When Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced this week that his country would remain in lockdown until at least May, one well-known San Diegan was affected: Robert DeLaurentis, a pilot who departed last November for a historic journey.
DeLaurentis, known as the Zen Pilot, left for a highly-publicized six-month adventure late last year. His plan was to fly over the South Pole, the coldest place on Earth, before making his way to the North Pole. His trip was intended to unite the world while simultaneously marking other milestones, such as being the first known pilot to make a world trip with renewable fuel.
The former Navyman saw his plans halted after the new coronavirus, which causes the deadly COVID-19 disease, made its way to Europe, prompting him to lockdown in Spain.
“When COVID-19 first touched down here in Spain, one of the two epicenters of the coronavirus in Europe, and borders started shutting down, it would have been easy to end our Polar Circumnavigation and retreat back to the United States,” DeLaurentis said. “Many of my friends and some family encouraged me to do this, feeling it would be safer. My Flying Thru Life team and I made a strategic decision that I would stay here where we thought we could have the most positive impact and be of the greatest service.”
DeLaurentis has now been in Spain for more than five weeks with Prime Minister Sánchez announcing this week an extension to the quarantine. As of Tuesday, more than 21,000 people in Spain have died from complications related to COVID-19. The global death toll was at 171,000 as of Tuesday.
DeLaurentis said he’s had to change his residence three times during his extended stay in Europe — from a monastery in Montserrat to a hotel in Tarragona. He also believes he had a “weak version” of the new coronavirus because he had symptoms of fever, a tight chest and a sore throat for roughly six days.
Today, DeLaurentis is quarantined in Sitges.
“I eventually ended up in a beautiful place that is described as a Zen Villa, which is up in the hills overlooking the town of Sitges, Spain,” DeLaurentis told Times of San Diego.
Although many Americans abroad are finding ways to come home, DeLaurentis said he’s staying in Spain until he can complete his journey. He’s also staying in Spain for other reasons.
“Since the virus started in Spain, about a month before the U.S., it is my hope that Spain will emerge about a month early, and then I can continue my mission,” DeLaurentis said. “Returning to the U.S. didn’t feel right. It would have been like giving up and running away from our mission.”
Although Spain continues to see a daily death toll of roughly 600, DeLaurentis said the coronavirus pandemic is just one other challenge added to his journey.
“I felt that I had a 50% chance for survival flying to the South Pole in the Citizen of the World (aircraft),” DeLaurentis said. “I’m told I have a 99% chance for survival if I contract the coronavirus. I have overcome so many challenging situations on my trip that the virus seemed like another hurdle that I was meant to learn from.”
DeLaurentis is sharing his lessons with others too. He’s been spending his isolated days writing on his blog, Flying Thru Life, and he is working on his fourth book.
In a recent blog, DeLaurentis said he sees the pandemic as a learning opportunity.
“First and foremost, this pandemic is forcing us to see the humanity in others,” DeLaurentis wrote. “The pandemic doesn’t discriminate based on country, gender, or social status —and now there is some discussion that people of all ages are vulnerable to some degree. This means that those people on the other side of the pond must be more similar than different, and this has never been clearer than when dealing with the coronavirus.”
DeLaurentis’ reasoning connects to the purpose of his South Pole to North Pole journey: That working together is better than working alone.
“The antiquated way or relating to one another as competitors is not going to work anymore,” DeLaurentis wrote in his blog. “Rather than competing, we need to cooperate and realize that working together allows us to accomplish so much more than pursuing our own interests. This will allow our planet to thrive and show that we have learned our lessons and are ready to experience the period of calm that follows a successful lesson.”
For more information about Robert DeLaurentis or his Pole to Pole flight, go to flyingthrulife.com.