Over 20 years ago, in 1996, a young man vanished from his household in Seville, Spain. No one heard from him again, until a few mushroom pickers stumbled across his campsite in Italy.
What was a licensed doctor with a psychology degree who could speak multiple languages doing in a Tuscan forest? His family was worried sick, as they hadn’t heard from him in over two decades. Now was their chance to be reunited with their son. Or was it?
Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover
Even though someone looks happy and successful on the outside, something else entirely can be going on in their head. For one young Spanish doctor, this couldn’t be more accurate. To his family, friends, and patients, he seemed to live a charmed life. That is, until he vanished one day without a trace.
Local authorities searched for the doctor for days only to come up empty-handed. What could possibly make a person want to pack up and disappear from society?
Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar Was A Smart Man
26-year-old Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar was young and seemed to have everything going for him. He was an accomplished young man, living in Seville, Spain as a licensed doctor. He also had a degree in psychology and spoke multiple languages. His future looked very bright.
Then, in 1996, he shocked his family when he didn’t show up for work, vanishing from his home. Was he kidnapped? Did he run away? Their son’s perfect life didn’t look so perfect after all.
The Doctor Suffered From Acute Depression
It was later discovered that Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar suffered from acute depression. His case seemed to be bad enough that it, presumably, didn’t allow him to enjoy his accomplishments to the fullest.
The thing is, he didn’t tell anyone. The young man was trying to deal with his mental illness quietly and under the radar. No one knew how much he was suffering because he wasn’t vocal about the illness. His family and experts have concluded that his unhappiness is what made him leave.
Depression Can Lead To Emotional And Physical Problems
According to Mayo Clinic, “depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest…it affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.”
If he had sought help, maybe Carlos’ story would have turned out a bit differently. The thing is, his family had no idea he was going through this emotional turmoil. Now all they wanted to do was find their son and help him.
There Was A 14-Year Search Party
For the next 14 years, the authorities, helpful citizens, friends, and family joined together on a vast manhunt in the hopes of finding Carlos. They came up empty-handed. In 2010, after no leads concerning the case came about, the local authorities called off the search.
Authorities publicly declared Carlos to be “presumably deceased.” The family was heartbroken. They had no closure with their son. What they didn’t know is that this wasn’t the end of the road and that some new information would surface five years later.
Hitchhikers Were Looking For Mushrooms But Found Something Strange
In November 2015, a group of hitchhikers decided to go on a day trip to find edible mushrooms in the woods just outside of Tuscany, Italy. In the Maremma region, these types of mushrooms are plentiful and pretty common to come by.
Unfortunately, the hitchhikers weren’t lucky that day, unable to find any fungi on the marked path. So, like any self-proclaimed nomad, they decided to go off the beaten path, hoping to have better luck. They wandered deep into the forest, where they came across something strange.
There Was A Boat Load Of Trash Littering The Forest
The hitchhikers stumbled upon something weird, and it wasn’t abnormal mushrooms. The hikers saw a bunch of trash littering the forest floor. At first, they thought it was the result of a bunch of irresponsible campers.
But as they ventured further and further into the woods, following the trail of garbage, they found the source of the trash in a clearing. In front of them was a makeshift campsite. So they weren’t totally wrong thinking the garbage was from campers.
The Campsite Was Enough For Survival
The site was something to behold. Surrounding the area were old, empty bottles hanging from trees to collect rainwater, with shoes, buckets, umbrellas, and jerry cans lying around the forest floor. The camper had even thought to string up a large tarp between some trees for shelter.
Whoever set up the spot knew what they were doing, or, at least, they were able to figure it out well enough to survive the elements.
The Campsite Wasn’t Abandoned
As the hikers investigated the campsite, something they didn’t expect happened. A man emerged from underneath the tarp. They went on the record later, stating that the man had a dirty face with a large beard covering most of it.
Thinking the man might be dangerous, the hikers ran from the clearing and got back on the path. They wanted to go back and get some answers but thought it best not to venture alone. The hikers decided that taking an authority figure with them was a smart idea.
“I’m Spanish, My Name Is Carlos, And I’ve Been Living Here Since 1997”
They found a park ranger and brought him back to the campsite. Backed up by the ranger, everyone started to ask the man questions. He was short and sweet with his introduction. “I’m Spanish, my name is Carlos and I’ve been living here since 1997,” he said. “I don’t want to live among people: now that you have found me I need to get out of here.”
That’s when the ranger asked for some identification.
He Had An Expired Passport And University Library Card
The ranger probably assumed the man had no ID on him. He was living in the middle of an Italian forest, after all. To his surprise, Carlos pulled out a few ID options, including an expired passport and an old university library card.
Leave it to the doctor to remember to bring ID with him while he vanished from society. Something was very clear to the ranger and hikers, Carlos was vividly unhappy about his campsite being found.
It Was Time For Carlos To Pack Up And Move On
The same name appeared on both documents, Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar. Carlos told them that he had been living there because he didn’t want to “live among people” and now that he’d been found, he’d have to pack up and move.
Sensing that there was more to the story than Carlos was letting on, the hikers took pictures of the documents. Their plan was to give the pictures to the authorities and hopefully, they’d be able to track down the man’s family.
The Authorities Were Able To Locate His Parents
Turns out that the hikers were right! After they handed over the pictures to the Penelope Association in Italy and the S.O.S. Desaparecidos in Spain, both of which track down missing persons, they were able to confirm his identity.
Thankfully, the authorities were then able to reach Carlos’ parents, who immediately boarded a plane to Italy. “That’s him – that’s our Carlos. He is alive and that is the most important thing,” they told journalists from Corriere Della Sera.
S.O.S. Desaparecidos In Spain
Established in Caravaca de la Cruz in 2010 but active since 2007, S.O.S. Desaparecidos in Spain is a non-profit association that helps with disseminating information about missing persons.
It was smart of the hitchhikers to give Carlos’ information to the organization in Spain and not just Italy. There was a higher chance of his whereabouts getting back to his family. One thing was still nagging at them though: how was he able to survive there for two decades?
There Are A Few Theories On How He Fed Himself
Once Carlos’ case went public, a lot of scholars were curious as to how he was able to feed himself in the wild for so many years. A popular theory was that he selected the Tuscan woods because of the abundant amount of food he’d be able to forage.
Others thought he might have gone through the garbage bins of people who lived in the nearby town of Scarlino. There are reports of locals claiming to have seen him through the years.
About 31.1% Of Italy Is Forest
Italy is a great hiding place for someone who isn’t looking to be found. While the cities and beaches are highly populated with locals and tourists, the country has vast areas of untouched land. All the mountains and forests make it the perfect place to stay off the radar.
In fact, in recent years there had been a depopulation of people in the more rural areas of Italy, creating a denser forested landscape. Carlos was smart in choosing this location.
All That Mattered To His Mother Was That He Was Alive
He was able to survive in the forest, so Carlos’ family knew it was very possible that he would be gone by the time they got to his campsite. And even if they did manage to cross paths, since he’d been living in the wild for twenty years, there was no certainty that he would want to come back to civilization.
None of that mattered to his mother. The important thing was that he was alive and that knowledge felt as if he “had been born again.”
His Parents Were Not Giving Up A Chance To See Their Son
Even though there was a real possibility that he wasn’t going to be there, his parents weren’t going to give up this opportunity to see him again. “It would be enough to see him for just half an hour. Then if it is his wish, we would not try to see him again,” his mother told Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“We will respect his wishes and his freedom, but we won’t go home until we have at least given him a hug, even for a few moments.”
Carlos’ Campsite Was Abandoned
Along with the local authorities, they once again joined a search party to look for their “missing” son. As they were still there, the mushroom pickers took them to the campsite where Carlos had been staying. Unfortunately, when they arrived the site was completely abandoned.
Carlos told the park ranger he was going to leave, and he did. “We checked the place where he had his shelter but there was no trace of it any longer. Who knows where he might be now,” said Marcello Stella, mayor of Scarlino.
Once Again, The Manhunt Stopped
After several days of searching around the campsite, it was obvious that Carlos was long gone. Authorities once again stopped the manhunt. At the time, De Salazar was, after all, a grown man of 47. He was hiding out from society by his own choice.
Stella told Il Tirreno, “We will continue to keep an eye out in the forest, but we won’t be actively searching for anybody. This is not the responsibility of the council; and after all, he is hiding of his own free will.”
A Brilliant Young Man With A Bright Future
Sotero Martin, the mayor of Cazalla de la Sierra, a town near Seville where Carlos had lived before taking to the woods, described Carlos as an intelligent young man who studied psychology and medicine and spoke several languages. He was a bright individual with a lot going for his future.
“He left behind friends and fellow students. Although he was quite introverted, he was very polite and responsible”, Sotero Martín told the newspaper La Razón.
The Family Is Not Giving Up Hope
Even though the search parties have stopped and the authorities are no longer actively looking for Carlos, the family still has hope that one day they will see their son again. Even those who originally helped with the search are not giving up the notion that one day he might be found.
Nicodemo Gentile, head of the missing person group in Italy, told The Local Italy, “We will continue to follow this case and help the family, with the hope that one day they can embrace the son who left them…all those years ago.”
Life In The Woods
What makes a person decide they want to up and vanish from society? That they no longer want to have human contact? Go off-grid and live off the land? Even though it seems a bit strange for people to willingly vanish from normal life, Carlos was not the first to think of the idea.
In 1854, Henry David Thoreau decided to write a book about his attempt to live a secluded life for more than two years, entitled, Walden; or, Life in the Woods.
Everett Ruess: The Original Lost Boy
Thoreau’s book inspired many to take the leap and go off-grid. The thing is, living off the land is a lot harder than exploring it. There are some people that just aren’t meant to live in the wild. Take Everett Ruess, for example.
He went on his first hike in 1934 when he was 16 years old. By the time he was 20, he decided to ride to a small town near Utah, stay there a few nights, and then he ventured off, never to be heard from again.
Unraveling The Mystery 65 Years Later
More than 65 years later, clues were discovered as to Everett’s whereabouts, thanks to National Geographic adventure writer David Roberts. He went to the small town near Utah to talk with some of the locals who may have been there in 1934.
Some of them were not surprised to hear that the young man had disappeared all those years ago. They didn’t think he was equipped to handle the Utah wilderness. But Roberts wasn’t giving up that easily.
Shepherds Were Most Likely Responsible
After a search party went after him in 1935, they discovered that Everett was seen by some shepherds on his way up the Utah desert. They were the last to see him alive. Although it can’t be proven, it’s widely believed that these shepherds had something to do with his disappearance. Or at least know something.
Unfortunately, the main culprit had passed away, so there was no one who could accept or deny Roberts’ suspicions. The case is still unsolved.
Human Brains Need A Mental Detox
David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist from the University of Utah, has studied the impact nature has on the human brain. He says that this particular organ gets “easily fatigued” and needs a mental break from time to time.
People such as Carlos and Everett go to the wild because it allows their brains to feel restored. Being in nature is a kind of mental detox that our minds need in order for them to stop racing with the busy work of day-to-day life.
Living Close To Nature Lessens Mental Stress
It sounds like Carlos was on to something because most experts agree that living near nature helps lower stress in the body. According to The great outdoors? Exploring the Mental Health Benefits of Natural Environments, living closer to nature can lessen mental distress.
Such a de-stressor could be very important for a person dealing with depression. It’s even said that looking at nature pictures has a calming effect on the human mind.
There Is A Sense Of Freedom Living Alone
Aside from mental health, going off-grid can also be related to the freedom of living alone. Take Carlos, for example. One of the things he told the park ranger was that he didn’t want to be around people. Even though he went to an extreme living alone situation, it’s a way of life for a lot of people around the world.
According to Inter Press Service News Agency, “Of the world’s two billion households, approximately 15 percent – or 300 million – are one-person households.”
Carlos Sanchez Ortiz De Salaza Has Not Been Found
Carlos’ sister, Olga, went on Twitter a few weeks after her brother’s case went viral, thanking everyone who had come out to help her family with the search party. She said, “Thank you for giving us hope that has given some relief in the terrible tragedy that we have been living.”
To this day, Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar has yet to be found again. But since he was located once before, perhaps a few years down the line there will be another break in the case.