Ernst Aebi’s Biography

The oldest of three boys, Ernst Aebi was born 1938 in Zurich, Switzerland. His father was a housepainter, his mother a housewife. He graduated from a technical school and passed the Swiss college entrance exams.

Fed up with school and with only forty dollars, he then traveled, mostly by hitchhiking and trekking, through the Middle East, India, South-East Asia, and China to Japan. He earned money primarily by drawing on sidewalks for donations from passers-by. First in Lebanon, then in Japan he started exhibiting and selling his paintings. After two years he returned to Switzerland through Siberia, entered Zurich University and graduated with a Masters in Political Sciences. To finance his studies, he lived mostly in Paris selling his artwork.

In 1966 he moved to the USA where, first in California and then in New York, he became successful as an artist. He married and had four children, After a divorce where he got full custody of his children, then seven, eight, nine and ten-years old, he moved in 1976 into a raw SoHo loft. Together with his friend and fellow artist, Fritz Gross, he converted it to a residential gem, which they then sold with a hefty profit. Aebi discovered a lucrative market and thus ended up converting almost fifty lofts that left him financially secure, to say the least.

Good friends helped him raise the four children. Now all have college degrees while the oldest, Tania, became famous for being the youngest person to sail single-handed around the globe.

After the children were old enough to fend for themselves he could again leave the bounds of arm-chair-adventuring and dive into the real thing. He started by wreck diving in New York harbor. He walked to the North Pole from Siberia, lived for a while off the land in the Canadian Arctic, and another time with reindeer herders in Siberia. He went up the Rio Negro, crossed the Amazon jungle in a dugout on the Casiciares to the Orinocco. He raced across the Sahara in the Paris-Dakar rally, crossed the Atlantic four times in small sailboats, once with his children, once single-handed and twice with his second wife, Emilie. He and Emilie crossed the Himalayas, entering illegally into western Tibet where they became prisoners of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (described in the book A SHORT STINT IN TIBET by Ernst Aebi, 2005). They tried to defy the Burmese junta by getting overland from Burma to India. He drove all over Central and South America and the Australian Outback, started rock climbing on vertical slivers in the Alps, went up Aconcagua and made it to the top of Mont Blanc.

The ultimate adventure came with his discovery of Araoaune in the Sahara. That is the main subject of the film BAREFOOT TO TIMBUKTU. It is also extensively described in the book SEASONS OF SAND by Ernst Aebi, Simon & Schuster 1993.

Aebi, the ultimate optimist, somehow succeeds in just about everything he attempts, and, even though past seventy now, he still attempts plenty.


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Barefoot To Timbuktu


A film by Martina Egi

Another awesome Mesch & Ugge production.

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