Herman and Candelaria Zapp and their four children have arrived in South Africa after 12 years and more than 200,000 km on the world’s roads. Nick van der Leek went to find out why they are still chasing faraway places.
Herman Zapp and his wife, Cande, have been on the road since January 2000. Their adventure is chronicled in their book, Spark your Dream, an ongoing saga which is now in its 4th edition (the Spanish imprint, a bestseller in Argentina, is now in its 8th edition). In the opening pages, in which they describe the day they left Buenos Aires for the first time, Herman writes: “On the one hand, I feel fragile, on the other hand, very powerful, because I’m going for my dream.” Four children were born along the way. The oldest, Pampa, is ten years old, while the youngest, Wallaby, is just three.
In July 2012 they arrived in South Africa having made a virtual circuit of the planet. Most astonishing of all is that their vehicle of choice is a Graham-Paige – an 80 year old vintage car with rims which more closely resemble bicycle wheels than car tyres.
Did it take some convincing to embark on an intrepid adventure in a car built in 1928? “The car was the best choice,” Cande says. “I didn’t want it at the beginning,” she admits, “but Herman convinced me.”
The South African leg of their world tour started in Durban. “Once we got the car, we went straight to the Drakensberg. The first town we stopped at was Underberg. We stopped at the supermarket to look for camping supplies, and right away the people of the town were so wonderful! Someone offered us a farmhouse to stay in, another a free ride over the Sani Pass,” explains Cande. And according to Herman, South Africa’s towering landscapes did the job of making the family’s spirits soar.
Keeping costs under control is a priority for the family and, as a result, over 2,500 families around the world have hosted the Zapps. And it turns out that these experiences, when families rooted to a particular corner on some suburban street encounter perhaps the least rooted family in the world, are the most memorable of all.
Has it been plain sailing the whole time? “When we were in Australia, we met many South Africans, and they told us to watch carefully over our things, and sad to say, we’ve already been robbed. We may have avoided it if those people had told us to watch out for baboons,” laughs Herman. It is this wry sense of humour, as well as their love for the outdoors, that seems to make the Zapps perfect travellers. But there is something else: An almost childlike curiosity; a raw sense of wanting to go and see what’s out there; and being open to the possibility of being thrilled by being in the world.
How many South Africans know their own mountains? Or have sweated along a steep trail and found, at the end of it, beautiful San paintings carefully crafted against a wind worn rock overhang? It is this opportunity to see the world firsthand that the Zapps have seized upon, and it is hard to argue that it isn’t intoxicating. The Zapps’ family snaps capture this in a nutshell: the six of them stand with their hands outstretched, in a series of impossibly exotic scenes. Their campy poses say: “Here we are in the world.” It’s a happy celebration of being alive. For the Zapps, being alive means putting doubts aside, getting out there and chasing dreams. Their dreams are literally places that sound like they are worth seeing.
Where have they been that was particularly worth writing home about? “If you asked me about the most adventurous moment,” Herman says, “I’d say it was on the Amazon River. With the help of some people we built a raft, and then we loaded the car on it and navigated through the Amazon (from Ecuador to Brazil). In one month we went down the river with two aboriginals who taught us where to go and what to eat. We ate ants, crocodiles, monkey (in an aboriginal wedding), piranhas and many different kinds of food. Each day we had problems with the canoe’s engine. We had to fix it ourselves, because we were in the middle of nowhere. We met people over there that had never seen a car before in their lives. Because they didn’t recognise our money, we traded with them for food.”
The Argentinean couple say their favourite countries so far have been Australia and New Zealand. “I loved New Zealand especially. The people there are all amazing, good people. And you have no idea if someone there is wealthy or not,” says Cande.
From the Drakensberg the Zapps have travelled to Saint Lucia, taken in a car show in Johannesburg in early August, and have plans to move down to Cape Town in November. You get a sense from the Zapps that if you are going to dream, you might as well make it a big one.
The Zapp’s book ‘Spark Your Dream’ is available from kalahari.com and amazon.com.
Story by Nick van der Leek