26 years, 550,000 miles, and 177 countries, but it was the last several thousand miles proved to be bittersweet for this globetrotting couple… Back in 1988, the Holtorfs decided they’d take a little African safari in their Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, “Otto.” This 1 1/2 year trip just tickled their road tripping bones so much they thought, “Why not keep going?” So they did. For 26 years.
Their initial 18 months in African blossomed to 5 years, and then they explored South America on up to North America to places as distant as Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. After seeing Africa, South America, Central America, and North America, they just kept going… Together, they drove Otto to the most extreme destinations like war-torn Iraq, little villages in Kenya, the dunes of the Sahara, and even North Korea. Living in/on/near Otto, they kept things simple with meals on a gas camping stove and showers with upside down water bottles.
They lived with the daylight, waking at dawn and looking for a place to park by dusk, sometimes staying in one place for multiple nights and other times traveling on to the next town, city, country, or, hell, continent. Sadly, Christine died of cancer in 2010, but retired airline CEO Gunther kept going in her honor. The 76-year old hung a picture of his late wife from Otto’s rearview mirror.
When interviewed by Outside, Holtorf says he has 4 active passports and a stack of at least a dozen old ones, and despite the dangers associated with border crossings, he claims he’s never paid a bribe at a border. Holtorf, however, isn’t very interested in talking about himself. He’d much rather tell you about the trusty Mercedes-Benz, Otto, that’s taken him around the world… Holtorf talks to Outside about Otto:
The car was built in July 1988. It cost 30,000 Euros. I’m still driving it. It’s not only the same car; it’s the same car with the same components. It has the original gearbox—never touched, never opened. The original transfer case—never touched, never opened. And also the original axles and differentials. It now has exactly 823,000 kilometers.
His trusty Otto got Mercedes’ attention as well… They’re going to put the G-Wagen in the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart.
And finally, Gunther Holtorf’s traveling philosophy as told to Outside:
The world is overpopulated and the tourist industry has sent too many people to too many places. We go to the famous places—Niagara Falls, the Taj Mahal—but exploring the globe means you have to look behind the curtain. You have to visit the small villages. Big cities all over the Third World are very much alike. But in the countryside, it’s a different world.
Of course, most of us won’t be able to do what the Holtorfs did. Money, family, and the normal events of life limit our ability to see the world the way they did, but we can still have adventure. We can still carve out time, even if its just a long weekend, to experience things like Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park or the Northern Lights from the porch of the Aurora Borealis Lodge or Aurora Village. There’s a whole lot of amazing things to be seen, right here in North America.