TWO modern ‘gypsies’, Emil and Liliana Schmid, have been making a temporary home in Smithfield as they get ready for their next major adventure.
The couple hold a unique place in the Guinness Book of Records: theirs is the longest road journey ever made. No wonder! They left their home in Switzerland with a Toyota land cruiser almost 31 years ago – and they have not stopped travelling ever since. Their epic journey has taken them round the world more than once and, after visiting 181 countries there are very few borders left that they haven’t crossed.
Emil and Liliana arrived in Smithfield looking for an overnight spot on the way to Lesotho. Their guide book referred to the town as ‘picture book’ pretty, but they could hardly tell if this was correct because it was raining so hard.
Now they’ve been here two weeks, drying out, catching up on the admin of their trip – emails, the diary of their travels that they post on their website, saying hello to friends via Skype perhaps – and they have started to form an impression of our little dorp.
Perhaps not exactly ‘picture book’, says Liliana. ‘More like a frontier town. But beautiful in a special way - and very friendly.’ She tells the story of going into a local Smithfield shop for supplies. The second time she visited a woman in the shop asked her, ‘Are you new in town?’
It’s hard for people who live a boring life in a house that stands still and who wake up to the same view every day to understand what a 31-year car journey actually means.
For one thing it must mean that they have a very particular relationship: there’s no room in the car for anyone else, not even for a dog or a bird, and so they have had to get to know one another extremely well. How do they make decisions about where to go next, for example? They have one eye on the weather ahead as they like to avoid very cold temperatures, they know the places they haven’t yet seen and have a general idea of what country they want to head to. Apart from that – ‘Well we have a democracy inside that car,’ says Emil.
It also means that they have to be extremely faithful to their land cruiser. Their world record rankings depend on the journey being made in the same vehicle the whole time, so their rather antiquated land cruiser gets fixed over and over again.
Emil agrees that a new version would give them more space and comfort perhaps, but it might bring a set of new problems: at the moment he is able to fix just about anything that goes wrong. But if they were to travel with a more modern vehicle he would be concerned that the electronics would be too difficult for him to sort out if they broke.
‘I’m happy Emil convinced me to start this adventure,’ says Liliana. ‘We’ve travelled 714 000 km in the land cruiser and the car is aging as we do.’ Emil, the fixer, agrees. ‘It always pops something when you don’t expect it. In the hard rain the day before we arrived in Smithfield I tried to wind the window down and it just fell back into the door. So I was standing in the pouring rain and I had to fix it.’
They stay in touch with friends and family via internet and email, and they have a dual website, in English and in German. ‘So much has changed in the 30 years we’ve been travelling: digital pictures now, ATMs where we can draw money and much better phone communications.’ But this has its disadvantages too. Because it’s so easy to do it they now feel they take far too many photographs and then have the problem of what to do with them all. Many are loaded on their website - www.worldrecordtour.com - but it is a long and painstaking process to sort through them all.
Even though they have driven into the modern age of communications, they still sometimes get post – actual paper in envelopes - like their annual Guinness world record certificate for example. And so they have to make arrangements for it to be collected. Their solution is for it to be sent to the Swiss consulate in the countries they plan to visit. Someone in Switzerland collects the post and sends it on. ‘It’s usually three months old by the time we receive it.’
They no longer have a home anywhere other than their car: all their furniture has been stored in Switzerland for more than 30 years and they pay regular storage hire to keep it safe. ‘We haven’t seen it in a long time,’ says Liliana. But there are no plans for going back. They feel their journey still stretches out far ahead of them and that they will keep going for as long as they are able.