Your trip ‘South America by Forces of Nature’ started in January 2013. According to the original plan, you were supposed to finish it in February 2014. However, it turned out that you were able to reach the destination 98 days before the scheduled date. How did you feel, running into Caribbean Sea in Punta Gallinas in Colombia?

Such an ending is a mix of emotions; happiness is mixed with sadness but, above all, there is the joy of achieving your goal. In the end, I dreamed about this for so many years. On the other hand, fulfilling a dream means having a life with one dream less. Except there was no time to celebrate success; it was necessary to organise water (because it had run out), find accommodation and arrange transportation for the next day. The trip continued, just in a different form. The end of one journey is a beginning of another, and this is probably why I was happy – new challenges lay ahead of me.

Nine years of dreams and plans; where did you even get the idea for such a crazy venture?

I was on a river barge on the Brazilian Amazon. I was rocking in a hammock when suddenly, in the middle of the night, we stopped and dragged a white man on board. I was very intrigued with the story of this Swiss who, for several weeks, was boating the Amazon on a rowing boat that he had bought. It bored him, so he sold the boat and now travelled on our barge. There was not even a Brazilian stamp in his passport, only a paper scrap from a policeman from near to the Brazilian-Ecuadorian border. He impressed me. Even more, he simply showed me, in his own example, that you can go beyond the templates; you can do things yourself, you just have to want it. After this conversation, I could not sleep. I pulled out my notebook and sketched a map of South America. I decided that some day I will cross this continent without using any motor driven-transport. I looked at the map and came up with an idea – from the south to the north cape. It was April 15, 2004.

Part of the route you travelled with your wife, Ewelina, but the vast majority of the time you were alone. How did you handle the loneliness?

I do not have problem with being alone. It is natural for me. I was alone, but not lonely.

You travelled with a yellow inflatable duck named Grażyna. Could you tell us something about her?

Grażynka is my travelling companion since 2003. It all started in a student house where, with other nuts, I swam in the ice cold Lake Zakrzówek in Kraków – accompanied by Grażynka. From then, the duck has come everywhere with me.

During your trip, you had various anniversaries, birthdays and holidays. Did you try to celebrate them somehow or did you ignored them?

I am attached to dates and numbers. I remembered all of them, but it was difficult to celebrate them. If I happened to be in civilisation then I usually feasted it with a better meal. In nature, however, it remained just simple thought.

You used 19 different modes of transport. These include, among others a blue wheelbarrow and a shopping cart. None of them were driven by an engine and you were very firm about this, refusing even riding an elevator in Santiago de Chile. Which method of travel do you most fondly remember?

I cannot compare these modes of transport, but I think the most joy came from the shopping cart, scooter, wheelbarrow and rollerblades. It is probably because these modes were not planned before the expeditions; they were completely spontaneous. It also helped establish valuable acquaintances with the people I met.

You divided your journey into 19 stages. Which one was the most difficult and why?

The most difficult turned out to be the stage with Park Pumalin. Firstly, I was banned entry by the owner of the largest private park in the world. Secondly, almost everyone on the internet told me that this forest cannot be walked because of cliffs, rushing rivers, soft ground (under a thin layer of roots), rotten tree trunks, complete isolation; even other mammals do not go there! It turned out that, in general, they were right. The first hour of march was 300 metres of distance travelled. I was struggling physically, but mainly mentally. I walked very slowly, I started to run out of food. Add to this the frequent hanging lianas and other plant roots and constantly falling down. I managed to break carbon walking poles! After that, it was very difficult to cross rivers (how do you check the depth of water? It is harder with a wooden stick). Despite this, I moved forward, although I was very worried about the fact that I might not make good enough time to meet with a scheduled kayaker. He was bringing two kayaks from the sea. Fortunately, I found satellite connection near a river and I postponed the meeting.

The worst, however, was the raft accident. The detailed description is on  my blog. It was a lesson that could have cost me a lot. However, it all ended happily.

During my travels, it always fascinates me to meet other Poles – both those living in the country as well as other travellers. Did you meet many of our countrymen while traveling through South America?

I have not met many Poles but, when it happened, it was a nice meeting, as with travellers. Maybe I met Poles no more than 10 times, of which I only went out for dinner or a beer to talk with half. I liked those moments; they charged me positively.

The universal proverb says that travel educates. You also repeatedly mention on your blog the various lessons that you got from nature. Which one do you consider the most valuable?

During this trip, I got many lessons, all valuable in their way. The raft incident taught me that I should not take unnecessary risks while nearly getting hit by a truck made me realise that the most dangerous part of the journey was other people, especially on the road.

The most surprising lesson was probably to discover that local people know their land very poorly, so they could not give me solid information where I had no maps.

If we talk about the value of such lesson – it has constantly proven the same thing – I see what other people have to live with and I am glad of what I have. I do not have right to complain about anything.

On your blog, you write: ‘being in nature is beautiful, but returning to comfortable habitats – perhaps stronger’. How did you feel when you returned home?

Coming back home was very easy. I have this advantage (although sometimes I thinks it is disadvantage – a lack of any stronger emotional bond) of being able to immediate adapt to new conditions. It was very helpful on the road, but at home I did not have this feeling of coming back from ‘wilderness’. I felt right away as if I have not left for a long time. I went to work several days after coming back home – for me it is the norm.

Looking at the map of your trip, I have the impression that you have been almost everywhere already. What are your plans for the future?

The number of countries does not reflect in any way ‘being everywhere’. There is not much left to see from the ‘greatest hits’ of world-class tourist attractions, but even a trip to the same country – the same place, even – but another way (eg. on foot) is a completely different experience. Different people, different circumstances. My problem is not the plan, because I have plenty of them – only if I will be able to realise them all in my lifetime.


Photo © Michał Kozok

Michał Kozok’s blog


Comments are closed.