t seem to be rampant. Generally speaking, people seem to live good lives.

Hard work kept people fit

Historically, people of the Nicoya peninsula were of course farmers which meant lots of hard work and a lot of walking between villages, often traversing large hills back and forth so they got lots of exercise.

Our homestay host took us to the town of Quebrada Honda, where she introduced us to her 94 year old uncle. He was so poor as a youth that he had to quit school in the 6th grade and go to work in the fields using a machete every day. He is still going strong and lives alone!

And because we’re not farming here, we joined a gym and worked out daily…

Sex into their 90s?

Despite being quite religious in general, Nicoyans have a pretty liberal attitudes towards sex and fidelity. And this liberal attitude seems to translate into staying sexually active until late in life. I still haven’t had the guts (or language skills) to ask any of our hosts about specifics, but our first host happened to have been a trustee at the local old folks home. He confirmed that there was quite a high rate of activity that took place behind closed doors in the home!  Hear a bit more on that subject in the following video:

Exactly what it is that might be in the water here remains to be discovered, but something seems to be going on.

We’ve finished our initial two weeks in Nicoya where we spent weekdays having Spanish lessons every morning. I graduated top of my class yesterday!

Tomorrow we will take a drive in the direction of San Jose on Cost Rica’s mainland (not in the official Blue Zone area), where we will be volunteering at a retreat center helping with whatever needs done around the place. After that, we will make our way back to Nicoya to spend a few more weeks in the Blue Zone of Costa Rica, and see what else we can learn here about the water.

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