Like the saying goes, if you haven’t heard of this, you’ve probably been living in a cave. I’m referring, of course, to the wonderfully named Beatriz Flamini who is one lady that actually lived that expression. Two weeks ago this daring 50-year-old woman emerged from a Spanish cave, which generally isn’t a huge deal except that she’d been living in that cave 230 feet below the surface for a few days. Quite a few days. 500 days to be exact. That’s one and a half years!
Now, Beatriz isn’t your ordinary spelunker, in that she wasn’t spelunking per se, and to spelunk wasn’t her primary goal. And by the way, isn’t “spelunking” (which is defined as “the exploration of caves”) an awesome ten-dollar word? I try to work it into conversations whenever I can, but sadly, it doesn’t work out that often. But really, with the greatest respect to people who like crawling around in dark, damp, claustrophobic caves getting stuck in dangerously cramped rock formations many many meters beneath the surface of the earth, isn’t spelunking about the most horrible activity you can imagine?
But back to Ms. Flamini. Beatriz is no ordinary fifty-year-old. She is a climber and extreme athlete and is used to doing crazy, dangerous things and got it into her head that she’d like to live totally alone in a pitch-black cave deep in the bowels of the Spanish earth for, say, a year or two. So, ironically, in 2021 in the thick of everyone isolating due to Covid she descended 23 stories downward to REALLY isolate.
Beatriz says she did it to test her own “personal self-sufficiency and mental fortitude” – although it was purely coincidental that the whole world was doing the same thing on account of the pandemic. She did have a team of university researchers monitoring her to see what they might learn about human “neuropsychological and cognitive effects” of extreme isolation. They were particularly interested in the screams of claustrophobic terror emanating from the cave at about day 100.
Just kidding about that last part. I don’t know about you, but personally, I would absolutely, 100 percent be screaming manically at about day ONE.
She says she had some difficult moments, like when the cave filled up with flies at one point, and she did report auditory hallucinations and a “strong craving for roast chicken”. Otherwise, Ms. Flamini “enjoyed” exercising, making meals, and reading books (60 of them.). She also did a bunch of weaving and painting. No word on whether she was painting on the actual walls of the cave, like other cavewomen.
She asked not to be told any world news “including a death in the family” although she did have a support team who passed down food and supplies every five days, and also hauled back up her bodily waste (thank goodness). And when the 500 days and nights were up and her team came down to get her she was happily sleeping, and wasn’t ready to go anywhere. “Already?” she is reported to have said. “No way. I haven’t finished my book.”
Beatriz took a video camera with her and there are fascinating videos online of Beatriz down in her cave-hole doing her thing and there will soon be a documentary of her record-breaking experiment. Interestingly, she said time stopped for her. Every day it perpetually felt like it was 4:00 am. I remember feeling like that in high school, but the point is, it can be a good thing when we lose track of time and live every moment to the fullest.
With that, it’s time I spelunked out of my messy basement office and see if the world has changed since I’ve been down here.
Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. You can send him column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.