This Family Drove From Argentina in a VW Bus for Pope Francis in Philadelphia

And after 13,000 miles, of course they had a cheesesteak their first day here.

Catire Walker (right), Noël Zemborain (center), and their kids on Monday after a 13,000 mile journey.

Catire Walker (right), Noël Zemborain (center), and their kids on Monday after a 13,000 mile journey.

We know a lot of people who lose their mind after more than an hour in the car with their kids, so we have to believe that Noël Zemborain and her husband, Catire Walker, have some very special relationship with God, because they just finished a 13,000-mile drive from Argentina with their four kids in a 1980 Volkswagen Kombi.

The family left their home in Buenos Aires in March and set their sights on Philadelphia to see their Argentinean pope speak. They were supposed to arrive on Sunday, but car trouble (the Kombi is named Francisca in honor of Pope Francis) delayed them by one day.

“Thirty miles away from Philadelphia, and the car breaks down,” says Zemborain. “Some oil is dripping, but it’s not very complicated. Francisca is a 1980 van, 35 years old. So every now and then she decides to stop. In Chile we had a breakdown and in Peru a smaller one. And in Guatemala a big one, but always a helping hand appeared.”


Now, you could drive from Argentina to Philadelphia in much less time than the six months it took the family, but Zemborain says that they decided to do most of the trip in three- to four-hour increments, and they weren’t in the car every day. After all, the children are young: There’s Cala, 12, Dimas, 8, Mia, 5, and Carmin, 2. Plus, there’s the fact that Kombi won’t budge over 50 mph.

“We were rushing so much in this life,” observes Zemborain. “And it made us stop and breathe and enjoy things. A guy told us, ‘Don’t say you are going slowly, say you are going ‘landscape speed.’ We can see the landscapes. We enjoyed many things you wouldn’t see going higher speed.”


The family is staying with friends of Zemborain’s parents in Haddonfield, and they have a busy schedule, attending many of the World Meeting of Families events during the week and the major Pope Francis events on the weekend, of course.

It hasn’t taken them long to adapt to Philadelphia. Walker has already been seen in a touristy Philadelphia t-shirt, seen in the family photo at LOVE Park. (It’s an “I love Philly” tee where the heart has been replaced with a pretzel.) And on Monday, they tried their first cheesesteak at an event at a local high school.

“We tried it for breakfast, the cómo se dice, the meat and cheese,” says Zemborain. “The famous meat and cheese sandwich. It was very good. They told us that local people don’t try it, that they’re for tourists.”

After seeing Pope Francis in Philadelphia, the family will drive to New York, Boston and then Florida, and then they’ll fly to Buenos Aires in November.

“We would love to drive back,” Zemborain says. “But we need to be back in Buenos Aires to prepare for the next school year, which starts in February. And our budget. All of our savings are here. We are investing in this. It is a life experience for all of us, and we think it’s worth it. Many are helping us, sharing and opening their doors. It’s been a really great trip.”

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