José E. Cabrero
Monday, 17 April 2023, 13:56
After 500 days in the dark, the first thing Beatriz saw was a television camera. She came out of the cave beaming, after a challenge she began when she was 48 and finished at 50: 21 November 2021 to 14 April 2023.
"Who's been paying for the beers on Fridays," she joked as she emerged. Tears appeared slowly from behind her sunglasses as she hugged her loved ones who had gone to meet her.
The cave, 70 metres deep, is on private land in Los Gualchos on the Granada coast. The excitement was tense. At nine on the dot, the documentary production team, relatives, friends and journalists were waiting around nervously in a strange silence, which was eventually broken by a voice. The voice of Beatriz from a distance, coming up through the cave's entrance - or, in her case, its exit.
At 9.08, Beatriz returned to normal life, after breaking the world record for isolation. As she came out, the elite athlete chatted cheerfully with fellow members of the Motril caving club, as if she had only been gone five minutes.
After a quick medical examination, Flamini went to the conference room in the Motril tourist centre. The room was overflowing with people. When she went in, she was greeted by cameras and an emotional round of applause.
"She has overcome an important challenge, and to protect her, she has asked us to wear face masks," explained Paco Hoyos, president of the Andalusian Caving Federation. With her palms together in a prayer position she looked across at those present. It had been a long time since people had looked at her like that, or even seen her at all, for that matter.
Before she spoke, David Reyes, a Motril caver and her guardian angel during this time, talked about the challenge: "She has been alone, without contact, natural light, or concept of time, 70 metres underground. She is a special person with an incredible passion. The world should know about her."
Looking into a camera, she accepted this invitation to introduce herself. Taking a deep breath she adressed the audience: "I wasn't expecting so many people ... I was just expecting to leave the cave and go for a shower ... I expected..." she was left speechless, about to cry but maintaining a smile. The room stood up again in applause.
What is it like living in a cave for 500 days? "I don't know," she replied. I am still stuck in November 2021. Seeing you all wearing masks, it feels like the pandemic is still happening for me. I stopped counting days, I lost the notion of time."
The key part of overcoming a challenge, said Flamini, is consistency. "Consistency so that what you think, feel and say are the same. There were difficult moments, but also amazing ones, amazing ones like right now," - she gestures to the room - "It's amazing."
But how does one measure time when living in a cave? How did she know when it was time to take out her waste and go to the meeting point? "I would change it after every five toilet trips," she laughed. "There was no other way of measuring time. If I was thirsty, I drank, if I was hungry, I ate, and if I was tired I slept. If I couldn't sleep then I would read."
Still a little disorientated, Beatriz talked about various things like bad fly infestations, and how she made the most of the time to "read, draw, enjoy [the experience] and exist". She kept repeating, "Because that was where I wanted to be." Although she lost the notion of time, in 500 days she has missed "everyone", "even myself".
"It's true that you often crave a hug, some contact, some fried eggs and chips! But you focus on enjoying the moment."
During the 500 days, Beatriz tried to avoid speaking out loud, apart from when recording videos for the documentary.
"I respected the silence of the cave. Although sometimes I would let out a shriek when I dropped something and lost it forever. Noooo!" She mimicked theatrically.
In any case, she never pushed the panic button. "I never thought about leaving, in fact I didn't want to come out," this comment caused a stir in the room.
"None of the things that people say happen happened to me, apart from sound hallucinations. This was just training for what is to come."
When the caving team arrived last Friday, the 500th day, Beatriz was sleeping. David Reyes woke her up and told her that she had done it. On leaving and seeing the light of day, Beatriz did not feel anything special.
"I haven't felt anything yet because it has been so long since I went in, that I now don't have the feeling of missing anything." She even jokes - or maybe it isn't a joke - about the idea of doing it again.
Flamini finished with praise for the Motril cavers group, saying that their dedication from outside is "the main lesson" that she will take with her.
"I couldn't have been in better hands," she concluded.
An hour later, the press room was still full of unanswered questions. The feeling is there that she hasn't us told everything, that something about this whole thing is difficult to understand.
Hopefully, the book she wrote while inside and the documentary coming out soon will fill this large gap.
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