The Man Who Backpacked Through South America for Six Months (and Wrote a Book About it)

When you see him, you would never guess that he is a backpacker. He doesn’t look like the type of guy who would decide to start his post-midlife crisis travel because he’d had enough of climbing the corporate ladder. Nor does he look like a youngster taking a gap year or one of those neo-hippies who walk around wearing baggy clothes and dreads. No, he looks like an ordinary person. A guy in his early 30s with a stable job and a journalistic education, who decided that he won’t let society dictate his life and will do whatever he wants.


Fernando Castiñeiras was born in a small town in Galicia, Spain. He studied journalism in Madrid and then moved to Italy. Later on, he moved to Germany. Now he is living in Portugal. Well, mostly. He is definitely no foreigner to traveling, but he had always done it while having a stable job and a plan in mind. Until he decided that he wanted a change and South America seemed like a good idea.

               Fernando Castiñeiras presenting his book in Panitza Library | Denitsa Yosifova for AUBG Daily

Understandably, he was afraid in the beginning, and his fears were masked in socially acceptable excuses. It seemed like society had already planned out his life for him - professional development, marriage, kids, a house, and a car. But he didn’t want to let anyone else decide his future for him. “I wanted the total freedom to choose what to do with my life at all times.”


In March 2016, he started a journey which, in his own words, “turned [his] world upside down”. Over the course of almost six months, he traveled through Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. He set off with a backpack, a one-way ticket, and no plan. The only rule of his journey was to travel the gigantic continent only by land or by sea. He wanted to feel physically connected to the places he was visiting, something which you cannot do traveling by plane. 


Fernando’s journey was one off the beaten track. He did not join organized tours to Machu Picchu or take photos of touristic sights. Rather, he wanted to experience the culture through its people. He says he made friends that he still keeps in touch with and even learned to speak Quechua, the language of the Incas.

 Fernando Castiñeiras's book. Photo credit to Fernando Castiñeiras.

While in South America, Fernando kept a travel diary, which three years later he turned into the book “El plan es no tener plan” (“The plan is not to have a plan”). He managed to publish the book almost entirely on his own, with the help of a few friends only - a graphic designer, an editor, and a proofreader, who just happens to be the AUBG professor Lucía López Vázquez. He says it was not easy, and the book may not be perfect, but he likes it this way. “Every mistake is mine. The good is mine, the bad as well.”


Fernando says he wrote the book not because he felt he was a great writer, but because he wanted to share his experiences with more people. For him, the story is more important than the storyteller. “Even if you have a very beautiful voice, if the song is trash, it’s worth nothing.”


And his story is not like the ones we see on social media. “We share our journeys in a very superficial way,” he says. “And it is so important to share the fear you feel when you start something like this, the fear that disappears. To share why it is so important to know somebody. Because a person can change your life, a person that you’ve known for 24 hours.”


After a long and thought-provoking conversation, he said something that you don’t hear every day. “Don’t let people tell you which dreams you should turn into reality,” he said, “don’t let them tell you when, how, and why. Simply, do it when you feel like it. Because we are free to write our own stories.”

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