After 1,827 days and 48 countries visited, Covid blocks the tour of the world (without a plane) for Gianluca Maffeis from Bergamo

On March 19, 2021, exactly 5 years after your departure, you returned to Osio Sotto. The world tour, however, was not yet over. After a year, however, spent struggling with Covid away from home, what led you to pause the trip?

Since March 20, 2020, I have been stuck in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Initially, the authorities closed all borders and imposed a two-week lockdown. A lockdown – the longest in the world – which then lasted over seven months. I couldn’t take public transport, I couldn’t do anything. Then, “back” from half a year in quarantine, I said to myself: “I’ll take a plane and stop everything. However, I’m not going to Osio, I want to give the trip another chance”. The hope was to return to Argentina, to Buenos Aires, at the beginning of 2021, and to continue my world tour. So, I went to Guatemala, where my partner lives, whom I met during the stop in the country of my trip, and I waited until January. With the new year, noting that the situation was not improving anyway and not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I said enough and made the final decision: “I’ll be back home”.

It takes courage to leave everything and leave with only a backpack and lots of dreams, but also to return before the goal is fulfilled. How was the return after all this time?

To tell the truth, the impact was less strong than I thought. In fact, in the last year I have had the opportunity to metabolize the pause of the trip. On the other hand, since March 2020, I have led a sedentary, monotonous life. I was no longer a nomad as before. It would have been much harder and harder if I had given up in or near normal conditions, such as in the first two weeks of quarantine.

What was it like to face a year of Covid on the road? And moreover, be aware that your family lives in the Bergamo area, the most affected place of the first wave?

In March-April, I saw the services from the hospital of Zingonia (Bergamo) on the Bbc. The images of the structure that is just a few minutes from my house went around the world. It was a really heavy situation. I was afraid. My family is not 30-40 year olds, so I spent sleepless nights trying to understand a little more. I called home every day for news. I was really worried. Then, when the situation started to improve, I calmed down. But it wasn’t easy at all to be out in these conditions for a year, knowing that people I knew were dying day after day. In the restaurant where I worked before leaving, for example, several have disappeared.

Also due to Covid, you were forced to take the plane. Half that wasn’t part of your plans …

I had to see the situation. I flew from Buenos Aires to Guatemala (with a stopover in Panama). And this marked the stop of the world tour. Then, of course, also to go home (I took a flight from Cancún, where I spent a few days). There was, however, one exception before the pandemic broke out. From Santiago de Chile I flew to Easter Island because there is no other way to get there, other than through super expensive and very rare cruises. I took some sort of vacation from the trip after finding a very affordable offer.

Returning to the journey itself, before Covid stopped you, how many countries have you visited?

During the round-the-world project, I was in 48 countries. My first stop was the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. After that, I went to Portugal, at the westernmost point of Europe. From there my climb to Scandinavia began. At the North Cape, after having done all the European statelets, I saw the midnight sun. Later, I reached the Baltic Republics, then Moscow, from where I took the Trans-Siberian, which took me to Siberia. Then I went to Mongolia and, later, to Beijing. All strictly by train.

Then I went to Tibet, Nepal, India, Myanmair, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, from where I took a cargo ship that in nine nights took me to Australia, to the port of Fremantle, near Perth. . There I rented a moped and did the coast to coast with destination Sidney. In Adelaide, however, I abandoned the scooter and continued by public transport to the Australian city, from where I took another cargo ship to California. About three weeks of travel, with a stop in New Zealand. From the Port of Oakland (California), I went to Alaska to see the Northern Lights. Then Canada, the United States on the road and Latin America. I traveled around Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego by bicycle (about 2,500 kilometers). Finally, I hitched a bit to get back up and arrived in Buenos Aires I was stuck.

The place that impressed you the most of all?

Among all I must say Peru, in particular Cuzco, in the Peruvian Andes. Historically very important, it is a city always full of people and the landscape is spectacular. Not to mention the cultural side, the traditions are still alive, tangible. The villages, the bustling markets, the simple but beautiful life. There is everything.

An anecdote that, on the other hand, has particularly impressed you?

I would have many. The hospitality of the Argentines has remained in my heart. When I walked the Patagonia and the Tierra del Fuego by bicycle, seeing the flag of Italy on the vehicle, many people invited me to their home. I spent about 10 days without ever spending a euro. Some had Italian grandparents and then they wanted to hear tales of our places. In Patagonia, then, people are different from the rest of Argentina, they have a different lifestyle, less hectic, more peaceful. Having the opportunity to be hosted in those wonderful – and quite expensive – places is incredible.

Then, when I was on the cargo betweenAustralia and the California, I lived twice on the same day. It’s funny, but it really happened because of the time difference. I left on Sunday and, when I arrived, it was still Sunday.

And still when I was in Mongolia, in the Gobi desert, I lived in the gher, the tents of the nomads. There, camel droppings are very important because they are used as fuel. One evening, I went to pick them up. I saw the camels in the distance, gradually getting bigger, closer, faster. At some point, probably believing me to be a threat, they started running towards me. Taken by surprise, I ran away throwing the sack of excrement. I screamed. Fortunately, the owners came and somehow stopped them. I don’t know how it would have ended otherwise. Now it’s funny, but at the moment I was afraid.

Guest in Patagonia, in the Gobi desert in a tent. For the rest, how did you manage with the accommodation?

90% of the nights I spent in a hostel, in dormitories. I paid 3-4 euros. Then I used the tent a lot, which I kept in my backpack, especially in Argentina, Chile and Australia. In some places, however, I had to invent accommodation a bit, like in the United States, where I often slept in a rented car. It may seem incredible, but I was “staying” in supermarket parking lots.

Did loneliness weigh on you?

In fact, I’ve never really been alone because I’ve met so many people. Especially in Latin American countries it is really a challenge to be alone.

Didn’t you give yourself a time limit?

Initially, I wanted to be away for 1000 days. Then they almost doubled. When you really experience the places you visit, they pass quickly. Before leaving, in 2016, I had set aside a nice nest egg, around 40 thousand euros, so as not to be forced to work and at the same time to be able to visit expensive places, such as the Faroe Islands. I did it. The budget even allowed me to get by a little longer, but it wasn’t possible.

Do you miss that life now that you’re home?

Yes and no, because the pandemic has knocked me down. Honestly, I’m not positive at all. I think that at least until the end of next year the backpacking trip, for land borders, in short, in freedom, will be a mirage.

Have you written a logbook?

Yes, for a period of time. The initial idea was to write a personal diary every day, different from what I write on social media, where I can express myself in a deeper and more detailed way. However, I lasted a year. It took me one or two hours a day, so I preferred to put it on stand-by to experience the street more and make acquaintances.

What are you going to do now? Upcoming projects?

I am working on writing a book about the first part of my world tour. Furthermore, I would like to visit Italy and personally meet the people who have followed me over the years. Village after village. Paradoxically, I don’t know my country well, only superficially. The main project, however, remains to finish my journey, because in all respects I have not been around the world. I’m well underway, but I’m not done yet. I don’t lose sight of my goal. I will pick up where I left off, Buenos Aires, and then continue with my original itinerary: Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Africa.


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