Walking South America Project

My name is Francesco Magistrali, 42 years old, Italian, Degree in Human Movement from the Catholic University of Milan. Last November I’ve started a project I named ‘Walking South America’, an initiative that required more or less 8 months of preparations. The idea was to cross the South American Continent from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean never using motorised transportation: walking and kayaking across Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Aside from being a personal challenge, the goals of the project were: collecting data and info about the environment and climate change; interview local people on their cultures and social status; collect micro-plastics’ samples from the waters of Rio Bermejo, a river located in Northern Argentina. All this with a good array of sponsors, media partners and scientific collaborations, the whole expedition being a blend of adventure, physical and mental feat, science, anthropology. 

A Brief Story

I was crossing Uruguay (Leg 2 of expedition) on foot when Covid19 hit the country obliging me to a 2 months lockdown, before eventually finding a flight to run home. Thus, I had to abort the expedition (kayaking Rio Bermejo was supposed to be 3rd and final leg of the journey). But at least I completed Leg 1 successfully and here comes a brief story of it.

After landing in Santiago del Chile with riots and social disorders still hitting the city (and the whole country) I eventually made it to Antofagasta. In a few days I met a bunch of new friends and a good amount of people. Doctor Morin Lang at the University of Antofagasta officially asked me to carry a special heart monitor during my solo trek across the Atacama Desert and the Andes (my planned route) to then share the results with NEXER project. I eventually left the shores of Antofagasta, right in front of the Ocean.

Heading towards a location called La Negra, where I did rendez-vous with Doctor Morin Lang and a team of journalists and film makers. After a last technical check, an interview and a little bit of filming I was finally ready for the off. In front of me the driest desert on Earth, the legendary Atacama. Walking in such a place with no resupplies is impossible. You can’t travel only with a backpack. For this scenario, the solution was a aluminum two wheeled cart that I’d pull using a small dayback as a harness. This way I managed to carry 50 litres of water and at least 40 days of food, plus all my equipment. First week I followed a big paved road that leads to one of the most important copper mines of Chile, La Escondida. Fifty degrees centigrade around noon, strong winds, the sun like a laser but a lot of support and pure kindness from the truck drivers that always helped me providing water and snacks! Something I didn’t expect to happen. From La Escondida on, the road ends and it’s pure off road tracks that I had to follow on my way to Paso Socompa, a high altitude mountain pass that is located right on the border between Chile and Argentina. Officers both on the Chilean and Argentinean side were extremely warm when I got there. I actually spent one day of rest with the small team of militaries on the Argentinean side.

From that point on it’s been pure ‘altiplano’. I knew I was going to come across a few communities before reaching the city of Salta, but I was ready to spend many a days with no humans in sight since I left the Police Station at Paso Socompa. I didn’t come across any person during one entire week since the pass. I’m used to that from past expeditions, but all that time with nobody in sight is still quite unusual for the modern man. Days were long, alone and in the middle of nowhere. Nothing extreme, since I was safely following well marked tracks, but still I was by myself, totally immersed in my inner trip, in a constant meditation state, walking all day, pulling my heavy burden loaded with water, food and gear. All uphill stretches were hard and slow to negotiate. But I was well prepared, fit and extremely motivated to reach Salta in Argentina. 

 I managed to reach the city in exactly one month of walking since I left Antofagasta, taking into account only a few days of rest at Socompa and in a couple of villages that I came across in the last part of the journey. In Salta, with a perfect timing, I made rendez-vous with Doctor Morin Lang. She came from Antofagasta so that I could return the heart monitor and all the data saved in it.

I’ll never forget the desert and the mighty Andes. It’s amazing places and circumstances that leave a mark in one’s life.