Abgefahren – which translates to ‘Departed’ in English – is the German name of a book by well known world travelers Claudia Metz and Klaus Schubert covering their most unlikely 16 year trip around the world. What originally started as a 10 month motorbike journey from Germany to Japan to visit Klaus’ Sister who was living in the land of the rising sun, became a more than kickass trip lasting 16 years, in which they covered 257,000 kilometers by motorbike and returned to Germany with a self-boat and two kids!! That is more than 6 times the earth’s circumference!!
Claudia and Klaus left Germany in 1981. Their goal was Japan. Simple as that. Klaus was 23 years old. Claudia only 20 years young. She had never ridden a motorbike before but Klaus was confident she would learn along the way. He had planned the ride meticulously and it was supposed to take ten months to reach his sister in Japan. They rode their XT 500 Enduros through Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India. But they realised the flip-side of a rigidly planned trip: stress and just a focus on making that days mileage goals! The further they rode away from Germany the more they started disliking their ambitious driving goals. They were not enjoying the local landscapes, sights and people as they were focused on traveling according to Klaus’ overly detailed plans.
No more plans, just freedom
Then they reached India. Broken, tired and ready to give up. Instead they decided to ditch the plans, deadlines and routes and just go with the flow. To enjoy the trip without a time frame and fixed plan became their new ‘plan’. What followed was a 16 year trip around the world, riding their bikes, enjoying the world, making unlikely friends and changing personalities. They named their new travel mission the ‘Planet Earth Expedition’.
They stayed six months in India enjoying their new found freedom. Then they went to Nepal for months. Klaus quit his job in Cologne by sending his boss a postcard telling him he wasn’t coming back.
And so they continue their journey with no obligations waiting for them back home. They cross over to Australia where they stay for one year. After three years on the road they reach Japan.
Prisons & Typhoons
They cross China illegally and end up in prison for it. “We had indeed a visum for China, however, we did not have a permit to bring out motorbikes with us” explained Klaus. They are taken for Western spies and the police arrests them. They only get released after they sign forms that will expel them from China forever.
In 1984 they endure one of the heaviest typhoons in the history of the Philippines. “Of course we were terrified. Minutes became hours as we spent 7 hours within the madness of the typhoon. It is indescribable what that does to you” Klaus described in their book.
Working temporary jobs along the way
They spent a total of 36 months all over North America. Time is unlimited, but cash is not. Working many different jobs along the way they keep their head above water. As a fruit picker in New Zealand, safari guides in Botswana, bartender in Guatemala, as a construction worker and roof tiler, as a carpenter, they worked as house painters in Buenos Aires. Klaus is a real handyman which enables him to get jobs easily. But each time after a few weeks of making enough cash Claudia and Klaus swing back on their Enduro machines to move on into new unexplored areas. “When you learn to get along with very little money you live more open and more intense.” Klaus said. “and we always wanted to get back on the road and explore new areas of our gorgeous globe”.
For weeks, they roam the bush, living side by side with primitive peoples who have never seen a white man. Most people respond very positively to the motorcyclists. “We’re going around the world and people waved at us, they invited us to wedding parties, birth celebrations and even funerals. Meeting the two Germans is often taken as an occasion to celebrate new friendships and they are taken in as long lost friends”
Regularly Claudia and Klaus take their XT 500 Enduro motorbikes apart to see which parts are worn and where something needs to be replaced.
DIY Amphibious motorbike rafts
It was not for long that they decided to stay away from main roads, dodging its heavy traffic and often corrupt police officials. Instead they often end up driving unpaved roads in the middle of nowhere. When in Canada one of those roads ends they get creative and built a motorbike-powered-raft. They sail their self-crafted amphibious vehicle along the Yukon river enjoying unspoiled nature and pure Canadian tranquility.
They repeat this in Tortuguero, Costa Rica and in the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia.
In Brazil they take their amphibious experience to another level. Once all roads ended in the middle of the impenetrable Amazon jungle, and the river is the only way forward, they build a full fledged sternwheeler boat/raft. It is the local Indian tribe that helps them to build their sturdy ‘Juma da Amazonia’ with which they cover an unbelievable 7,000km over waterways crossing the Amazon.
In Patagonia they use the prevalent North to South wind by welding their bikes together, adding a mast and a sail, and they literally ‘sailed’ 1,300km overland in the direction of Tierra del Fuego, the Southernmost point of South America, without using any petrol. The result is an iconic photo which became the cover image of their best-selling German book (strangely an English translation has never materialised).
The collapse of the Berlin Wall
What happens in the rest of the world becomes only clear to them through the stories of travelers they meet along the way. “they see our German license plates and ask how long we have been on the road for. You quickly get a conversation with anyone that way” Claudia said.
When they are in California a drunk American stumbles past their tent yelling “the Wall has fallen”. That’s how they found out that Eastern and Western Germany became one after the collapse of the Berlin Wall on the 9. November 1989.
They could have lived this nomad life forever but felt that they had to close the loop at some point. A longing for their families, and the desire to create their own stable family life, made them decide to finish their travels after 16 years. The definite decision was made when they were in Cameroon. They decided to give it one more year to get back to Germany. But it had to be a re-entry in style.
In 1997 they finally return to Germany. In full glory they make a re-entry in their home city of Cologne: they sail their motorcycle-boat – the Juma da Amazonia which they built in the Brazilian rain forest – on the Rhine right to their front doors. Only the frame, gearbox, a mirror, a rim and two lamps are original parts on their 500cc bikes. The rest has been broken and replaced!
After their return they produce their highly acclaimed book “Abgefahren: in 16 Jahren um die Welt” (Departed: in 16 years around the World) and subsequently traveled two years with their daughter Anna in an RV / campervan through the German-speaking countries in Europe while holding talks and showing their collection of 25,000 slides, over 10,000 photos and many hours of video. An astonishing 340,000 visitors have attended their speaking events!!! No other traveler has had bigger visitor numbers after a world trip and it has turned them into well known semi-famous travel celbs. The rest of the world is oblivious to their kickass travels and more than kickass travel book, mainly because an English translation of their book never materialised.
What an absolutely kickass adventure.
And let’s hope their book will get translated into English in the (near) future.