TWELVE years ago, Argentinians Herman and Candelaria Zapp hopped into their blue 1928 Graham-Paige car and have since driven through 42 countries across the world.
The couple met when Candelaria was only eight, and Herman 10, sharing a dream of travelling the world.
“But then we got married and you have to work and there is so much fear of leaving everything behind,” said Candelaria.
However, they did not want to start a family until they had their dream fulfilled.
Candelaria left her job as a secretary and Herman, then an IT specialist, did the same.
January 25, 2000, was the date they set to depart for Alaska.
Three days before that, a friend of Herman’s offered to sell him a car. Thinking of the trip ahead, Herman declined, but was persuaded to at least take a look at it.
It was love at first sight,” he said.
With $4 000 in their pockets, the couple set off on their four-year-long trip to Alaska, which they initially thought would take six months.
“The hardest part was leaving home – with people asking what we would do if we were hurt, kidnap-ped, or if the car broke down – having to answer questions we did not have answers to,” said Candelaria.
The car did only 55km on the first day before breaking down.
“When we left, we were warned that people would hurt us. But we were never told that people would help us,” Herman said.
They met a blacksmith in Argentina who fixed the car’s damaged wheel, taught Herman a trick or two on how to manage it, and they were off again.
But, when they eventually arri-ved in Alaska, it was not joy or fulfilment they felt, but sadness. “We realised our dream was over. But then we thought it could be the beginning of another dream,” she said.
Another joy they experienced during their trips was parenthood – four times to be exact.
Their eldest boy, Pampa, 10, was born in the US. Their second boy, Tehue, now seven, was born in Argentina.
Their daughter Paloma, 4, was born in Canada and their youngest, son, Wallaby, was born in Australia.
The two eldest kids are home-schooled by Candelaria and enrolled in a correspondence course. Herman believes they learn more than other kids by travelling the world.
They have seen Mount Everest; witnessed Nasa’s space shuttle launch in Orlando in 2007; visited Hindu and Mayan temples and took a trip down the rivers of the Amazon.
“They learn about the world, in the world, and not from books while sitting in a box,” Herman said.
But the greatest joy for the Zapp family has been meeting new people.
Even when they came to SA, they were not sure how they would be treated because of the country’s historic background.
But the kindness they have been shown has blown them away.
In KwaZulu-Natal, they were invited to a traditional Zulu wedding. On top of that, 20 strangers from Pretoria, who have read about them, have offered to give them free accommodation during their brief stay in the city.
Their three-month visit to the country will have to be extended, they said.
They have been given shelter by more than 2 500 families over the past 12 years.
Through the kindness of others they have also been able to ship their 84-year-old car from continent to continent.
“If I close my eyes, I just see a lot of faces. I do not think of the Grand Canyon, the beautiful islands of the Philippines or the Great Wall of China, but of people, who I miss the most.
“If you see the Eiffel Tower once, you have seen it and may not want to return. But if you have made friends, you want to go back and see them again,” Herman said.
He recalled a family in Peru who invited him and his family to spend a night in their home. The walls of the one-roomed house were made of cane, and the ground beneath their feet was exposed. But the family offered the Zapps all the food they had and gave them their mats to sleep on.
“In the morning, they apologised for not having enough to give us, when they had given us everything,” Herman said.
He and his wife hope that following their dream will inspire their children to do the same.