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June 19, 2011

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If you have a dream, just go for it!

MANY people dream of traveling around the world, then put it off and never do it. But American-Argentinian Herman Zapp and his wife Candelaria have traveled 2,272,000 kilometers in 11 years, driving their 83-year-old museum piece on a round-the-world journey called "Spark Your Dream."

Four children were born along the way, literally born travelers, and the journey continues.

What better way to see the world than by a long, black 1928 Graham-Paige model 610 touring car? It's the envy of collectors and draws people wherever they go, including along the Amazon River where some people had never seen an automobile.

Nine-year-old Pampa was born in the United States, six-year-old Tehue in Argentina, three-year-old Paloma in Canada and two-year-old Wallaby in Australia.

As for schooling, the Zapps believe the journey is educational.

Shanghai Daily interviewed Zapp in Indonesia by e-mail.

They started by exploring Argentina for two years. They headed to the Amazon River. Later they drove up the Pan American highway to Alaska, a journey that took four years. They spent two years in the United States and Canada, a year and a half in Australia and New Zealand and now they are in Asia. They visited South Korean, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia - and now they are in Indonesia.

All their land travel has been at around 50 kilometers per hour, if the roads are good. They manage to ship the old American-made car, a gift from Zapp's grandfather. It was in mint condition when they started out.

"It is not just a journey, it's a dream," said Zapp, a 42-year-old San Francisco native who worked in information technology. "A dream is the meaning of your life; if you don't go for it, you are missing the point of life."

When he was a boy, Zapp moved to Argentina to work on his grandfather's ranch near Buenos Aires. There he met Candelaria and they became childhood sweethearts. They married after 10 years of dating and dreamed of travel.

"Our fears led to excuses like 'this isn't the right time,' or 'we have good jobs and shouldn't quit now,' or 'we don't have enough money' or 'what about the house'?" said Zapp.

Six years passed very fast and they thought about having children.

"At that point we thought about our dream. If we don't do it now, we will never do it. And we set a day, ready or not, we would leave for our dream.

Zapp's original idea was backpacking but four months before departure, his grandfather offered the classic touring car. He first declined, but his grandfather insisted that he take a look first.

"I fell in love with the car," Zapp recalled. "It looked simple, only six wires to the spark plugs. Simplicity always takes you to success."

"If you want to get far, you need to go slowly," his grandfather once said. And that's what they did.

On January 25, 2000, the couple embarked on the journey. They bought a big pup up tent and put equipment on the top. The rear trunk folds down into a table. They carry a gas stove and there's another stove in the engine that heats as the vehicle is driven. The car has curtains and mosquito nets and sometimes they sleep inside.

"When I risk my life for something I want most, it is then that I feel most alive. I would rather die trying to live than to die without having lived. Everybody has a goal, to leave it aside is to leave life itself," said Zapp.

The hardest part was taking the first step because you feel like you are leaving everything behind and heading into the unknown. "But the opposite was true - we were going forward and everything lay ahead.

"The secret to realize a dream is to start," he said.

The original plan was to get to Alaska in six months because they had saved for a six-month journey.

Then they would return to Argentina and start their family. But getting to Alaska took almost four years.

"Everything changed and we decided to continue the dream," Zapp said.

In Ecuador, they ran out of money six months after they departed. They were ready to travel down the Amazon but they were stuck. Candelaria, who had never painted, started to paint and sell watercolors. Zapp started to write and sell articles.

"We don't need money to go around the world, only to get to the next town. Once there we will find the way the next one."

And when they decided to have a baby, they needed more money. There were visa hassles and there were breakdowns. Over 11 years, they were helped by around 12,000 people along the way.

"We encountered challenges, but there are also millions of people who would love to be part of your dream and would do so much to help, even if it's someone else's dream."

Ninety-nine percent of the time they spent the night in the homes of people they had never met. People would just show up, start asking about the car and the journey - and offer to help.

"We were in mansions and in the poorest hutches. We were with farmers and fishermen. We were with Amish and Muslims. We were always at someone's home. They shared their best, their treasures - their family."

Once they were in a very poor family home in Philippines. It was one room, the walls were made of cane and the floor was dirt. The owners invited the Zapps to eat and sleep and gave them their only piece of meat and their only bed.

He couldn't refuse because he didn't want to hurt their feelings. The next day, as they were saying goodbye, the family asked Zapp to forgive them because they didn't have anything else to give.

The car broke down many times, but always in the right place and at the right time. The right friendly mechanic was always on and they were only charged once. The car has no electronics or computers, so it's easy to fix, the parts are simple and can be simply made.

For every break down, there were hundreds of wonderful moments.

"We saw mountains, jungles, deserts, beaches, ruins and cities. But the best part is the people. They make our day and our journey," said Zapp.

Down the Amazon

One of the great adventures started along the Amazon River in Ecuador. They had run out of money, but Candelaria sold paintings and they worked until they were able to construct a motorized raft, load on the car and navigate the Amazon to Brazil.

They rafted down the river for a month, accompanied by two aboriginal men who taught them how to survive and what to eat. They ate ants, crocodiles, monkey (in an aboriginal wedding), piranhas and many other kinds of exotic food.

The raft engine frequently had problems that they had to fix in the middle of nowhere.

"We met people along the river who had never seen a car in their lives. We had to exchange food with them, since money was not an issue. When we arrived at our destination, we felt wonderful about our achievement.

Babies along the way

Their children were born along the way.

"With the birth of the first child we were very afraid," said Zapp, "since we were parents for the first time and so far from home. But we had to be strong and put our fears aside."

All the doctors and nurses in clinics and hospitals along the way treated them like part of the family and many locals bought them toys and books and held baby showers for them," he said.

In Australia, Zapp's wife did a water birth, going through labor and giving birth in warm water, which is said to be less stressful for mother and baby.

Their children are born travelers.

"They love it, learn to love this world and trust in people. If they have a dream, they learn to go for it. If you ask them if they want to stop, they will say no," said their father.

A few days ago, the children were in Way Kambas National Park on Sumatra, Indonesia, bathing with elephants, riding them and feeding them.

"They are enjoying life and learning about the world in the world. They are learning all these things with living real experiences."

The China leg of the journey is scheduled for October.

"Without going through China, it's not going around the world. We need to feel it, enjoy it and meet the people of China," said Zapp.

They need an invitation, special permission, visas, an auto license, a Chinese companion throughout their journey, an approved route, a fixed day to enter and exit and, they estimate, around US$8,000 for expenses. They expect, as before, to stay in homes along the way.

"If you want to go for life, don't look for problems that might happen," advised Zapp. "Just go! When they happen, you will work on them and keep moving!"

The family has published two books about their journey. Their website is


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