Dominica wows globetrotters
The Swiss couple who hold the world record for the longest ever car journey have said that Dominica holds a special place in their hearts.
Globetrotters Emil and Liliana Schmid, who made their 151st stop in St Maarten earlier this week, said Dominica's jungles were "just fantastic".
"Dominica is behind other countries in terms of development, but for us they are way ahead of other countries by virtue of the same fact that they are behind because what they have is totally unspoiled, natural beauty," the couple told BBC Caribbean.com.
However they don't have such good memories of their visit to Anguilla because of their disappointment at the way they were treated by the authorities.
"We intended to celebrate our 150th country in Anguilla, but things went so bad for us there that we had no taste to celebrate and came to St. Maarten instead," said Emil, a former computer software developer in Switzerland.
"As usual, before we arrive in a country, we had everything arranged with the authorities in Anguilla, but when we got there we were told we had to pay $800 for a license fee so that we could bring the car in and drive on Anguilla roads," Liliana said.
"And when we told the authorities where we spent the night they wanted to fine us for camping illegally on the island even though it was on private property."
They said the experience was a bit of an anti-climax to their milestone celebration but they were happy to be in St. Maarten where they were recognized for their history-making feat.
Twenty years ago, when 42-year-old Emil was suffering from mid-life blues, he announced they should go on a two-year trip to explore other countries and cultures. They were already avid travelers, but Emil wanted to be more adventurous.
"I was happy in my job as a secretary and I also had a mother to consider, so it took Emil more than a year to convince me to make the two-year trip with him, and 20 years later, I have no regrets," said Liliana.
Now 62, she is happy making ends meet on approximately $33 per day and literally living out suitcases, shopping bags and boxes, as a way of life.
The family kitchen is in the rear of their Land Cruiser while the bedroom is a well positioned mattress stacked up high in the back.
A washing line and pegs separates the front seats - which they use as the living area - from the sleeping quarters.
When it comes to improvising on the road, Emil and Liliana have learned how to make their best of what they have. For instance, driving along bumpy roads turned out to be a blessing in disguise when they needed to do the laundry.
"I would fill out one of the containers half way with water, put detergent and clothes inside and by the end of the journey the clothes would be properly 'tumble washed'", said Liliana.
On other occasions the warmth of their vehicle engine has come in useful for heating water for tea.
Their trusty Land Cruiser is still powered by the same engine and has now clocked an impressive 600,000 km, although looking somewhat the worst for wear.
The couple and their vehicle have been featured on the popular BBC automotive television show Top Gear and they are extremely popular among Land Cruiser enthusiasts in the US.
Although Dominica has a special place in their hearts, they have said that Chile is their favourite place. They find Chile’s diverse landscape - from the glacial hills to the scorching desert - quite unique.
The Schmids believe one of the best things about their travels has been the friends they made over the last 20 years.
"We have met some really wonderful people all around the world. If there's one thing we have learned, and that is that the people of the world are not as bad as they are painted to be in the news and on television," they said.
"More than 95 per cent of the people we have met on our travels are kind, helpful people who will share their last meal with you and send you on your way without a problem.
"There have been some scary moments and there were also some bad elements, but our experience has been a great one," said the couple, as they pointed out the reinforced metal grills around their vehicle, which have protected them on many dark and desolate nights.
Although they said they don't miss much from 'normal' life, Liliana admitted that as a woman, a nice warm shower and the female comforts of home can be very tempting when they take a break from the road and stay in a home or sleep on a normal bed.
"I always tell people we are like a locomotive going from one country to the next, and we dare not stop, because the moment we stop and get used to staying in one place, it gets very difficult to pull yourself up and move on," said Liliana.
Emil and Liliana's trip is all the more remarkable because they have financed and supported themselves, first from their own savings and then from an inheritance left to them by Liliana's mother.
They have been keeping a daily journal of their travel which they intend to write some time soon, but first they will have to sort through the 45,000 snapshots of their trip which now amounts to many boxes of photographs awaiting them in Switzerland.
The man who turned his back on the same computer software with which he made his fortune in the early days of computer development has now gone full circle, with his investment in a website to that fans around the world can keep up with the couple’s travels and exploits to date.
"I had to learn how to build a website first, and now with Liliana's help and a laptop donated by a company in Dubai, I can again work with the technology of the day," Emil said.
They have no children and Liliana's mother passed away during one of their trips, so they no longer have any ties to Switzerland. But the Schmids are not thinking of ending their journey to return home anyway.
"Should we settle down we would want to do so in a warm climate and where we can continue to enjoy the freedom we now take for granted. We believe going back to Switzerland would be too restricting with too many rules to follow."