Ignacio Dean, first Spaniard to walk around the world. Photo: Ignacio Dean.

Dean’s trip involved hiking across the desert in Australia. Photo: Ignacio Dean.

Dean also hiked across the Atacama Desert in Chile – the driest desert in the world. Photo: Ignacio Dean.

Ignacio spent three years to complete his trip, visiting 31 countries in four continents. Photo: Ignacio Dean.

In his new adventure, Expedition Nemo, Dean is planning to connect one continent to the next by swimming across the ocean. Photo: Ignacio Dean.

This time, Ignacio’s goal is to raise awareness of the need for ocean care. Photo: Ignacio Dean.

Ignacio Dean, an adventurer in defence of nature

He was the first Spaniard to walk around the world, visiting 31 countries and covering 33,000 kilometres in three years. His goal: to raise awareness of the need to protect nature. His new challenge: swimming from one continent to the next for ocean care.

When we look up the word ‘globetrotter’, we should find a picture of Ignacio Dean (Málaga, 1980). Few people have travelled as much as he has, and even fewer have travelled the way he has. He is the first Spaniard and the fifth person in the world to travel the world… on foot! They are fewer than those who have walked on the Moon!

It took Ignacio three years to walk the world. In so doing, he visited 31 countries in four continents. He covered 33,000 kilometres. And he wore down 12 pairs of shoes! His feat was aimed at stressing the need for environmental protection. Afterwards, he wrote a book: Libre y salvaje, short-listed for the Discovery Awards 2014 and nominated for the Prince of Asturias Awards 2015.

This Phileas Fogg made in Spain has not quenched his thirst for adventure. So he is now taking a swim for a new challenge. He is planning to link all five continents by swimming. His new awareness-raising goal is ocean care. The new adventure, called Expedition Nemo, has already begun: Ignacio has swum across the Strait of Gibraltar and connected Kastellorizo, a Greek island, with Kaş, in Turkey.

 You are the first Spaniard to have walked the world. How and why did you embark on this adventure?

 It was a dream I had. I love sports, travel and adventure. I had faced other hiking challenges: Trans-Pyrenees, several routes in the Way of St James, the Arctic Circle… When I reached a place on foot, it felt so good that once I said, What about travelling around the world on foot?

Then I had the idea of using the adventure to raise awareness of climate change and stress the need to protect wildlife and nature. I wanted the endeavour to go beyond the personal. I wanted it to be associated with a significant cause.

 The adventure began on 21 March 2013 and finished on 20 March 2016. What can you tell us about those three years?

 The start date had a symbolic meaning: first day of spring 2013. I chose Kilometre Zero in Madrid as my starting point, and then the route took me to 31 different countries, starting with Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey. I came to Istanbul four months later, on 21 July.

Turkey was the gateway to Asia, my second continent. It was larger than Europe and there were more things to take into account: visas, vaccinations, currency, new cultures, new ecosystems… I knew that, if I could make it in Asia, I would make it anywhere. So from Turkey I went to Georgia, Armenia, Iran, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Bali. That completed my tour of Asia, on 21 April 2014.

From Asia I travelled to Oceania, my third continent, which I toured in three months, hiking across the desert. I reached Sydney on 21 July 2014. Then I took a plane to Santiago, Chile, the first city in my fourth continent: America.

The American itinerary included Chile, the Atacama Desert, the Andes, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico and the United States. On 20 February 2016, I flew from New York to Lisbon for the final stage of my trip: Lisbon-Madrid, about 600 kilometres. I came to Madrid on 20 March 2016. In sum, 33,000 kilometres, four continents, 31 countries, 12 pairs of shoes and a zillion interesting stories.

 You spent three years walking around the world. Of course, it is not possible to plan every single day ahead on a trip like yours. How did you plan your trip?

 I spent nine months planning this trip, every hour, every single day. I came up with a tentative itinerary and schedule. It was a long trip, it was far from safe, so I tried to cover my back. But then, of course, you cannot plan everything in such a long adventure. Things just happen, things you had not foreseen, and you just have to respond to them.

 What is your sweetest memory of the trip, the moment you would pick if you could choose only one?

 Stargazing in the Atacama Desert.

 And what about the most dreadful?

 A robbery with machetes in Mexico.

 So you have been through a robbery with machetes?

 In some Mexican states, drug cartels are very powerful and crime is the order of the day. I was crossing the border between the states of Veracruz and Tabasco – a long, lonely stretch. At the end of the day, I made out a bunch of men coming closer. There were three of them and they were carrying machetes. Machetes are used by field workers in the area, so I hoped these three men were just farmers.

But when they were only a few feet away, one of them threatened me with his machete and asked me to give them everything I had. I did not stop. Instead, I ran away, pushing my trolley against them. They ran after me, but eventually they got tired and I left them behind. And thus, I got out unscathed.

 It seems that you have not had enough: you are planning your next adventure, which consists in swimming around the world.

 In my walking tour, whenever I stumbled upon water, I had to resort to means of transport, for of course, you cannot walk on water. And yet, 70% of our planet is water. So I felt I owed oceans something. This is how the idea of swimming across them all came into being.

I would like to convey a message this time too: we need to take care of our oceans. I will be carrying a camcorder and a camera. In fact, the new adventure is already under way. It began on June 8, World Oceans Day.