x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Vintage Graham-Paige keeps Zapp family on the road for 11 years

Herman and Candelaria Zapp set out from Argentina to Alaska as newlyweds, and now have four children along for their travels in a 1928 Graham-Paige.

Herman and Candelaria Zapp and their family in Japan with their 1928 Graham-Paige. Courtesy of Herman Zapp
Herman and Candelaria Zapp and their family in Japan with their 1928 Graham-Paige. Courtesy of Herman Zapp

Like many newlyweds, Herman and Candelaria Zapp decided to indulge in a spot of travelling after tying the knot.

For years, the childhood sweethearts, who met when he was 10 and she was just eight, had talked about a trip abroad from their native Argentina, possibly as long as six months.

That was back in 2000 and, 11 years on, the Zapps are still on the move and their travelling contingent has tripled with the arrival of four children.

Any parent will know how complicated and high maintenance the shortest of car journeys can be with children in tow, so the fact the Zapps have been on a road trip for more than a decade is quite remarkable.

What is perhaps equally remarkable is that the entire journey has been done in an 83-year-old car - not the most obvious choice of transport to take a family of six on the road.

The vehicle in question is a 1928 Graham-Paige vintage car, which was lent to Zapp by his grandfather with just one proviso.

"His only rule," Zapp said, "was not to go over 40mph [64kph] so we've not been over 40mph the whole time," which perhaps explains why their trip has taken quite so long.

The car has become more of a celebrity than the family themselves since they first set out from Argentina for Alaska in 2000.

For a car that was constructed just 10 years after the First World War, it is perhaps unsurprising that there have been glitches along the way, but not as many as you might imagine.

Zapp said: "Sure, we've broken down a few times, but it's an amazing car as we only ever seem to break down in towns where we can get help.

"The car has been driven 4,800 metres above sea level, in the Arctic Ocean and in the very dry deserts of Chile and not once broken down in those places, just in towns, really. As I say, it's a special car and it just seems to have got better and better, if that's possible to believe."

The cost of the upkeep on such a car is also not as much as you might think. In fact, the Zapps have paid just once for repairs on it, thanks to the goodwill of car enthusiasts around the globe.

"I remember not long ago we had a problem in the Philippines and we took it to the Vintage Car Club in Manila and the guys refused to take our money. They were saying, 'It's a privilege, we should be paying you to work on this car'," Zapp laughed.

"Every time people have said no when we've offered to pay for the work but one time, this guy with very little money and a big family, we pushed to pay him."

People's goodwill is at the heart of the Zapps' incredible journey. The family have already written a book, Spark your Dream, which thanked a total of 12,000 people in its acknowledgements.

"Everyone thinks this is just a voyage about me and my family but 12,000 people have taken part in this journey," he added. "People's goodwill is just amazing."

But surely not everyone has been kind to the Zapp clan. Zapp paused for a moment before adding, "OK, one person tried to rob me but one person in 12,000 is pretty good, no?

"Keeping in touch with those people is so difficult. They email all the time, as they want to know what's the latest with our voyage. I do my best and I just feel blessed with all the personalities we have met."

Feeding himself, his wife and the couple's four children, Pampa, eight, Tehue, five, Paloma, three, and one-year-old Wallaby, is an expensive business, let alone shipping and driving the Graham-Paige around the globe.

There have been times when the money has run out, such as in Ecuador, but Zapp is so relaxed about potential perils and pitfalls and says there is always a positive outcome.

"We got to Ecuador and we had run out of money so we decided to go back home but we didn't even have enough money to get back home," he recalled. "We had to make money. So Candelaria and I started to work and slowly we made money.

"After that, we felt if we could do it in a country like Ecuador, that was having a lot of economic problems, then we could do it anywhere. So, when we have problems, we don't call them problems anymore but challenges that we have to get through.

"We've had wonderful moments and bad moments. We just make a way through those bad moments, like if one of the children gets sick. The reward at the end is great. We always just have faith that we will get through it."

The car itself has encountered problems, or challenges, as Zapp says, such as having to get across the Amazon. In the end, he managed to balance the car on two wooden boats tied together to make the treacherous crossing. The car has already clocked up an impressive 241,400km on a journey that started with the voyage from Argentina to Alaska from 2000 to 2004, a trip around South America from 2005 to 2007 and the current trip which has taken in central America, the US, Canada and now south-east Asia.

For Zapp, it is a far cry from his previous job as an IT consultant in San Francisco, which he packed in to work on his grandfather's cattle ranch in Argentina.

During the 11 years of the family's epic voyage, there have been times spent at home. "After the first trip, we had two weeks at home and got bored so planned leaving again," he said. "But we have had times at home for weddings and family things."

The end, though, is in sight. The Zapps plan to call time on their journey when Pampa turns 10 in 2013. "We want him to have friends and to be able to stay in one place for that," said Zapp, who, along with his wife, currently homeschool the children.

That entails downloading school plans whenever he has the internet, and he insists the travel is not detrimental to the children's education or development.

"Well, what is schooling? Is it going to the same classroom every day for 10 years listening to the same teacher answering the questions?" he said. "My kids are able to go to museums, to Nasa to see a space shuttle take off, to dive at a Second World War wreck in the Philippines or to drive through the Australian outback.

"They are learning something every day - it's an incredible education."

Of late, that has included spending time with the royal family in Brunei through a tie-in with an Argentinian polo player.

"Things like that are amazing for me and my family," added Zapp. "Every day is a different experience. For me, being bored is an ugly place to be, and we're not bored.

"Before I went travelling, I felt my previous life could maybe stretch to four or five pages in a book. Now I feel like I can fill book after book after book with everything we have done.

"And the thing is, we don't know where it will next go. We were only supposed to be in Brunei for two or three days and that easily went past two weeks."

Despite those experiences, he admits to getting homesick on occasion.

"Argentina is an amazing country and I do miss stuff at home, of course," said Zapp, who's favourite countries in the world to date are Australia and New Zealand.

"I loved those, particularly New Zealand, where people are all amazing. You have no idea, for example, if someone there is wealthy or not. They are all just good people."

The Zapps are funding the rest of the voyage with sales of their book. That entails book selling and signings all over the world, such as in Brunei, where they cleared out their entire stockpile and had to order more.

And Zapp fully expects some additional chapters needing to be written for himself, his family and the Graham-Paige between now and the end of the trip in two years' time.