Is a diet of guinea pig, Amazonian frogs legs and snake juice the key to longevity?


Eyeing up the snake juice

Shanta winks as he slams a giant jar containing yellow-tinged liquid and an unfriendly looking snake on the bar.


Taking my ‘medicine’

At first glance it looks like a preserved specimen from a natural history museum, but no, this is snake juice.

Sugarcane liquor combined with a once poisonous snake to make a particularly potent cocktail.

“One shot, drunk, two shots even more drunk, three shots going home in an ambulance,” offers the handle-barred moustachioed bartender.

Salt and lemon slices are presented to us and we are told to knock our medicine back in the same manner as tequila.

Moments later my mouth is on fire and the man with impressive facial hair is laughing heartily.


Behind the bar with the legend that is Shanti

Still, the drink makes for a nice aperitif for our main course… Amazonian frogs legs.


You must be hopping mad love! Munching an Amazonian frog leg

Served in breadcrumbs these springy southern hemisphere amphibious limbs put their French cousins to shame.

They are more than three times the size for starters and much meatier than the spindley twigs I remmember being served at La Frog restaurant in Nice.

Washed down with potato chips I am pleasantly surprised by the taste. Sophie is less impressed.

Still, I figure it is worth trying anything the southern Ecuadorian town of Vilcabamba has to offer just in case it is the elusive magic ingredient that enables so many residents to live to a ripe old age.

Nobody could confirm exactly how many centenarians currently reside here, but several locals suggest the number is well into double figures.


Poster highlighting the longevity of folk from Vilcabamba

It is reported that no one from Vilcabamba has ever had a heart attack and that someone once reached the age of 137.

Our quest to try and uncover the secret had taken us to a trail high above the village where we had stumbled upon a leathery-skinned character bounding along the rough path.

Clearly proud of his sprightliness he asked us to guess how old we think he is.

Quick as a flash Sophie said: “Err about 80,” his expression changed as he replied with a sigh “yes I’m exactly 80,” before strolling away.

Maybe he looked his age but I can’t think of too many 80-year-olds who could manage a 10-mile hike over steep hills.


All in a day’s work Vilcabamba youngster carries her powertool home

Back in the town an old lady marches past us carrying some kind of power tool. Surreal.

Just what is it that keeps people so healthy for so long here?

We wonder whether there might be something in the air and so take a trip to Podacarpus national park completing a five-hour trek up a steep mountain and along a high altitude ridge.


On the trek in Podycarpus national park

We are certainly taking in plenty of oxygen as we huff and puff our way through the cloud forest in the territory of wild cats and bears.

I notice a sign in English.

Although Vilcabamba is still unspoilt the area has seen an influx of Americans over the course of the last ten years, attracted by its knock out scenery.

In that short space of time the cost of a square metre of land has increased from just a few dollars to over 100.

We return to Shanta’s the following night to try out the restaurant’s speciality – guinea pig.


Don’t suppose you’ve got any rat sauce to go with that Shanta?

I’ve never eaten rodent before and when it arrives at our table following four hours of roasting on a spit I am momentarily wary.

The head is still attached to the carcus and it appears to have a startled, scream-esque expression on its poor face.

After realising that guinea pig might just be the town’s old age secret I delve in.

I can report that the skin is crispy like pork crackling and the meat content is minimal. It’s also a little boney.


Eyes on the prize: Getting ready to eat our first guinea pig

Still, I’ve eaten worse and with the help of our Swiss dinner companion Marcus we manage to polish off all but the head.

Shanta is keen to get us to eat the brain, but none of us can quite stomach it.

Back at our hostel that night after more snake juice things are particularly unpleasant as the guinea pig desperately tries to scurry out of my back passage in liquid form.

Whatever the secret to Vilcabamba’s longevity is, I think it is safe to say that if the rumblings in my stomach are anything to go by it is probably not guinea pig or snake juice.


Ridin’ the cow saddle seats feels like being on a buckin’ bronco after a couple of snake juices


About travellingtoothbrushes

We are a couple of journalists with restless toothbrushes. Our teeth scrubbers seem unable to leap out of their respective washbags to take up a permanent residency on the bathroom shelf. So, we've decided to let them live the way they want to and take them on a trip around South America...
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