Imagine spending your days blissfully unaware of major world events like the Ukraine war, the Iran protests or even COVID-19. Well, Beatriz Flamini, a Spanish mountain climber just did that. In early April, she emerged from a cave 70 metres (230 feet) underground where she spent 500 days isolated from the outside world. A part of an experiment called 'Timecave', closely monitored by scientists, the 50-year-old entered the cave on November 20, 2021. She spent her time exercising, drawing and knitting woolly hats. According to her support team, she got through 60 books and 1,000 litres of water.
"I'm still stuck on November 21, 2021. I don't know anything about the world," Flamini told The New Yorker after exiting the cave. The Madrid-born athlete was determined to learn how the human mind and body can deal with extreme solitude and deprivation. With no sense of time, she said she stopped trying to count days after calculating she was down there for some 60 days.
Who Is Beatriz Flamini?
Beatriz Flamini was intrigued by living in solitude since childhood. Speaking to the New Yorker, she said that enjoyed spending most of her time alone in her bedroom in her Madrid home. In her college days in the 1990s, she and her friend took on a challenge to live in a cave for a few days over the weekend.
They drove north of Madrid to El Reguerillo, a cavern known for its palaeolithic engravings. “We stayed until Sunday and came out only because we had classes and work,” Flamini New Yorker, described the experience saying, "There were no words for what I felt."
Soon after graduation, Flamini went through a phase when she felt like living her best life before she died. She was an aerobics instructor then, and felt like grabbing her sleeping bag and living in the mountains in solitude for the rest of her life. She then moved to Sierra de Gredos, in central Spain, where she worked as a caretaker at a mountain refuge.
She also lived in a camper van by herself for a few years. In 2020, when the pandemic arrived, Flamini drove her camper to the mountains of Catalonia and decided to live there. She told the New Yorker, “It’s a tranquil place.” She kept up to date on the COVID-19 situation back home in Madrid by talking to her friend over the phone.
After the lockdowns in Spain ended in July 2021, Flamini thought about coming down from the mountains. Not to go back home, but to take on the challenge of living in the remote Gobi desert in Mongolia. She learned that only one European had been able to cross it alone on foot, and wanted to break the record.
To prepare herself for the Mongolian trail, Flamini realised she needed to prepare herself. She decided that staying in a cave for some days would develop her strength for the extreme solitude in the desert. Although she had spent time in caves many times, she had to level up this time.
That's when she took on the Timecave challenge with a few scientists from the universities of Almería, Granada and Murcia. Two security cameras and a panic button were installed in the cave. There was also a computer for one-way communication to people above ground who kept in touch through special, limited messaging technology.
The 50-year-old managed to break the world record for the longest time a person has spent alone in a cave. Footage from a Spanish TVE station showed her climbing out of the cave blinking and smiling as she embraced well-wishers. In brief comments to journalists, Flamini described the experience of being cut off from the world as “excellent, unbeatable."
Flamini said at no point did she feel like giving up, not even during an invasion of flies that she cited as the source of her worst memories. The extreme athlete also described auditory hallucinations. "You are silent and the brain makes it up," she said. Flamini said she used the time “to read, to draw, to weave, to be, to enjoy. I am where I want to be”. She admitted to missing certain things but said “This is part of the project. There is nothing to do but accept it.”