An Argentine family is about to finish the trip of a lifetime: they have covered five continents in a 1928 jalopy on an adventure that began in 2000, while bringing into the world and raising four kids who are now adolescents.
The Zapp family — Herman and Candelaria and those children — have driven a total of 362,000 kilometres (225,000 miles) and have now stopped off in this town on the border with Uruguay before their scheduled arrival on Sunday where they started on January 25, 2000 at the Obelisk, a monument in downtown Buenos Aires.
“I have very mixed feelings. We are ending a dream, or fulfilling a dream,” Herman told AFP. “What will come now? Thousands of changes, thousands of options,” said the 53-year-old, who is already thinking of sailing around the world.
Candelaria, who was 29 when the trip began and is now 51, said her biggest and best discovery was the people encountered along the way.
“People are wonderful. Humanity is incredible,” said Candelaria.
She said the family visited no fewer than 102 countries, although sometimes they had to take detours because of wars or other kinds of conflict.
The couple had been married six years, had good jobs and had just built a house, with plans to have kids, too, when wanderlust hit. Their round-the-world journey began with a backpacking trip in Alaska.
And somebody offered them a car, a 1928 model of an American make called Graham-Paige. The engine was bad and the paint looked terrible. “It would not even start,” said Candelaria Zapp.
“The seats are not great, nor is the muffler. It does not have air conditioning, either. It is a car that you have to keep your eye on. It does not look comfortable, but it was marvelous,” said Herman.
“It was good in cities, in mud and on sand,” he added.
They went through only eight sets of tires in 22 years and only twice needed to do major engine work.
Herman shows off the roadster by opening up a canvas on the top that forms a sort of tent for the kids to sleep under when it was time to camp out.
“It is nicer now than when it first came out,” he said of the modified uber-vintage vehicle.
While out on the road, and with the first two kids born — Pampa, now 19, came into this world in the US and Tehue, 16, during a visit back to Argentina — they enlarged the car by actually cutting it in half and adding 40 cm (16 inches) of length and another seat.
That made room for the arrival of Paloma, now 14 and born in Canada, and Wallaby, 12, down under in Australia.
The last additions to the family were a dog named Timon and a cat called Hakuna during a stay in Brazil, where the Zapps were stranded for a while in 2020 because of Covid-19.
More on that car, which looks like something out of a gangster movie: the trunk acts like a kitchen storage area, and the heat of the engine is used to cook or heat water. Clothes and tools are stored under the seats. And for all these years, it was home sweet home.
“It is a small house but with a huge backyard, with beaches, mountains and lakes. If you do not like the view, you can change it,” Herman quipped.
On the side of the car is a sign that reads “A family traveling around the world.”
The Zapps usually stayed as guests at people’s houses — they estimate around 2,000 altogether.
“Humanity is incredible,” Candelaria said of people’s hospitality. “Many helped just to be part of a dream.”
But it was not all easy going. Herman once caught malaria, the family drove across Asia during the bird flu outbreak, and had to deal with Ebola in Africa and dengue fever in Central America.
Here on the streets of Gualeguaychu, people honk their horns when they see the Zapps’ old Graham-Paige. Vintage car buffs have their picture taken with it.
And some buy a copy of the book the Zapps have written about their adventure, entitled “Catching a Dream.” They have sold about 100,000 copies and say this is their main source of revenue for all this traveling.
For the record, they did the Americas, Africa, Oceania, Asia and Europe.
They touched Mount Everest, ate duck eggs in Asia, danced with native people in Namibia, entered the tomb of King Tut in Egypt and sailed across many a sea.
The Zapp family is now almost back home after traveling on five continents for 22 years.
For the kids, it was an unforgettable experience. They did their studies remotely and with home learning with Candelaria.
Now, in-person classes await them in Argentina.
“What I most want to do is make a lot of friends,” said Paloma, the 14-year-old.