Photo: Miquel Silvestre
Adventure traveler Miquel Silvestre has wrapped up a 13-month globetrotting journey aboard his motorcycle “Atrevida” (Audacious), a trek aimed at shedding light on the underappreciated feats of Spanish explorers.
“When I would explain that Spaniard Juan Sebastian Elcano’s expedition was the first to circumnavigate the globe, people had no idea and that made me mad, so I set out to rescue these explorers from oblivion with an epic motorcycle journey,” Silvestre told Efe in an interview here Friday.
The experienced traveler, who has visited more than 90 countries by motorcycle over the past four years and documented his experiences in books, articles and videos, said he is “exasperated” by the fact that Spain is exclusively associated around the world with Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
“We Spaniards have been much more than two soccer teams, and that’s why I embarked on this journey,” said the 44-year-old native of the eastern city of Denia, who worked as a property registrar before hitting the road full time.
“I didn’t like that life. I could no longer find inspiration for my novels. I had no family obligations, so why not? I started saving up money so I could do it,” he said.
Silvestre traversed four continents starting in July 2011, retracing the paths of an emissary of ninth-century emir Abd ar-Rahman II in the Viking lands of Norway and of Jesuit missionaries Pedro Paez, who discovered the spring of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, and Francis Xavier, who led a mission into Goa, India and other parts of Asia.
His journey began on the coasts of Ireland - where Francisco de Cuellar, a sea captain who sailed with the Spanish Armada, survived a harrowing experience after a shipwreck - and ended in the Alaska towns of Cordova and Valdez, founded by Salvador Fidalgo and the northernmost point reached in the Spanish explorations of the Pacific Northwest.
The Spaniard covered that 45,000-kilometer (27,960-mile) distance on board “Atrevida,” a BMW R1200GS named in honor of a like-named Spanish navy exploration and scientific research vessel built for use in the 1788 Malaspina Expedition.
One of the highlights of the trek was his visit to the Philippines to honor Ferdinand Magellan’s discovery of those islands in 1521 and Spain’s “presence there for 350 years,” Silvestre said.
The task was arduous because there was no road map to the former Spanish colony and Silvestre had to rely on advice he received from a German man he met in Nairobi, Kenya, who had covered the route in the opposite direction.
After traveling in the islands of Borneo, Java and Sumatra, he made his way to his destination on board a boat Malaysian authorities used to deport illegal immigrants back to the Philippines, meaning that he arrived on the archipelago in the company of 70 erstwhile prisoners.
Once there, Silvestre experienced the most “moving” moment of his journey when he found himself face-to-face with Magellan’s tomb.
He also paid tribute to Spanish mountaineers Iñaki Ochoa de Olza and Tolo Calafat, who died in recent years while attempting to scale Mt. Annapurna in the Himalayas, the world’s 10th-tallest mountain.
Silvestre honored their memory with a motorcycle journey through Nepal, where his 74-year-old mother accompanied him on the stretch through the capital city of Kathmandu.
The Spaniard said he experienced some “isolated” moments of danger on the trip, citing one instance when his motorcycle broke down while he and journalist Alicia Sornosa were riding along the border between Kenya and Ethiopia.
“I told her everything was fine, but I was scared because I knew the area and I knew that if night fell there was a chance we would disappear and no one would know what happened to us, but finally a Chinese engineer who was building a road there and called himself Mr. Yellow helped us,” Silvestre recalled.
The Spaniard said the journey, which cost him “some 30,000 euros” (about $36,900), left him with an “optimistic” outlook on the world, adding that he found the people he encountered to be “by and large good, or at least decent.”
He also said the new technologies greatly facilitated his travels, joking that by comparison with the ancient explorers his globetrotting feat only “reached the heights of the pygmies.”
After covering much of the planet with three suitcases and a tent - “all you need to live and be happy” - Silvestre is looking ahead to his next motorcycle adventure and has his sights set on South America, always with the goal of telling people “how (the world) is and how it was” and following the historic trail blazed by Spanish explorers.