As recounted in a previous issue of Leisure Wheels, the Zapp family have criss-crossed the globe in their 1928 Graham Paige. They have travelled across the Americas, Asia, Australia and now also Africa. Nick van der Leek met up with them as they travelled through Namibia.
As twilight softens Namibia’s paperdry bushveld, a balmy September evening cools my heated emotions.
After a long day of jolts and countless bone-jarring knocks, I’m feeling a tad frazzled. I arrive exhausted at my hotel, having driven most of the day to get to Etosha, in northern Namibia. The inside of my sedan (including what is in the boot) is covered with a fine dust that is almost as white and powdery as baking powder. When I close the driver’s door a cloud of dust billows over the car and me.
But as the cloud dissipates, I see what appears to be an apparition in the half light. I have seen that dark blue vehicle before – a 1928 Graham Paige, a car that has travelled across the Americas, Asia, Australia and now Africa. Through the dust, I recognise the ghosts dancing on the lawn as the four children belonging to the intrepid owners of this vehicle, Herman and Cande Zapp.
Cande is on the hotel steps, smiling, talking to someone. When I greet Herman and Cande in the hotel foyer, they are full of smiles. They embrace me and laugh loudly.
Having travelled a few thousand kilometres myself across Namibia’s rough roads, I am undeniably impressed to find them out here, and in high spirits. As usual, they’re on top of the world. Their next few days are dedicated to exploring Etosha.
They invite me to join them for dinner where they tell me about ballooning at Sossusvlei and driving over yellow sand dunes near Walvis Bay. I am amazed that they have done far more than I have, once again, in a car built before the Second World War.
In a beautiful, atmospheric section of the shebeen area of the Gondwana Collection’s Etosha Camp, we enjoy an excellent dinner to the sounds of guitar music, laughter and chatter. I want to know about their trip, especially if they have had any difficulties, but the Zapps are all praise and smiles, obviously loving Namibia.
My car, and my nerves, have taken a beating on some terrible dirt roads where the corrugations test vehicle manufacturing to (and beyond) its limits. How has the Graham Paige handled terrain that makes Namibia famously one of the most expensive car rental countries on the planet? What were the first days like, coming into Namibia?
“In the first week we broke three tyres,” Cande says. “Amazing.”
“We left South Africa with seven tyres,” Herman adds. He had been forewarned that Namibia would chew through their rubber in no time at all.
“We got tyres in Knysna, Cape Town and Jacobsbay, and we still had another tyre left from India. But they were all old, used tyres. The corrugations were less of a problem than the sharp stones.”
In the end it was a South African from Durban’s Rotary Club (who bought their best selling book, Spark Your Dream, online) who was inspired by their story, and sourced front wheel tractor tyres for them. And the Zapps have not had any problems since then.
The next day, driving behind the Graham Paige, I notice the reaction of drivers coming in the opposite direction, out of Etosha — mostly SUVs and shiny 4x4s. Their faces light up when they see this iconic 1928 car, filled with its upbeat Argentine family.
The sun turns into an orange balloon which starts to sink slowly through a soft, pink sky. Etosha seems to do strange things to the sky, especially when it is dry. During the day the horizon can seem as bleak and dark as a brewing thunderstorm, while up above the sun shines through a baby blue sky. The dark perimeter is an illusion created by the dust.
At dusk, the light softens, and sunset is a magical time. It means the animals and everything here have survived another day in this harsh wilderness.
I take a few photographs of the family, with various animals pitching up for a cameo – giraffe, hyena and dozens of springbok. As the sun settles over Etosha, Cande joins me in my car while the Graham Paige drifts ahead. Its maximum speed of 70 km/h is more than adequate for most of Namibia, and at times I find I have to play catch-up.
Cande can’t help pointing out how dusty the interior of my car is, and let’s out an involuntary cough. The Graham Paige is set a lot higher above the ground than my car, and its narrower wheels kick up almost no dust.
But with six people in the car, how do they keep cool?
“We have all the windows open,” she laughs. “Natural air conditioning!”
It’s hard not to be inspired by the can-do attitude of this free-spirited family. In their book, Spark Your Dream, Herman writes about their concern right in the beginning, when they were still trying to get going out of Argentina. Three of their first five days on the road, when they set off in 2000, had to be spent fixing the car. Finding replacement ball bearings was an early crisis. Somehow, with the help of strangers, they have solved every “unsolvable” problem on their epic journey around the world.
Herman’s approach from the start has been not to worry about parts. “You need to worry about living your life, because it doesn’t have a replacement,” he says.
As the sun sinks, Herman suddenly stops the Graham Paige, climbs onto the roof and raises his arms in a gesture of pure joy. It’s a perfect moment. It doesn’t seem to matter that the gates to the park will soon be closed. We’ll find a way through the rules, and the gates, because this moment is too beautiful to rush. For the Zapps, life truly is about the journey, and not the destination.