FRASQUIA, Bolivia: Could this be the world’s oldest person? Carmelo Flores Laura lives high in the Bolivian mountains, chews coca leaves, cooks on open fires and says he’s 123-years-old.
Flores Laura was born on July 16, 1890, according to his government identification card. Bolivia’s Electoral Tribunal confirmed his identity and his age.
“His residence is in Frasquia, and as a profession he is a farmer,” the office told Agence France-Presse.
According to the document, this Bolivian Methuselah was born in the same year as Charles de Gaulle and Ho Chi Mihn, and 13 years before the Wright brothers flew their airplane in Kitty Hawk.
According to the Guinness World Records, the world’s oldest person whose age could be verified was a French woman, Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122.
The official world’s oldest man is 112-year-old Salustiano Sanchez Blazquez, a Spaniard living in New York.
Government officials in La Paz said that they will approach Guinness to update their records with information on their aged compatriot.
Life on the top of the world
Flores Laura only speaks Aymara, the language of the Andean natives of Peru and Bolivia.
He is 1.6 meters (five foot three inches) tall, has no teeth, and walks with some difficulty but without a cane. He does not wear glasses.
When he goes outside he wears a wool cap known as a chullo that covers his ears under his broad-brimmed hat—protection from both the bitter cold and the bright sunlight of the Bolivian altiplano.
Frasquia is a quiet cluster of adobe-brick buildings 4,050 meters above sea level and some 100 kilometers northwest of La Paz.
The hamlet is near Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, and at the foot of the snow-capped Mount Illampu.
There is a school, a small clinic and access to electricity, but the nearest grocery is a three-hour walk away in the town of Arista. Onions, potato and broad beans are grown, watered by runoff from Illampu’s snow.
Flores Laura arrived in Frasquia as a young man from a nearby village searching for work, and fell in love with a local widow. The couple married and had three children.
“She died a long time ago,” Flores Laura tells Agence France-Presse, speaking through an interpreter.
His wife was 107-years-old when she died, according to Flores Laura’s 27-year-old grandson.
Two of the old man’s children have also died.
“I only have one surviving son, Cecilio,” Flores Laura said, moved by just mentioning his name. Cecilio lives in the working class town of El Alto, just outside of the capital La Paz.
Flores Laura also has 14 grandchildren, and 39 great-grandchildren.
With a mouth full of coca leaves, Carmelo Flores Laura recounts passages of his long life in short bursts, speaking slowly and with difficulty.
Back in the old days . . .
When he was young he worked as a farmhand on the estate of a wealthy landowner named Mollinedo, he recalls.
Later he was drafted into the army to fight in the 1932 to 1935 Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay. “They took me to La Paz as a common soldier,” he said.
He also recalls participating in many of the uprisings and coups that shook Bolivia in the 20th centuries. “We’d go to fight with clubs and slings,” he said.
However his memory has faded over the years, and he doesn’t remember any of the causes or leaders he fought for.
Finding food in the bleak region was always a challenge.
“Before, there was nothing to eat. That’s why we even had to eat lizards. I trapped lizards and snakes and would slit open their bellies. I’d fry them or put them in the soup,” he said.
“I’d prepare myself soup with quinoa leaves. But now I can buy rice and noodles to mix in.”
Flores Laura said that he also used to hunt foxes, and he still prepares his meals over an open-flame fire using llama dung as fuel.
“I know Carmelo, he’s my neighbor of course, my elder,” said 80-year-old Francisca Aruquipa, a Frasquia resident, also speaking in Aymara. “The man used to like to dance.”