(By Kyle Henning) Italian-born Francesco Magistrali is in Santiago, Chile after mountain biking from Ushuaia, Argentina at the southern tip of South America. Ahead of him lays a long journey of cycling, trekking, and kayaking from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic via the Andes, Atacama Desert, Brazilian Rainforest, and Amazon River, all without using motorized transport.
The goals of the expedition are many. Each stage utilizes a different mode of travel. To better understand the Esmeralda Expedition and the man behind it, ExplorersWeb spoke with Francesco while resting and prepping in Santiago.
ExplorersWeb: What is the main purpose of the Esmeralda Expedition? What do you hope to accomplish?
Francesco Magistrelli: The most important objectives to me are meeting the local people and experiencing the different environments where those people live. But there’s another factor: the inner trip. Traveling unmotorised, the situations and the people I come across stimulate a sort of continuous inner dialogue. So, to answer this question with one, simple word, the Esmeralda Expedition is about KNOWLEDGE: Knowledge of the world, of its inhabitants, and deeper knowledge of myself.
Exploration can have various types of goals. Some people climb mountains, cross seas or jungles to set new records, to fight against time, against themselves, always so concentrated on distance, altitude, chronometer... To me, it's clear that Planet Earth has been almost totally explored and mapped. With respect toward the great explorers and legendary men who made history with their adventures and odysseys, it’s imperative to remember that those feats and undertakings remain unique or difficult to emulate.
But, exploration can and must continue, just beyond traditional exploration itself. In a crucial moment in which the environment is threatened, in which local cultures and traditions are at risk, and in which it’s urgent to educate and train the younger generations towards a deeper awareness of themselves, of nature and humanity, the exploratory spirit takes a fundamental role more than ever. No longer to draw new maps nor establish new records, but to return, either through physical journeys or by any other means of culture and communication, to approach and investigate reality and ourselves, experiencing this outer and inner voyage as a daily and infinite adventure.
ExWeb: Your expedition is a mix of cycling, kayaking, and trekking. What have you done to prepare your mind and body?
FM: I'm absolutely not claiming to be a strong athlete, neither a professional sportsman. I've always done a lot of mountain biking and trekking, more with the purpose to move and travel unmotorised than to set any personal sports achievement. I was never interested in competition. And if something like a mountain bike or a dugout canoe lets me travel without any impact on the environment, I just go for it! So my physical preparation comes from years of, I'd call it, unconventional training.
The mental preparation, on the other hand, is something you have to prepare for a lot. You have to work on yourself, understand your deep motivations, and how to deal with fear. The unknown is a big theme in a trip like this. For me the Amazon was always something legendary. The forest, as a type of environment, always represented to me the sense of mystery. The biggest jungle on earth is an amazing playground if you want to face your fears and work on them.
Previous trips to the Brazilian Amazon, in the Manaus area, were key to knowing the jungle. There are a few things you must know to survive in that kind of environment that you don't find in books. I’ve spent time with local hunters and fishermen to learn the knowledge I'll use in the upcoming months. When lost, you need to know how to recognize that particular vine that, once cut, will provide fresh, potable water. That could be the difference between life and death.
ExWeb: Did you always plan to do this alone? What do you think will be the benefits and challenges of traveling by yourself?
FM: Going alone is neither a selfish choice nor a matter of lack of potential travel mates interested in joining me. All the things mentioned before (fear, the unknown, facing your limits, learning from nature and from the encounters with people) are great lessons, especially if you don't have buddies to count on. I do have a home team and a satellite phone, but when I’m in the middle of nowhere by myself, there is nobody helping me. I will have to make decisions, understand the situation, face problems of any kind.
ExWeb: How has the first leg gone?
FM: I'm currently in Santiago. I've spent almost 20 days here seeing my family after more than four months of mountain biking from Ushuaia. This first part of the trip was easy – anybody can do it. Paved roads all the time, great people I've met on route. Strong winds in Patagonia made progress really slow sometimes, but otherwise good.
To leave the island of Tierra del Fuego, a kayaker from Punta Arenas, Chile named Federico Quijada joined me with his tandem kayak to cross the Strait of Magellan together. Just one hour of tough, hard paddling across this legendary strait. These first 4500kms are a sort of warm-up to get in shape for what's coming next.
ExWeb: And what is coming next? What do you expect on the next leg?
FM: In late October I should finally be able to reach the Atacama Desert area, leave my bike, trailer, and bags, and meet up with a small film crew that will fly in from Italy (they will bring my trekking equipment) and I'll start the real expedition, on foot, from the Pacific to the Atlantic. I'll reach Bolivia and then, once in Brazil, I'll look for the Rio Madeira, a tributary to the Amazon. I’ll then follow the Amazon River itself to the Atlantic Ocean.
Whatever can be called 'unmotorised' and green, I can use. The ethics of this expedition (whose C02 emissions are being calculated by the Catholic University of Milan) allow it. I can use wind since it's part of nature. I'm also considering using a lama during the trek between Chile and the canoe part in Brazil.
ExWeb: What outside support are you receiving?
FM: I'll be always in touch with my home team and, more importantly, my family with the hi-tech equipment provided by Human Edge Tech. Satellite modem, solar panels, laptop etc. I've got a lot of gear. Communication (for safety reasons and also to be always in touch with media and sponsors) is always a key factor. When the film crew joins me before I leave Chile towards Bolivia, they will bring my trekking gear. When they will return to Italy, they will take home my bike.
Francesco Magistrali is a 36-year-old outdoor guide from Piacenza, Italy. He has a degree in Human Movement. Esmeralda Expedition is back in motion, heading toward Bolivia.
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