About 20 people applaud in a square in the upper area of Barcelona the arrival of a cyclist with a tired face. A small hand-painted banner welcomes you and details your feat: “25,700 kilometers and 43 countries”. Nil Cabutí smiles and sets foot on the ground. It is December 28, and here ends a 10-month trip by bicycle through Europe full of contrasts in the middle of the pandemic.
Cabutí’s plan (Barcelona, 30 years old) was to travel from the Catalan capital to Singapore, but the pandemic caught him on the bike a few days after he started pedaling. He was trapped by the closure of borders in Italy the day after entering the country. “It was March, and at the police checkpoints they stopped cars, but not me,” he recalls. “The police looked at me, but they let me go on. Every day I started thinking that it could be the last, that they would send me home ”, he adds.
The closure of restaurants and hotels in Italy disrupted his trip. “I used to book hotels through Booking, but when I arrived at the establishment it was closed. I had already paid, but they told me they couldn’t stay. People were afraid of the covid ”, he emphasizes. He modified his routines. He began to spend the first hour of each day looking for accommodation before he started pedaling. “Approximately 10% of the establishments were open and I called them directly,” he recalls. Nor was it easy for him to eat in full confinement: “One day, a man had to give me some cans of tuna and toast at a gas station because in Italy supermarkets close on Sunday. I couldn’t buy anything! “
I had wanted to go on a great bike trip for a long time. “I have two great passions: cycling and travel,” he emphasizes. After seven years working abroad as a Civil Engineer, he took a leave of absence to cross half the world. “I soon realized that it would be impossible to get to Singapore. In Slovenia they were as bad as in Italy, and in Croatia they didn’t let me pass at the 10 border points I went to ”. The route to Asia was quickly ruled out.
In Sweden people looked down on the virus; they thought it was like a flu
The situation changed when he went to the Nordic countries, then examples of health management, according to the information reaching Spain. “In Germany and Switzerland people didn’t even wear a mask, and in Sweden the restaurants were full; It seemed that the covid did not exist ”, he recalls. In the Scandinavian country, he felt that what was commented on some Catalan radio talk shows did not correspond to what he saw: “They said that in Sweden people complied with the measures and it was not true. I was there and people looked down on the virus; they thought it was like a flu and that it only affected older people. And on the train they didn’t even take my temperature ”. “Perhaps the capacity of their hospital system allowed them to avoid health tension and they were calmer,” he reflects. In Ukraine something similar happened: “They warned that it was impossible to enter, but I entered; you realize that everything is relative ”.
The radio was one of his best weapons against loneliness. “I have spent 95% of the trip alone,” he calculates. He also got help from social networks, where he shared his experiences on Instagram. Technology was key for him in Belarus. “Nobody speaks English! He sent screenshots of the Google translator to understand me. There were almost no restrictions ”. And favors were paid in euros: “I clicked, and they asked me for euros instead of rubles after helping me.”
One of the few times the police stopped him was in Paris, on his way to Catalonia. When the gendarmes asked him to return home, he replied: “I’m already going home.” Although it was more than 1,000 kilometers away. The agents let him go.
The trip leaves him with a pleasant, but also bitter feeling: “I have missed a lot. Amsterdam seemed like a dead town and I did the Camino de Santiago without enjoying the anthropological part ”. And the future? “I have the route to Singapore pending.” And if it can be, without covid.