September 16, 2006

Lifelong sojourn for Swiss couple

By Liza Mohd

The couple spent most of their 22-year journey sleeping in the car. It's their kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and hospital.

Marking their 8,000th day on the road, the couple stood at the Seria billionth barrel monument making Brunei the 154th country they have driven in.

The Schmids have been noted in the Guinness World Record book since 1998 for the worlds longest driven journey, driving the longest distance and through the most countries in a single car.

Liliana pointing to Brunei Darussalam, the 154th country they have driven through with their Toyota Land Cruiser.

Liliana standing against the backdrop of the amazing sand meer in Taghit, Algeria.

A collection of the couple's printed publication records of their journey.
What seemed to be a short lived dream turned out to be an endless road journey for this Swiss couple.

Guinness World Record achievers Emil and Liliana Schmid from Switzerland are real life adventurers who broke the world record for the longest driven journey, driving the longest distance and through the most countries in a single car. They have been named in the Guinness World Record Book since 1998 and maintain the record till today.

Brunei Darussalam is officially the 154th country they have travelled to in their vehicle.

The Swiss couple is currently in Kuala Belait and are staying with Swiss expatriate Rudolf Schuepbach, after sending their FJ60 Toyota Land Cruiser for an overhaul and major face-lift in Miri, Sarawak.

"The vehicle is our home and our baby," the Schmids told the Bulletin during an exclusive interview.

Their 'baby' has crossed six continents, 154 countries and reached 603,306km since the couple embarked on their endless journey around the world.

They have been sleeping in the 4.2-litre 4WD, practically everyday throughout the journey. The car is equipped with a sink, a shower, a stove, a table, water purifiers and a bed.

Aside that it is no different from the day they purchased it, except with added reinforced springs, a larger gas tank, a roof rack, grilles and spare parts, while bulky necessities to prepare themselves for the harsh winters or the dry desert, are placed on the rooftop.

"So, how do you clean your clothes all these years?" I wondered.

"You see the 50-litre water container on the rooftop? It serves a purpose. We fill in water, add detergent and chuck in our clothes. The rattle of the moving car acts to twirl the clothes, similar to a washing machine," Emil answered with a light shrug.

What a brilliant idea to survive, I thought.

The story began when Emil, 63, and Liliana, 64, purchased a four-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60 in the spring 1982 for a taste of adventure. At that time they bought it for an estimated price of B$40,000, which is cheap compared to the market price today.

Back then, they were both 41 and Emil was working as a software expert while Liliana was a secretary.

Facing a mid-life crisis in 1983 along with the thought of wasting their lives buried in the boring work routine everyday, Emil decided to take a one-year break and came up with a crazy idea to drive through Africa in the car. At first Liliana refused since she had a stable job and could not bring herself to leave her mother who was sick at that time.

"Emil was persistent and he managed to convince me within a year. I never regretted it once as it turned out to be a lifetime vacation," exclaimed Liliana. They have no children and their only commitment is the vehicle.

So the couple's dream trip materialised in October 1982 with their first destination Montreal, Canada.

It took Emil and Liliana three and a half years to travel around Europe, six years in North America, more than three years in South America, three and a half years in Africa, nearly a year in Australia and three years in Asia.

Most of their journey is spent in the vehicle when it is not shipped from port to port. But if the vehicle has to be shipped, the couple would then take a commercial flight.

In their 22-year journey, the Schmids have driven through 45 countries in Europe, 27 countries in North America, 13 countries in South America, 35 countries in Africa, 34 countries in Asia and through Australia. They have also driven through several disputed territories such as Palestina, Golan Heights and West Bank and till today have crossed 430 borders.

They have yet to visit 73 countries including Afghanistan, China, Bosnia Herzegovina, Cuba, Indonesia and North Korea but they have visited 31 other countries earlier without the car.

When asked whether they have encountered any bad or near to death experiences during their journey, Emil said the most recent one was during Christmas last year when Liliana broke her leg. A drunken man had run her over with a car while she was outside taking pictures on a ferry ride from Cambodia to Vietnam.

"This does not include a series of burglaries, robbery attempts, checkpoint bribes, food poisoning and natural disasters such as heavy storms and typhoons," Emil said adding that is was all worth while once they got through it.

What about funding?

Without hesitation Emil answered that they had used his hard earned savings to cover their travel costs and later inherited some money when Liliana's mother passed away. Halfway through the journey they received their retirement fund, which provided them greater incentive to continue their lifetime journey.

For parts of their journey, they were fortunate enough to enjoy sponsored stays in luxury hotels and receive goodwill services and maintenance by several Toyota distributors.

But they still had to be tight with their expenses. After calculation, they spend an average of US$34.46 per day. Liliana said one third of the expenses goes to petrol and vehicle maintenance.

Throughout their journey they experienced 161 flat tyres and had to change 67 and have gone through 29 batteries, 132 spark plugs, 22 air filters and 50 shock absorbers.

So what do they do during their road journey, I asked.

Emil does all the driving while Liliana cooks. They have spent a total of 5,395 driving days, which is 70 per cent of the total journey and another 16,252.8 hours on the road.

As of September 11, the vehicle has travelled approximately 603,306 kilometres and consumed 14,8573 litres of fuel.

They usually drive for three hours a day covering a distance of 150 kilometres and enjoy the scenery and meeting new people. They take the time to experience different cultures and religions, replying e-mails and uploading the latest information and photos on their website

Having travelled worldwide for more than two decades, the Schmids have collected many items such as press publications, books, sponsored T-shirts and mementos from people they have met throughout their journey.

Over the years they have collected a staggering total of 52,150 photographs!

However, to save on storage space in the vehicle, they were forced to part with some of the items particularly books, which proved to be a painful moment as every item has its sentimental values, said Liliana.

Before entering a new country, the couple often purchase travel books to do their homework and plan their trip sensibly.

What travel book would they recommend?

Emil said the Lonely Planet travel books were the most resourceful and its only flaw was that the book is designed for backpackers. However, they still managed to obtain vital information from the books.

"What is their impression of Brunei so far?" I queried.

"Beautiful and peaceful!" they exclaimed.

The couple were here in 1993 while waiting for their car to be shipped to Singapore. They flew via RBA from Perth, Australia and stayed at a budget youth hostel. Their faint memories of Brunei back then were the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque and Kampong Ayer.

On this trip to the Sultanate, the Swiss couple were invited to an official dinner at The Empire Hotel & Country Club, and they were amazed with the luxury décor of the hotel that reminded them of the Sultanate of Oman.

I recommended a visit to the capital Bandar Seri Begawan to view developed areas such as Gadong, Kiulap and Jerudong and they said they would keep that in mind.

One of their most memorable experiences in Brunei was when they managed to get a glimpse of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and members of the Royal Family during a get-together with the 'rakyat' in Belait district this year, in conjunction with His Majesty's 60th birthday celebration.

They were fascinated by the massive number of people who turned up to see their monarch, in a show of dedication and loyalty to their leader.

So what's next for the worldly travellers?

According to the couple, they are currently waiting for their car permit approval to enter the Philippines. Their plan is to drive to Temburong towards Limbang, passing through Lawas before reaching Kota Kinabalu. They will then board a ship with their vehicle to Zamboanga on Mindanao Island, South Philippines.

The enthusiastic travellers show no sign of slowing down and will continue their journey from the Philippines to Papua New Guinea before heading to the Pacific islands.

When asked on the best part of the journey so far, the Schmids replied, the best experience gained is the wonderful friends they have made.

Although they experienced hardships and seen the worst in people especially in poverty-stricken countries, "people are still kind hearted and were ready to share their last bite of food with us.

"It's remarkable and to us that's the wonder of life," they said.

Interesting facts and figures of the Schmid's journey:

- Took 214 ferry and freight rides to cross rivers, lakes or seas
- Applied for 68 visas, filling in eight passports with a total cost of US$ 2,970 per person
- Visited 154 countries with 53 different languages and 129 different currencies
- Been checked 284 times at a total of 430 border crossings
- Travelled in 18 of the total 24 time-zones
- The highest point the car reached was 5,320m in Chacaltaya, Bolivia and the lowest point in Jordan 390m at the Dead Sea
- Their highest paid petrol price was at US$1.52 per litre in July 2005 in French Guiana and the lowest at US$ 0.01 per litre in May 1995 in Iran
- Since 1995 they have given 53 television interviews in 34 different countries
- They spent their 8,000th day (Sept 11, 2006) in Brunei Darussalam

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