Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I had just gotten out of my car on a residential alley in South Delhi’s Shivalik area when I heard the thing roll past – a blue box on wheels, belching and trundling along like a car out of Noddyland. An elderly, bearded and rather naked Caucasian gent was at the wheel and together, the two made a rather intriguing picture. The car stopped a few houses away and I walked over. “Hello” I greeted him. “Hello”, said the man. “You’ve been driving for a while…” I observed, looking at how he’d cast off every layer of clothing save one. The man peered at me for a brief moment and then hollered… “Matias… Matias…!” I must’ve upset the guy and now he was calling for backup… I tried to appease him… “Sorry… I didn’t mean to…” but the man wouldn’t listen. “Matias! Matias!!... MATIAS!!!” I heard footsteps rushing towards us and braced myself for a confrontation. It was a young man. I tried explaining but he spoke first, “My father doesn’t speak English. Can I help you…?” Oh, ok… An hour later, Matias Sabah, his brother Izma and I were sitting in a food-court where I was introducing the concept of paapri-chaat to the two Uruguayans and trying to figure out how they ended up so far away from home.

“My father said ‘My life has been living me for all these years… now it is time I start living my life’, and with that he gave away his fl ourishing electrical consulting business to his employees, got into this car and it’s been two-and-a-half-years since, but he hasn’t stopped driving…” said Matias. “When we were young my father would say that one day we’ll take a car and travel around the world, get into all its quaint cultural crannies and wake up on a new place everyday. It was a fantasy that fuelled our imagination through school but then the very act of living creates such a stupor that in the web of work, girlfriends and weekends, dreams evaporate like vapor in the desert. My brother and I had all but given up on that childhood fantasy when one day our father called and reminded us of that dream… He said that since he was now in his 50s, if we didn’t leave now, it mightn’t be possible for him to live his dream of traveling around the world.

At the time Izma and I were working with a hardware fi rm. We had partners we were committed to; Izma had picked up a house and I’d finally bought a car and a motorcycle with all my savings. Perhaps in everybody’s life there are such moments when one knows that a decision one takes now would finally end up defining the rest of one’s years. At that moment if my brother and I’d refused, we’d still be back home in Uruguay doing a nine to five like the rest of the world. Life might’ve been easier but what about the incredible transformational experiences I’ve had on the road… It wasn’t an easy decision at the time but when my brother and I sat down to discuss it, we realised that we just had to do it. So we sold the house, the bike and the car to raise funds… our girlfriends were left behind…” Matias had a wistful look in his eyes as he fiddled with his phone. I asked if she’d still be waiting for him. He shook his head and waved his hand, as if to brush the memories aside, “I don’t know…” and then after a while, “I hope she does… but whatever is to be, will be…”

Matias, Izma and their father Mario Sabah had left Montevideo, Uruguay in the December of 2006 with three objectives – 1) see the world 2) introduce Uruguay to the world and rather interestingly 3) bring all non-resident Uruguayans back to their country because it is a beautiful country and needs the best to come back home… “We’re a very small population, just three-and-a-half-million with about a million spread all over the world. We wanted to meet Uruguayans living outside and ask them to come back home, and three such families that we met have already gone back. It is such a peaceful country. We have seen so much of the world and there is a lot of money outside but no peace… there is so much peace and freedom back home that I’ve learnt to treasure it even more.”

This journey of a lifetime that the Sabahs were on has been a recurring fantasy for me and many of my friends, but I guess whenever the moment had presented itself and I had the opportunity to choose between the demands of adventure and the comforts of familiarity, my ideals capitulated and their remains were oft en brushed under the carpet of procrastination. Perhaps the next time such a moment arrives, I will have learnt from the Sabahs and their ability to jump onto a bucking bronco of a life and experience all its highs. While planning for my own trips though, I had read up a fair bit about the others who’d been on aroundthe- world-road-trips. All of them, from celebrity investor Jim Rogers to a Danish couple I came across in Rajasthan, had emphasised the need for a sturdy all-wheel drive vehicle that could last the rigours of such a trip, have the wherewithal to climb mountains, wade through waist deep waters and haul passengers and luggage over bogs and dunes. But here was a trio from the heart of South America who had travelled a million miles in a tiny 1977 600cc Citroen Mehari. “We picked this car because it had been our companion for all our boyhood adventures and it’s been there in the garage for ever and ever. Sometimes while climbing up a mountain the car grunts and gasps and seems to be suffering so much that my brother and I get down and start pushing even while the car is in gear. On the big highways perhaps a golf cart could’ve been faster but this car has never let us down. While driving into Pakistan, the heat was too much, around 54°C and trucks had stalled on the highway but this tiny thing kept rolling. Also this car’s easy to fix; it struggles to touch 60 kmph, but we are in no hurry… no office to get to, you see. And the pace is just right for taking in the view.”

Great, go ahead and rub it right in, but what about the money? “All that we managed after selling all we could didn’t last us beyond Colombia. So we went to Citroen and asked them to sponsor us which got us to Turkey. But since Citroen doesn’t have dealerships beyond Turkey, there we went to a Turkish football club which had contracted an Uruguayan footballer and asked him and his team to sign tees, which we auctioned and that money got us till here, but now we’re broke again. But no worries… we’ll reach Australia and raise some more.” So I guess where there’s a will, there’s a way… and so crumbles one of my biggest excuses.

One of the best moments on this trip for them was when they were lost and stranded in Croatia and a local walked up to them and invited them into a party in his own house and insisted that they stay for as long as they could. When their car broke down in Iran, a country which they thought might be too conservative to embrace strangers from the ‘West’, they were yet again invited into homes while their car was repaired. And what about the dangerous moments? “In Colombia, we were stopped at a roadblock manned by a contingent of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – an insurgent group that has become infamous for its kidnappings) rebels and I was sure we’d get kidnapped and killed. But while they were going through our documents, my brother stepped out and gave them a coin and told them he was giving it to them for luck. My father and I were very nervous and half believed that he would get shot for the stunt but surprisingly, the rebel commander took the coin, smiled, handed us our documents and waved us on, and that was it. It might seem like a big bad world when we sit in front of the TV but when we stepped out, all we saw were beautiful people and all we experienced was generous hospitality. Even in war zones like Pakistan, there was poverty and devastation and yet people always welcomed us with open arms and a warm smile. We travel without weapons, relying on the goodwill alone of our fellow men, and at no point did we feel that we needed anything more… this is the truth. And religion, whether mine or anybody else’s, I’ve come to believe, is a lie… When we believe in each other we are good and beautiful, but whenever we start believing in this lie called religion, we become petty and intolerant. But it’s a wonderful world. Like my father says, don’t let life live you… go out there and live your life…” I sighed and nodded, while Matias and Izma dug into another plate of paapri-chaat.


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