By Dan Buettner, AARP Magazine
It was sunrise in the village of Hojancha when Tommy Castillo and I mounted a pair of bikes and whizzed downhill from his pink wooden house into the steamy Costa Rica morning.
Our route took us by the town clinic, past a mechanic where the rhythm of local cowboy music blared into the street from tinny speakers. With truants’ delight, we swooped down another hill past the village school, and from there, the houses thinned out. On one side of the road, buildings gave way to a wall of jungle. The road dipped to where the pavement bridged a creek and continued up a steep incline. Tommy, wearing a white-toothed grin and a Yankees baseball cap, stood up hard on his pedals and pulled ahead of me. I was breathing heavily. Sweat trickled down my back.
Off the main road, our wheels traced parallel ruts past a horse barn and a vegetable garden. The track ended in a clearing with a raised chicken coop, a tin-roofed wooden house, and a woodshed stacked high with split logs. Out front, a woman wearing a bright pink dress, hoop earrings, and carnival beads vigorously swept the jungle floor, sending up a dust cloud. Behind her, a few long golden pencils of light angled through the trees.
“Hola, Mamá!” shouted Tommy as he dismounted his bike. Tommy’s mother—Francesca “Panchita” Castillo—dropped her broom in surprise and gleefully greeted her son with an embrace, then turned to me. “OyEEE, God blesses me!” she exclaimed in Spanish. “I have foreign visitors!” Then she hugged me.
She took us both by the hand and led us to her porch, where she jumped up on a bench and dangled her legs in the air. It was only 7:30 a.m., but Panchita was ready for her midmorning break. She’d been up since 4:00 and had already knelt next to her bed to say her morning prayers; fetched two eggs from the chicken coop; ground corn by hand; brewed coffee from well water drawn from the limestone bedrock beneath her house; made herself a breakfast of beans, eggs, and tortillas; split wood; and, using a machete almost as tall as her five-foot frame, cleared the encroaching bush around her house. She asked if she could prepare breakfast for us. “No,” said Tommy, who was sweating lightly under his baseball cap. “I’m not hungry.”
“Oh, you know better,” Panchita scolded. “Let me make you some eggs.” And she jumped off the bench.
“No, no, Mamá,” Tommy said, shifting uncomfortably on his bench. “I’m fine.”
Panchita pulled herself back up and now began to stroke Tommy’s knee. “How is your leg, my son?” A few days earlier he had injured it working around the house.
“Mamá, I’m fine, please!” he said, grimacing. As the scene unfolded, I sat by and smiled to see an exchange between a loving mother and a son who didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of a new friend. Under the circumstances, I could see Tommy’s point. He was, after all, an 80-year-old man and a great-grandfather. His mother, Panchita, had recently celebrated her 100th birthday. Hojancha, where they live, has one of the healthiest, longest-lived populations on the planet—a place where sons can take their time growing up.
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Check out video of Panchita here