Wednesday, 09 January 2013 20:27
With 20,000 miles behind him, “El Caminante” has traveled to all of Latin America on foot, bringing a message of conservation.
Six years ago, former firefighter Martin Hutchinson
found the cheapest one-way flight available to Latin America and never looked back. After arriving in Cancún, Mexico, Hutchinson planned to hitchhike through Central America, though it didn’t work out as well as he had hoped. Nobody stopped to pick him up, so he started to walk South and never really stopped.
With 20,000 miles behind him, Hutchinson has walked to all 21 South and Central American countries.
“I think if I left England with this in mind, I would never do it,” he says. “Now it sounds like nothing.”
And he has no plans of stopping his journey. Living off bits of savings he accrued when working in England, Hutchinson has few expenses and can afford to continue living and walking. He always refuses money when it’s offered to him.
When traveling, Hutchinson walks between 18 and 50 miles a day, carrying a small backpack and the British flag. He travels to cities generally without contacts or a place to stay and either pitches a tent or relies on the kindness of strangers. He is now staying at a fire station in Concepción, Chile and has weathered all sorts varying living situations.
A woman who opened her doors to him in Puerto Viejo, Chile made a particularly strong impression on him.
“It’s 2:30 in the morning and I arrived to this town and it’s pitch black,” Hutchinson says. “I look for a place to put my tent, and this woman asks what I’m doing. She came down and asked me, ‘would you like a cup of coffee?’”
The two talked for a couple hours and she eventually asked Hutchinson if he would like to stay a couple days. This type of generosity is not rare, says Hutchinson. He found people especially friendly in northern Chile.
“If I needed something, those people would help you without question,” says Hutchinson.
As one would assume, Hutchinson’s adventures have often involved a bit of danger. He’s been attacked with an ax in Brazil and hit over the head with a glass bottle in Ecuador. Though most attacks have been by people trying to steal his camera, he also had a run-in with Brazilian African Killer Bees while walking through French Guyana. Obviously, it hasn’t been enough to stop him from walking.
In his travels, Hutchinson has also started advocating for environmental preservation. After spending hour after hour in meditation with the landscape, Hutchinson became increasingly passionate about the need to conserve these areas.
“In Bolivia I saw this river and it just made me so angry,” he says, recalling the moment he made the decision. The river was filled with so much plastic trash and bottles, Hutchinson felt he had to do something about it. “I’m actually going to use the media to push this (environmentalism) now.”All photos by Martin Hutchinson
Now, when Hutchinson passes through towns, he walks up to the first news station he can find to tell his story and advocate for his cause. After meeting with the press, he tries to arrange talks at local schools, a task he finds easier once he’s been featured in local news.
Hutchinson has now traveled to over 1,000 schools and universities in Latin America. The response he receives, he says, varies.
“The (country) kids are more connected to the land and more conscious of what they are doing. It’s the people in the cities that need to have more of a connection to the countryside.”
Hutchinson even includes a preservation message in his footwear.
“I got a pair of normal boots and I put car tires on the bottom of them, so I can walk in one pair of shoes for 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles). If you do something as simple as this you can save a lot of money.”
Though Hutchinson admits he has made sacrifices in his lifestyle, he is happier living as a nomad. He is glad to avoid places with an overdependence on technology. Treadmills, for instance, seem ridiculous to him.
“(People say) you’re crazy for walking. Then why are these people in the gym, on a machine and they’re paying for it? It’s all completely negative energy. You’re only doing it for your own vanity.”
At 52, Hutchinson says he plans to continue walking Latin America over the next four years. Though he has minor complaints of a weak left knee and minor arthritis pain, Hutchinsons says he will stay, provided he continues in good health and can renew his visa in Concepción. Next up: Temuco, Chile.
By Elizabeth Trovall (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Copyright 2013 - The Santiago TimesEditor's note: This article orginally incorrectly relayed an anecdote from Mr. Hutchinson's travels, saying that he met a woman at 10 o'clock at night in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. The encounter actually happened in Puerto Viejo, Chile at 2:30 a.m. The error has been corrected and The Santiago Times apologizes to Mr. Hutchinson and our readers for the mistake.