Life & Leisure

Atlantis Expedition: The trans-oceanic raft voyage that defied the impossible

By Julieta Barrera

Buenos Aires, Sep 10 (EFE).- “Let man know that man can,” Argentina’s Alfredo Barragan said after crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Spain’ Canary Islands to Venezuela in a rudderless raft built out of logs 37 years ago, his most famous feat in decades of expeditions in five different continents.

A 72-year-old retired attorney who has dedicated most of his life to sporting expeditions and scientific exploration, Barragan founded and still leads the Center for Sporting, Exploration and Research Activities, the organization through which he has planned and carried out each of his projects.

The most recent of them is an upcoming museum of exploration that will be based in Dolores, a town in Buenos Aires province where he was born and has always lived.

With the conviction that “nothing is impossible” and that the only barriers are “a lack of willingness to make the effort and a fear of dreaming big,” Barragan not only was captain of the Atlantis Expedition but also has crossed the Caribbean Sea by kayak, gone diving in Antarctica, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc and Aconcagua and traveled the length of the Andes in a hot-air balloon.

In remarks to Efe, he emphasized the intense planning that went into tackling those many challenges. “We’re absolutely serious when it comes to carrying out the expeditions. I’m a sporting explorer, not an adventurer.”

In 1984, the world was witness to the daring voyage of a group of five Argentines – Jorge Iriberri, Felix Arrieta, Horacio Oscar Giaccaglia, Daniel Sanchez Magariños and Barragan – who traveled in a 13.6-meter (45-foot) by 5.8-meter rudderless log raft with a single sail from the port of Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands to La Guaira, Venezuela.

Barragan had become convinced that the colossal stone head sculptures of the Olmec civilization, who lived in what today is the Gulf coast of Mexico, were representations of people of African origin who had accidentally traveled along specific ocean currents to the Americas long before Columbus.

“I started studying the North Atlantic currents and I quickly found a conveyor belt (the North Equatorial Current) that runs from (continental) Spain to the Canary Islands and from the Canary Islands to the Americas … and goes back via the North Atlantic to Europe,” he said.

Barragan said he traveled to Mexico and tried to no avail to convey those ideas to experts and challenge the prevailing conclusion that the sculptures, which date from 1200-400 BCE, were made to represent Olmec rulers.

“At a certain point, I said ‘I can’t convince them. There’s only one solution – I’ll make a raft that’s a faithful copy of the African one … and I’ll be on board,'” he recalled.

He gathered together three other men – Iriberri, Giaccaglia and Sanchez Magariños – with extensive nautical knowledge and also brought along a cameraman (Arrieta) to film the voyage.

A few years later, that footage was used to make an award-winning and commercially successful 1988 Spanish-language documentary titled “Expedicion Atlantis.”

“Those four years prior were terrible. Every day there were reasons to abandon (the project). That didn’t happen at sea. At sea, ‘Atlantis’ flowed,” he recalled.

“Dreaming, going after one’s dreams, building a reality out of that dream are all worth it,” he said of the voyage. “Enjoying that struggle” and feeling a “splendid peace at the moment of achieving your goal.” EFE


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