February 24, 2024

When Beatriz Flamini was growing up in Madrid, she spent a lot of time alone in her bedroom. “I really liked being there,” she says. She’d read books to her dolls and write on a chalkboard while giving them math or history lessons. She sometimes imagined being a professor like Indiana Jones: the kind who slipped away from the classroom to “be who he really was.” In the early nineteen-nineties, while Flamini was studying to be a sports instructor, she visited a cave for the first time, experiencing an overwhelming sense of love. After graduating, Flamini taught aerobics in Madrid, but felt unsatisfied. In 2013, she experienced an existential crisis. “You know you’re going to die—today, tomorrow, within fifty years,” Flamini told herself. “What is it that you want to do with your life before that happens?”

Flamini moved to the Sierra de Gredos, working as a caretaker at a mountain refuge. She became certified in safety protocols for working on tall structures and learned first-aid skills. She was also an avid climber and hiker, having save a person who was buried by an avalanche, and witnessed the death of a hiker who’d been struck by lightning. She lived in a camper van, and despite being alone, she was an enthusiastic photographer, always chronicling her mountain adventures. When the pandemic arrived, Flamini drove her camper to the mountains of Catalonia and set herself up in an abandoned pre-Romanesque hermitage, spending time in solitude.

In July 2021, just after lockdowns in Spain ended, Flamini thought about coming down from the mountains, but her real desire was to go somewhere more remote: the Gobi Desert, in Mongolia. She began training for the Gobi expedition by hiking steep mountain trails while carrying a backpack weighed down by bottles filled with water. She thought about test runs that might prepare her for the extended solitude of the Mongolian desert and decided on spending time in a cave.

Flamini considered her goal to be to neither see nor speak to another human being for five hundred days. She accepted the danger in the scenario and tried to visualize contending with a catastrophe: “how to stay calm in the face of pain, in the face of desperation, as death draws near”. Her basic goal remained intact: to neither see nor speak to another human being for five hundred days. She didn’t even want to see her own face.