500 Days in Timecave

“I said: ‘Already? Surely not.’ I hadn’t finished my book.”

–Beatriz Flamini

On 21 November 2021, mountaineer and endurance athlete Beatriz Flamini descended into a Spanish cave.

Russia had not invaded Ukraine. Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t dead. The James Webb Space Telescope had not yet probed the cosmos.

When Flamini emerged from the cave on 14 April 2023, she had no idea that any of the notable topics above had transpired because she had lived underground for more than 500 days without human contact.

Beatriz Flamini exits stage cave - photo by Jorge Guerrero

Flamini approached a media company called Dokumalia with a bold plan to live beneath the planet’s surface for 500 days in an effort to produce a film about the effects of such a feat.

The plan involved spelunking 230 feet into a cave, where she would spend more than two years by herself. A team of scientists, doctors, and cave experts would monitor her physical well-being via two GoPro cameras with which Flamini would record herself. They would drop food and any needed supplies, but would strictly avoid physical interaction or communication. Flamini would drop her excrement at the collection point to keep the cave tidy.

“Every five poos,” she recounted, “I left my offerings there, as if to the gods, and the gods left me food.”

Flamini meant for the no-contact rule to be absolute. No news, personal or otherwise. If a close family member were to die, she did not want to know. All in the name of science and pushing boundaries.

Flamini meets her team after the ordeal - photo by Jorge Guerrero

In addition to the thrill of the challenge, Flamini’s stunt offered scientists insight into the human condition under circumstances not easily tested.

How would the lack of human contact affect the psyche? How would the lack of light affect a human’s eyes or circadian rhythm? How would a human brain change in 500 days of solitude? How would a human’s perception of time change in such a scenario?

As we push into the future of ultra-long-distance space missions, the experiences of a woman in a cave might provide a crucial understanding of the limits of our minds and bodies.

Flamini exercising - photo by Flamini/Dokumalia Producciones

How would one pass 500 days in a cave alone?

In Flamini’s case, the answer included a lot of reading. She finished more than 60 books. She made sure to exercise. She drew; she weaved; she knit hats.

For the first two months, Flamini recalls that she was able to keep track of the passing days, but eventually lost count. The ordeal was not all cave rainbows and stalactite unicorns, however. At one point, she experienced auditory hallucinations. Another time, flies invaded the cavern, covering Flamini’s entire body. About 300 days in, a faulty router used to send audio and video of her experience forced her to leave the cave for about eight days. During that period, she lived in a tent above ground without contact from her team. Lest someone questions the nature of the 500-day project, Flamini and the team did not count those eight days in the total. After returning to the cave, she finally reemerged 508 days after the starting point.

How mere mortals look each morning, not living in a cave - photo by Flamini/Dokumalia Producciones

Despite those setbacks, Flamini described the time in the cave as “excellent, unbeatable.” She added that she never panicked or thought about ending the project early, “In fact, I didn’t want to come out.” She seemed surprised that 500 days had arrived, relating that the period felt more like 160 or 170 days. Though the results of Flamini’s mental and physical ordeal have not yet been scientifically digested, she expressed one interesting phenomenon: she felt as if she had entered a perpetual time loop at 4 AM.

Though pending verification, Flamini’s 500 days are likely a record for spending time alone in a cave. The Guinness Book of Records currently gives the nod to 33 miners who spent 69 days in a collapsed shaft in Chile in 2010. According to the Associated Press, Maurizio Montalbini spent 210 days in a cave in 1987 and, purportedly, a Serb passed 460 days inside one in 2016.

Flamini was 48 when she entered the cave in Motril, Spain, and 50 as she exited. She learned about all the changes in the world, but her thoughts turned to other things. With project Timecave in the past, Flamini told reporters she looked forward to a shower, some drinks, and food with friends.

After 500 days of intense solitude and underground achievement, Beatriz Flamini spelunks with ease into the Woman Crush Wednesday Hall Fame!

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