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| | re: Gunther Holtorf's 23-year road trip
Came across this link
with a detailed interview.
Copying and pasting it here.
Also a link to a picture album. World explorer Gunther Holtorf | Facebook
PS: I am not the owner of this interview. If the MODS think it should not be posted here, please delete it.
Marco Polo [c.1254 – 1324] was a Venetian merchant and adventurer who made an extended, twenty-four year [1274 – 1295] journey with his father Niccolo and his uncle Maffeo into Central Asia and beyond. Fast forward from 13th Century to the late 20th Century and on to the present day and we have Gunther Holtorf who has to date clocked up 725,000 km driving literally around the globe in his ever faithful and absolutely reliable 1988 Mercedes-Benz 300 GD which he and his wife fondly christened ‘Otto’. |
Gunther a German has traveled the entire length and breath of the African continent from Tunis in Algeria to Capetown in South Africa and then crisscrossed from the West – Guinea Bissau to the Eastern border of Ethiopia and Tanzania. Then he shipped his Mercedes Jeep to South America where he traveled from the its southern-most tip – Tierra del Fuego to Caracas in Venezuela to Panama to Cuba and the Caribbean Islands through Mexico and USA from Washington to Los Angeles, from Huston to Seattle on to Canada from Halifax and Newfoundland to Vancouver and on to Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic Circle of Alaska! Phew! Isn’t a description of these travels simply mind-boggling?
He has similarly crisscrossed the entirety of the vast Australia from Sydney to Perth to Darwin to Tasmania and on to New Zealand. Then to Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia then India from Madurai to Delhi, to Nepal and Bangladesh, volatile Pakistan, deadly Afghanistan & Iraq, then onto Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He has driven the entirety of the E.U, Scandinavian countries across the arid Siberian vastness to Mongolia and South Korea! And so with two-thirds of the world covered [and still counting as he wants to go to China next!] he arrived in Sri Lanka on 13 Dec ‘10 to spend a fortnight covering Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Jaffna and of course the East and South of the island.
This present day nomad started his ‘world-tour’ in 1990 aged 54 with his wife Christine. He usually targets six months per year for his trips and spends another couple of months in his hometown near Munich, Germany. Interestingly Gunther Holtorf does not know exactly how many passports he has used up in 20 years of traveling the world. However he has entry and exit visa stamps from over 200 border crossings from around the world!
The couple and ‘Otto’ celebrated one Christmas in a Brazilian jungle mud-hole; some other times they were busy negotiating 5,000 meter high passes in Bolivia; facing formidable and unending desert wastes on the way through Tenere in the middle of the Sahara or being ferried across swirling jungle rivers on rickety rafts!
Gunther firmly believes in ‘preventive maintenance’ and carries a collection of over 400 vital spare parts which have proved crucial especially on this literal globe-trot! Additionally, this diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz 300 GD carries recovery equipment, ropes, a winch, tools, other essential items apart from two extra wheels, a sine-qua-non!
Since the sad demise of his wife Christine, Mr Holtorf has carried on this fantastic mission with his son Martin, an IT Engineer. The Horltorfs hope to call it quits when they complete a tour of China later this year. Thereafter they would make one final journey with ‘Otto’ to Stuttgart where this incredible Mercedes-Benz ‘G’ Wagon 300 GD will rightfully occupy a deserved slot in the Mercedes-Benz museum – for all time!
Dyan: A modern-day ‘Marco Polo best describes you, Gunther – do share your story…
Gunther [smiles] This has not been just another tourist lark seeking the sun and beach to get a sun-tan for instance but an honest 4 X 4 ‘Adventure Tour around the world.
Dyan: What do you mean by ‘Adventure Tour’?
Gunther: Adventure Tour means a combination of visiting significant tourist destinations of course such as Sri Lanka’s famed ruins in ancient cities such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa or the Pyramids of Egypt – all of which we have visited. ‘Adventure Tours’ also encompass traversing routes off the beaten track – on non-roads at times, literally! We try to travel and experience at first hand areas ‘beyond civilization’
Dyan: Could you name some of the remote places you have been so far, Gunther?
Gunther: Covering almost all the remote areas of Africa with some of its indigenous and unique tribes; the massive and hostile desserts of Australia, traversing along to witness the beauty and isolation of the Andes mountain regions of South America while driving from Chile to Argentina – in fact many times – Argentina to Chile; from Chile to Bolivia
Dyan: Including the high passes in Bolivia at 5,000 meters?
Gunther [smiles] Yes, this car has climbed beyond even 5,000 meters many times – then onto to the thick and mostly unexplored jungles of the Amazon in South America and the Congo in Central Africa, including the remote areas of India such as Upper Assam, Upper Sikkim to Bhutan. Then the far-flung corners of Russia – the Siberian far-east and up to Vladiwostok and to the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway – We have been there!
Dyan: What about Arctic Circle – the northernmost area of Alaska?
Gunther: Yes of course. We have traveled up to the north of Alaska – you know Alaska where the big oil exploration is taking place and on the other hand to the Southern-most tip of South America – Tierra del Fuego, Argentina’s highlands as well as the southern point off Dunedin in New Zealand. All these places are so remote that most tourists do not normally venture. For us though such outlandish places are a lure – we head for them.
Dyan: Including places associated with war and conflict?
Gunther: Martin & I went to Northern Iraq two years ago. Then to Afghanistan with my wife four years ago – so we have ventured where no civilian would want to visit!
Dyan: What about the islands such as the Caribbean for instance?
Gunther: In fact when we visited the Caribbean many people in authority informed me that my vehicle was the first time ever a tourist driving his own car visited some of those islands. Here in Sri Lanka too I was informed by the Customs and confirmed by some senior persons that my jeep was the first time ever a tourist had driven his own car over to travel around the island. Coincidentally I saw today someone driving around Colombo with New York number plates but I was later informed that the SL driver of car had brought that car from NY in USA as he had decided to return with his car back to SL – so he’s not a tourist who had come with his car, toured the country personally and would take back the same car when he returns – and the latter example are Martin and I in our ‘Otto’!
Dyan: How do you prepare yourself and your ‘Otto’ before a trip – after all you travel six months of the year – so you sleep, eat and do everything else ‘human’ in your ‘Otto’?
Gunther [smiles] Way back in 1989 my wife Christine christened the then new Mercedes Benz ‘G’ Wagon Model 300 GD ‘Otto’ like naming a child. We liked it so much! Then initially as a ‘Test Drive’ we drove around in Africa and based on that experience we modified the car according to our specific needs. We do not ever call over at hotels but instead sleep inside the car as it has been so prepared or alternatively we sleep in a hammock – after all we only need to park next to a tree to hook-up one end of a hammock!
Dyan: What about your food and other supplies?
Gunther: We usually shop for our food in the local markets as in Africa or India or Central and South America where invariably fresh fruits and vegetables are found aplenty. We may get a piece of beef or fish and required ingredients. Each night we prepare our dinner – we shun restaurants and ‘eating houses’ – this way we save our cash and also ensure that we don’t have digestive disorders by eating the ‘wrong foods’! So by buying food from local markets, preparing our own foods, abiding by our own standards we have economized effectively and have so far never had any digestive problems!
Dyan: That’s practical practice at work! Then your water-needs, Gunther?
Gunther: Well, wherever there are human-beings you also do find water! Of course we plan ahead and top up whenever possible. As a rule we do not drink off a tap, instead we boil such water or make tea – like in Africa – it was tea-country. Alternatively we’ll get ourselves a beer or bottled water. I must say that these days bottled water is found almost everywhere around the world – it was not so 20 years ago when I started my travels.
Dyan: How do you prepare your ‘Otto’ before a journey – you know the vital spares etc?
Gunther: We prepare ourselves in a manner that we can be 100% independent as far as possible. In fact we carry over 400 different and vital spare parts in keeping with our quest to be independent. We replace parts before their break-down is imminent.
Dyan: You mean ‘Preventive Maintenance’ – that is smart – a stitch in time saves nine!
Gunther [smiles] For instance we replace V-Belts and wheel bearings well in time, preventively and as a result we’ve never had a major breakdown!
Dyan: Incredible! Thank God and Mercedes Benz reliability!
Gunther: Here I must say most modern cars of different brands have their value – there is no doubt about it their quality is good. But after 300,000 km – 400,000 km you see and feel the difference! This Mercedes-Benz has over 725,000 km on the clock and most of the ‘small parts’ such as door handle, lights switch, wipers switch etc are still original and are as good as new….and they’ll last forever! Coming back to my ‘Otto’ its engine and gearbox are still original and ‘untouched’! Even the gearbox oil seals are original! We have replaced only the wheel bearings, V Belts and the Clutch Plate – not the housing.Even the paint of this Mercedes-Benz is original! I’m
original too!! [laughter all round]
Dyan: How often do you replace your engine oil & oil filters?
Gunther: First I must say that we’ve hardly have any ‘oil consumption’ so where engine oil is concerned too we act ‘preventively’ and replace engine oil & filters @ 5,000 km although we could go on for 7,000 km before an oil change. However we prefer to change oil at 5,000 km which is anyway good for the engine. We also do not needlessly rev up engine or speed on any road. Let me here recall a Spanish saying: “Treat the car like your Grand Mother.” After all one would never ask Grand Mother for a100-meters sprint daily! So we drive slowly and carefully always and by this tender treatment our diesel powered Mercedes-Benz has responded with absolute trouble-free running!
Dyan: Brilliantly said! Gunther how do you procure your tyres with specific sizes – correct rim and balloon size and perhaps favoured brand in these far-flung corners of the earth? You do carry two extra tyres fitted to wheels all right, yet emergencies do crop up?
Gunther: Good observation and question! We have been using Yokahama tyres from the very beginning as these 4 X 4 ‘All Terrain’ tyres have proved to be very reliable and lasts for around 70 to 80,000 km per tyre which is quite a lot considering the type of road surfaces – mostly off road, gravel roads, stony roads – some times, no roads, really! This tyre long-life I attribute to slow and careful driving always. These Yokahama tyres we prefer have been obtained successfully all over the world, excepting for one exception: It was in Ethiopia in East Africa when three  of the tyres were pretty worn off. We were quite frantic and looked everywhere in Ethiopia but could not find the size and Make we wanted. We drew a blank in both Ethiopia and neighboring Kenya, forcing us to drive 8,000 km to South Africa merely to buy the tyres we wanted so desperately!
Dyan: How do you deal with the inevitable ‘Flat Tyre’ considering that tube-less repair facilities may not be available in some parts of Africa or some other primitive areas?
Gunther: Once when we were in the ‘bush’ in Africa we had three flat tyres in just one day! And when you are in the jungles of Africa or a similar inhospitable place it is not easy to repair a ‘tubeless’ tyre as they are seated very tight with rim. So it is very difficult to get the tyre off the rim. But I do manage eventually with much effort! Furthermore to inflate a repaired ‘tubeless-tyre’ one needs extra air pressure initially which we don’t have as we possess only a small manually operated air pump. So in such instances we usually put an ordinary tube inside the ‘tubeless’ tyre and manage to move on. Such experiences we have had numerous times, especially deep in African jungles!
Dyan: Listening to you – a man of 74 years, you will give fresh hope and courage to all senior people across the world that one could seek adventure even past the usual retirement age of 55 or 60 – well you are well beyond the biblical three score & ten  and still have an amazing zest for life and the adventures it offers, provided we go out there and find it! You have visited some 186 countries so far – even the war-torn zones – how do you avoid obvious risks and potential trouble, Gunther?
Gunther: Oh! We’ve had our share of difficult situations all right but we always strive to minimize the risk, chiefly by adopting a ‘Low Profile’ – No outward show. Our car is just a plain-looking vehicle with no stickers whatsoever, saying for instance: ‘Round the World Tour’. We do not post our tour on the Internet – we neither have a Website nor Home Page. Furthermore we don’t have any sponsor – so we need not have to plaster the car with stickers like a F1 car for instance as a sponsor may well ask us to do so! We avoid fan-fare and unnecessary exposure and by strictly adhering to a low-profile and sleeping overnight only at one location and leaving at crack of dawn before people realize we are around, we are gone! That way we’ve avoided attracting trouble to a large extent. No serious hold-up, burglary or trouble with any ‘local people’ so far. The only harrowing moment worth mentioning was when we were confronted by gun-wielding extortionists in Ethiopia. I reacted calmly, speaking my way tenderly out of this situation and escaped unscathed!
Dyan: That was a lucky escape indeed! So Mr Holtorf you sleep, cook, eat, drink and even shower, in or around your beloved ‘Otto’ and in kind weather you sleep outdoors on hammocks with one end slung to the jeep and other to a tree. Talking of sleeping for the night: surely and obviously you would be taking all types of precautions? What are they?
Gunther:Yes, that is of prime concern. Everyday we strive to find a safe place to rest for the night. In the thick jungles when we have to avoid wild animals on the prowl we look out for potential safe camp-sites; then near towns it would be next to a Police Station or Factory or some such prominent location that offers a safe refuge, relatively. We select the ‘over-night-parking’ at sunset and never after dark and leave before dawn so there’s no time for nosey-parkers and undesirables to snoop around! For instance when we were in Mexico City we wanted to visit a famous university and to reach it we had to travel along a lengthy avenue. When returning we ensured that we did not take the same path back. Instead we took another route leading to central Mexico as we wanted to avoid potential ‘bad-guys’ who may have been lurking along that lengthy avenue to the university. OurSecurity overall is like a ‘brick-wall’. Each safety-first act we plan and execute is like affixing a safety-brick towards the safety-wall – the wall of security!
Dyan: When you travel around the world – well literally, how do you communicate? Don’t you possess a sophisticated Satellite aided telecommunication device?
Gunther [laughs]You will be surprised! I have never carried a Mobile Phone, Laptop or Satellite phone or any of these modern electronic communication gimmicks!
Gunther [smiles] Well I call them gimmicks! After all when you are in the middle of no-where, say in the thick wilderness, you need to solve your own problems! I cannot rely on anybody, anywhere in the other end of the world to help me out! Let’s say, if I am stuck in the Amazon jungle, I must know what to do. Whom should I appeal for help? After all when you are off the beaten-track there is no mobile phone coverage unlike Sri Lanka! For instance in Australia mobile phone coverage is only in the vicinity of cities but there is no mobile phone coverage in rural areas and the arid Australian bush or ‘Outback’ as they say. So in such situations I need to solve my own problems! Then in the middle of the Sahara Desert – who on earth can help you? Even if I had a Satellite phone and contacted my family in Germany and said I was stuck somewhere in the Sahara Desert they would be frantically looking out for an Atlas! So one needs to be properly equipped and have the confidence and ability of solving one’s own problems from where ever one may be stuck anywhere on earth! Of course may I repeat: I do not take unnecessary risks; yes, at times we have been forced to take certain risks but I would not willingly take risks without any viable back-up – it simply would not make any sense!
Dyan: It pays to be safe – always! Is weight of equipment you carry also factored in your plans?
Gunther [smiles] There is a saying: “Whatever you do not carry, does not break”. So the more equipment you carry, the more possibilities of breakages! My son Martin who is an IT Engineer has a Laptop, a local cell phone as well as an international phone with all battery-charges etc – all such stuff would suddenly get ‘legs’ and take a walk away somewhere in Africa for instance! On the other hand over the many years I was traveling with my wife we never carried such hi-tech items. She used to only carry a scribble pad and write notes of her experiences – no laptop for her! So no one would steal that tattered old book that she maintained so painstakingly!
Dyan: What’s your advice to any future explorer in a 4×4 like you?
Gunther: Keep it simple. Avoid unnecessary items. Take only absolute essentials. Consider this: a first-time traveler would have 3 packed suitcases. An experienced traveler would take carry only a handbag. I’m traveling with only a handbag! [laughter] Also be prepared for any eventually. Acquire thorough knowledge of the vehicle; be prepared with tools & spare-parts. You need to be a Do-It-Yourself person as far as possible. Keep everything down to the absolute minimum!
Dyan: How do you cope with extreme weather – snow, sand-storms, floods, gales etc?
Gunther: We study weather patterns and seasons beforehand. For instance we’ll never hazard traveling during the winter in Siberia! Similarly we’ll avoid the monsoonal seasons in the tropics. Here again it’s a simple case of being selective and prepared!
Dyan: What’s your response when young people would say: Why take all the trouble of driving to most parts of the world when one could see many such places of our planet via TV?
Gunther:Yes, certainly you could see scenes of many places on your TV. But the big difference is on TV you don’t get the smell, you don’t hear the ‘real noise’; you don’t get a chance of seeing the ‘real dirt’ in many parts of the world – all these elements are covered under the roof of a heady experience – an unmatchable personal experience that impersonal TV can never capture!
Dyan: It has been an absolute pleasure and wonderful experience meeting and talking to you sir! You and your son Martin and let’s not forget your late, courageous wife Christine have really shown the way, even in the 21st Century that we can be adventurous as long as we are simple and have a honest attitude towards life! May your journeys bring light to a world that needs courage!
Gunther: Thank you. I wish Motor magazine all success both in SL and internationally!
LIST OF 186 COUNTRIES VISITED BY GUNTHER HOLTORF
DRIVEN IN MERCEDES-BENZ 300 GD [‘G’ WAGON]
PERIOD: BETWEEN 1990 & 2011 TO DATE [Shown in alphabetical order]
A – Afghanistan, Aland, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Anguilla, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan
B – Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia,
Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi
C – Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Rep., Chile, Columbia, Congo, Dem. Rep., Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Curacao, Cypress, Cypress North, Czech Rep.
D – Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Rep.
E – Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia
F – Faeroes, Finland, French Guiana
G – Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Gibraltar, Golan Heights, Greece, Grnada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guernsey, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana
H – Haiti, Honduras, Hungary
I – Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq [Kurdistan] Ireland, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast
J – Jamaica, Jersey, Jordan
K – Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, South, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgystan
L – Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg
M – Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Martinique, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Monserrat, Morocco, Mozambique
N – Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway
O – Oman
P – Pakistan, Palestine, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico
Q – Qatar
R – Romania, Russia, Rwanda
S – Sabah, San Marino, Sarawak, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore,
Sint Maarten, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Martin, St. Vincent & Grd., Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria
T – Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor Leste, Togo, Transnistria,
Trinidad Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan
U – UAE,Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA, US Virgin Islands, Uzbekistan
V – Vatican City, Venezuela, Vietnam,
W – Western Sahara
Y – Yemen
Z – Zambia, Zimbabwe
COUNTRIES PLANNED TO VISIT IN 2011
Abkhasia, China, Hongkong, North Korea, Japan, Macao, South Ossetia, Angola, Chad, Comoros, Congo Rep, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion, Sierra Leone