Herman Zapp and his Globetrotting 1928 Graham-Paige

Herman Zapp and his Globetrotting 1928 Graham-Paige image

Text: Iñigo S. Roces / Photos: Brent Co | posted November 27, 2010 03:30

The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Way

Cruising around the streets of CDB Makati for this week only is a 1928 Graham-Paige 612 sedan. Flags and names of countries, are painted on its sides, badges of car clubs from all the world are secured onto its very literal trunk. And on its roof, covered in a tarp with a map of the world is a pop up tent. The car belongs to Herman Zapp and his family, an Argentinian that has been driving around the world in their vintage "family home" for 10 years now. He's accompanied in his travels by his wife, Candelaria, and his four children, each born in a different country: Pampa (8 years old - USA); Tehue (5 years old - Argentina); Paloma (3 years old - Canada), and Wallaby (1 year old - Australia).

Brought up in a farm, Herman, along with his wife, whom he met when she was only 14, have always dreamed of travelling the world. Yet it wasn't until after six years of marriage that he decided to pursue this dream. Just three months before his departure, a friend had offered him a car in hopes that he might find a buyer for it. Today, that very vehicle has become his home on wheels, gaining more stamps on it than most people's passports. Though easily a museum piece and collectible, Herman wouldn't dare part with it, even modifying the vehicle with few convenience options like an electronic ignition and engine head balancer supplied and equipped by friends he met along the way.

He originally planned to travel from Argentina to Alaska. Yet the more he travelled, the more stops he made. His travels now stretch from Canada to Ushuaia, traversing across Australia and into New Zealand, and now through Asia.

Autoindustriya.com caught up with him as he was filling up in Petron Bel-Air, having received a generous donation of fuel cards from Petron Corporation to continue his journey through the Philippines. What follows is his ongoing story, told with the enthusiasm, charm and innocence that has kept his family's spirits high through 10 years on the road.

So Herman, please, tell us about your mission:

I'm not trying to break a record, not trying to beat anybody. We just want to fulfil our dreams of going around the world.

Did you always plan to bring this car?

No, it actually showed up in the last minute. We never ever thought about going in a car, but it showed up in the last minute and we said, "Why not?" So far, it's been the best. We got it just three months before we left.

Did you always want to own this particular car?

Never. I'm not a mechanic, I know nothing about cars. When we are with car people and they're talking about the car they have, 99% of the time, I don't know what they're talking about.

I did learn many things during the journey like what is a valve and what is a timing chain. But for me, opening the engine is like... (shrugs).

What made you decide to take it along?

When I saw the car, I didn't think about it, I just feel it. If I thought about it, for sure I never would have done it. People say things like, "What about gas? What about customs? What about borders? What about shipping?" But, I feel it. Every time I follow my heart, I'm on the right path.

So how's it been so far? Any car trouble?

It's been the best. 10 years. There were many times we were in the middle of nowhere. It never broke down on me. We were always in the right place at the right time and we met a new friend who can help us out.

What made you decide to go to Asia?

The best part of our trip through America was the people. And where is there more people than any place in the world? Asia. We learned from this from our past travels. How can people be so spiritually rich than in the other side of the world where, typically, the more you have, the happier you are?

So here, we're in the perfect place. You can see, when we're with the kids, walking in places where many people were just sleeping in the streets, they were smiling and asking if the kids were twins, how old they are. So we're coming for this experience.

How are the kids enjoying the trip?

It's all that they know. We travel very easy. We don't drive 700 kilometers a day. We drive in one day, 100 or 200 at most. Then we stop to sleep for the day. Then we look for things for the kids to do.

You don't get questions like "Are we there yet?"

No, thank God. He's (Tehue) the one who's always asking me, "Why don't we ever go to Argentina?" And he's the one who's almost never been there. He's (Pampa) the one whose been in Argentina for a while when we were writing our book. So he knows about the place.

So Tehue was born there but doesn't remember anything. And he's the one who always asks "When are we going to Argentina?"

But every time, we tell him, "If we go to Argentina, we cannot go to the beach, we cannot go to the amusement park."

In fact, we went the other day to Capones Island from Padaquit Beach. We had a bangka going there, we walked around, we went to the lighthouse ruins and snorkelling and made a boat with the stuff on the beach. And we did so many things. At the end of the day, he still says, "When are we going to Argentina?"

You don't have any particular deadline or commitments?

No, no, none at all. We take it day by day. Let's play it by day, play it by ear. Take it easy. The more you plan, the more you ruin it.

Before we got into the Philippines, we were thinking of staying one month and it's going to be enough. Now, we're looking between 3 and 4 months. All the time, we were in some countries for 6 months.

You're moving from country to country, the hardest part must be arranging papers, right?

Yes, but they are not problems, just challenges. If we're not having a challenge, we're losing our chance to grow from it. Don't worry about what can go wrong, focus on the wonderful things that will happen when you get there.

If you take care so much and nothing happens to your life, what are you going to tell your grandkids? They will ask you, "How was your life?" And all you can say is, "Oh, nothing happened."

So what's on your itinerary while you're here?

I have to go to immigration to see some people and see about the approval of the extension of my Visa. And have the fees waived also. Just for the 6 of us, it would amount to $6,000. And the Secretary of Tourism, Alberto Lim already made a letter endorsing my request. The letter's already been there in the immigration office for 20 days.

What time is your appointment?

There's no appointment with immigration. I just have to show up and form in line again. It's really frustrating. And Monday is the worst time to go, anywhere in the world. They make you sit down there and say, "Just wait, sir!"

What do you do in the meantime, whenever you have trouble with papers?

Whatever we have to do. We've had Visas denied, we've had to work on them and get them back and then send them again to extend and have them approved.

The hardest thing sometimes is, in rich countries where they ask you to show your visa and your money, we don't have it. So we have to prove that we're not gonna live there, even if we are a family from Latin America, and even though, money-wise, we are very poor. We have to show them that we are going to be able to get out and go to a different place.

Sometimes it's hard, but if you are going to go through this and everything is going to be easy. How are you going to talk about it? Nothing happened.

So you come to each country with a "Whatever comes (bahala na)" attitude?

Of course. Something's gonna happen. When I go around the world, I don't have to think about everything I need to get around the world. What I have to think about is, "How I am going to get to the next town?" And when we're finally there, "How am I gonna get to the next town?"

So you don't look at the big picture?

Otherwise, if I see the big picture, we'll be so scared. We're talking about a hundred thousand dollars. When we arrived in Australia, after we just got the car off the port and everything, we only had $1,000. My wife was 7 months pregnant. We had to go all around Australia. A cheap hotel is $150 dollars. Every meals is $18-20 per person. So how are we going to do it? I don't know. But we did it and we had so much fun. And we left with more money than when we arrived.

And it appears from all the badges on your car that you've made friends along the way?

And we met a lot more people. We only put the badges on the car. Otherwise, if we stuck everything we got from everyone, it would be all over.

And what about the usual needs like bathrooms and a place to sleep?

Yes, we always try to get them. Otherwise, we pop up the tent and we can sleep inside.

What's your favorite in Asia?

We never compare. Do you have siblings? Which is the favorite? You don't compare because we are brothers. We are all brothers. God created the world but man divided us by country and religion to govern us, to command us, to control us. Why do we let people do that if we're all brothers?

I never met you but I know which are the best 3 moments of your life. Everybody in the world has the same best 3 moments of their life. I know we speak different, we work different, we eat different. But, we're the same because you have dreams, you want to have a family, you want a home, you wanna work on what you like to do and get paid for that. You would love to travel too. We are all the same and wherever you go, we are all the same, even if we look so different from one another. Nobody's better than everybody, because God loves us in the same way. So he will never make a place better than the other. He will make it different, otherwise it will be so boring. Don't compare.

If you ask me, "What's the best place I've been to," I see people's faces. I see people who receive me. Sometimes we're in a home that's so crowded and dilapidated, they're embarrassed to eat and sleep in front of us. They gave us the only piece of meat on their plate. They gave their only bed to us and their family slept on the floor. And when we said goodbye the next day, they were asking us to forgive them because they had nothing else to give us, but they gave us everything. And those are people like you, like us. And they exist and they are wonderful, everywhere. So don't compare. You lose time, just enjoy every place that you are.

After you do this, you'll be heading home?

I am home!

So you do your writing on the road?

Yes. We put everything together when we finish travelling. When we are travelling, we are travelling. If you check my website, it's not very updated, not day by day or week by week like many bloggers. We are not bloggers. We are not reporters. We are travellers. The more you get into it, telling everyone what's going on, the more you lose the chance to get connected with the place.

We are always in the family home. We're not in a hotel where you have 2 or 3 hours alone to yourself. When you're in a family home, you have to be with them (kids). You ask them questions, they ask you questions. And you play with them and you do whatever they do. If you have kids someday, you'll see there's almost no time to yourself. But we do take notes, a lot of notes. Mostly we take notes while we are driving. I tell my wife to start to write and I tell her what I think. When we are in the car, it's our family moment. When we are out, right away, there's always somebody with us.

So after Asia, what's next?

The Middle East, the belly button of the world, they say. And then from there, we go to Africa. Would you like to come?

We're not going to a zoo, we're going to where the animals are. The more you travel, the more you see that you have more places to travel to. Remember, Socrates said something like, "The more I know, the more I know I know nothing."

Any words of advice for other would-be world travellers who'd like to follow your example?

Listen to your heart. If you have a dream, go for it. Even if people call you crazy, even if people tell you, "Are you nuts?" Because, if you're not going for your dream, what's the meaning of your life? If you have a chance to achieve your dream in your life and be with the people you love, what else do you need? You've got it all.

Don't go with the current of society that tells you to have a car, a farm, an iPhone. Go against the current if you have to, even if people call you crazy. Who is crazy? The one who goes for his dream or the one who doesn't?

To learn more about Herman Zapp, his family and his travels, log on to www.sparkyourdream.net.