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Smiling as she exited the 70m deep cavern just outside Granada that had been her home for the past 500 days, Beatriz Flamini was given a once-over by medical professionals before being whisked away to a press conference.
‘I was expecting to come out and have a shower,’ Flamini said to reporters. ‘I wasn’t expecting there to be so much interest.’
Flamini entered the cave on Saturday 20th November 2021. Monitored by a group of scientists, psychologists, and cave specialists from the universities of Almería, Granada and Murcia who would keep in touch through limited messaging, the aim of Flamini’s subterranean endeavour was to find out more about how the human mind and body can deal with extreme solitude and deprivation, and their effects on brain patterns, sleep and circadian rhythms.
No stranger to extremes and feats of endurance, the 50 year-old (who was 48 at the time of entering the cave), is a mountaineer and athlete, and now is thought to hold the world record for the longest time spent alone in a cave.
Flamini spent her days underground exercising, drawing, reading, writing, knitting and documenting her experiences on camera for research purposes and a film that will be produced about the experiment.
‘For me at least, as an elite extreme sportswoman, the most important thing is being very clear and consistent about what you think and what you feel and what you say,’ Flamini told the press. ‘It’s true that there were some difficult moments, but there were also some very beautiful moments – and I had both as I lived up to my commitment to living in a cave for 500 days.’
When asked if she talked to herself during her stint in the cave, Flamini replied that she had, but never out loud. ‘I got on very well with myself,’ she laughed.
I was where I wanted to be, and so I dedicated myself to it. You have to be focused.
Prior to entering the cave, Flamini had agreed not to be informed about anything going on above ground, even requesting that she not be informed in the event of the death of a loved one during the experiment.
‘The people who know me and love me respect that,’ she said. ‘There’s no problem. I was where I wanted to be, and so I dedicated myself to it. You have to be focused. If I get distracted, I’ll twist my ankle. I’ll get hurt. It’ll be over and they’ll have to get me out. And I don’t want that.’
The athlete recalls only two distinctly unpleasant experiences during her time underground, one where she was engulfed by a plague of flies that had hatched out in the cave, and another time when she was overcome by a craving for roast chicken and potatoes. Flamini told the media that she had lost track of time after day 65, and was able to deal with the isolation with ease owing to her extensive mental preparation. When asked about how she felt upon leaving the cave, Flamini reported even feeling slightly bemused at the interruption.
‘I was sleeping – or at least dozing – when they came down to get me,’ she said. ‘I thought something had happened. I said: Already? No way. I hadn’t finished my book.’
When asked about how she dealt with the toilet situation underground, Flamini replied with an admirably straight face that she had left her bodily waste at a collection point ‘every five poos’.
‘There was no other way and five was my limit,’ she said. ‘You have to get the waste out. I left my offerings there, as if to the gods, and the gods left me food.’
Flamini laughed that she was now looking forward to sharing a plate of fried eggs and chips with friends as well as taking a shower, but added:
‘I still haven’t showered. But then, I’m an extreme sportswoman. I could go another 500 days.’
According to the Guinness Book of Records website, the record for the ‘longest time survived trapped underground’ is currently held by 33 Chilean and Bolivian miners who spent 69 days trapped back in 2010. It’s not yet clear whether there will be a separate record kept for voluntary time living in a cave and whether Flamini had broken it.
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