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ABOUT THIS BLOG

In the summer of 2009, Nicolas Rapp decided to take a break from his Art Director job at The Associated Press to attempt a one-year overland travel around the world in a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser. He was back in New York in February 2011 after traveling 15 months and 37,000 miles.

Visited countries

Calendar

May 2010
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MONTHLY ARCHIVES

THE ROUTE

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  • Through Tanzanian heat and rains

    Posted on May 31st, 2010 Nicolas 25 comments
    The desert climate of the Udzungwa National Park makes it easy to spot stars.

    The desert climate of the Udzungwa National Park makes it easy to spot stars.

    I leave the Baobab Valley campground early on the morning of May 25. I want to reach Dar Es Salaam early enough so I can stop at the French embassy and get the emergency passport procedure going as soon as possible.

    Leaving the Baobab Valley campsite.

    Leaving the Baobab Valley campsite.

    In the past, it was possible to get extra pages added to a passport, but with all the new biometric requirements, you can’t anymore. The emergency passport is a small passport valid for one year with ten pages. It is likely I will have to stop later on to get an extra one, maybe in Asia.

    Baboons on the road. They move fast and are hard to photograph.

    Baboons on the road. They move fast and are hard to photograph.

    The road to Dar is interesting. Going east, it first travels through a rain forest, then through the Mikumi National Park.

    Best sights are often in the morning.

    Best sights are often in the morning.

    Around 8 in the morning, crossing the mountains is a guaranty of seeing the best landscape, with fog lifting up. Driving alone is a big change from the Americas. I now listen to my iPod a lot more and do fewer breaks to eat lunch. I still don’t speak to myself.

    On the road to Dar Es Salaam.

    On the road to Dar Es Salaam.

    As I cross Mikumi National Park, I don’t see much wildlife. The major road divide the Park in two, and animals stay away of it, except a lonely giraffe who watch me going through and gets back eating leaves

    The only wildlife I will see in Mikumi.

    The only wildlife I will see in Mikumi.

    At 1 p.m., I am in Dar, and wait for the embassy to open. The climate in the city is brutal. The temperatures are high, at 40 degrees C in the shadow, and the humidity is horrendous. I am getting closer to the Equator, and the sun is now strong, worst than when I was in the Americas.

    Waiting for the embassy to open.

    Waiting for the embassy to open.

    At 2:30 p.m., someone accept to see me. I convince them to make me the emergency passport even if there is no emergency, and also let my present passport valid, as I need it to re-enter the U.S. at the end of my trip. They finally accept, and tell me it will take two to seven days. It is out of my hands now, and I go to the historical city center to find a place to sleep.

    Dar Es Salaam streets, always busy and hot.

    Dar Es Salaam streets, always busy and hot.

    My guidebook is ten years old, and the city must have change a lot. Therefore, when I get to the addresses I have, it looks like the hotels are closed since many years. Eventually, after two hours, someone tells me they have a parking lot at the YMCA. I get there, and take a room for two nights. For 10,000 shillings (US$7.5) I can have a bed with a mosquito net, and my truck in a secure place.
    In the following days, I try to survive the intense heat. I walk the streets of Dar, and enjoy this city where the Arab influence is clearly visible. People in the street are more cosmopolitan than in the other places I visited, and are easier to communicate with. Africans, Arabs, Chinese and Indians form the melting pot flooding the streets. The harbor started in the 19th century as a fishing village and is now a bustling city. Driving is a nightmare here, due to the small streets filled with people, chariots motorcycles and other vehicles.

    The city central “Kariakoo” food market.

    The city central “Kariakoo” food market.

    The third day, I receive an email from the embassy to inform me that the passport is ready. I go pick it up at 2 p.m., pay US$40 for it, and leave the city immediately after. I will now go north to Mount Kilimanjaro, and then pass the border to Kenya.

    The Pare Mountains, marking the border between Kenya and Tanzania.

    The Pare Mountains, marking the border between Kenya and Tanzania.

    For a long time, I have been debating whether I should visit Ngorongoro and the Serengeti National Parks. Unfortunately, the very high price of entering and staying in the parks doesn’t work for me. Every day there would cost me at least US$100.

    The Masai Steppe.

    The Masai Steppe.

    What I decide to do instead it to use a small road on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, cross at Oloitokitok, and then enjoy the Kenyans parks, supposedly cheaper. It takes me two days to get to the roof of Africa. Unfortunately, the visibility is very bad, and I can’t get a glimpse at the mountains. I am not in an area where it is the dry season anymore, so in the next countries, I will get a lot of rain, which makes camping more difficult, as I have experienced in the last days. Cooking under the rain is a pain, really. Eventually I hope the sky will clear up, so I would be able to take a good shot of the snow capped Kilimanjaro…

    Country borders often follow physical borders. In this case, the mountains form a real wall.

    Country borders often follow physical borders. In this case, the mountains form a real wall.

    I spent nights in campgrounds, under the rain or in the fog. Most of the time gas stations or hotels have an area where you can camp and cook for US$3. Today, May 29, I will attempt to take the road to the border, on the slope of Kilimanjaro. The road has the reputation to be difficult, and may be cut, in which case it will take me few hours to go back and find a more convenient road.

  • Turning East toward Dar Es Salaam

    Posted on May 25th, 2010 Nicolas 17 comments
    Following a track leading to a Tanzania camp at dusk.

    Following a track leading to a Tanzania camp at dusk.

    Every day in Malawi, I drive few hundred kilometers north and follow the lake. The progress is slow, due to the frequent police checkpoints and a multitude of villages where it is more prudent to slow down to 25 mph (40 km/h). Roads are not wide, and marketplaces bring many people on the tar.

    Police checkpoint.

    Police checkpoint.

    The police usually demand few documents, which I all have thanks to the dead time I had in Durban and some work in Photoshop. They sometimes make an attempt to say I was speeding, but usually don’t insist when I deny it.
    In the afternoons, I stop in camp grounds easy to find on the shore of the Lake. It costs around US$ 4 a night, which is a good value compared to the cost in South Africa and Mozambique. There I spend time planning the following days, and list accommodations on the map.

    Planning the following day.

    Planning the following day.

    I spend nights in Kande Beach and Chiweta. Some camps are pretty basic, while other offer electricity and hot water. Internet is not available, unless you are willing to spend a lot of money to get satellite access. I cook every night using the food I got in Blantyre. It is difficult to get more than very basic items in the few shops along the road. Cooking for myself ensure that I get a balanced and healthy diet. I boil the water I use to cook, and put bleach in my non-drinking water to wash vegetables or brush my teeth.

    Grilled meat on the border of the road.

    Grilled meat on the border of the road.

    The roads are in good conditions and it is a nice change from Mozambique. Gas is expensive though and I will have to wait for the Middle East to get more reasonable prices. It is now my biggest daily expense. Unfortunately, I have rare exchanges with people. It is very difficult to have a normal conversation, as locals usually want to sell you something, and the cultural divide is huge. I believe many months in Africa would be necessary to be able to gain from exchanges with people. Don’t take me wrong, everybody is nice, and curious about the place I come, why I am doing this trip and they all want to know the price of diverse items in the U.S. They also always want to exchange mail addresses. Maybe I will one day receive some news…

    Most roads are good, but there are still some rudimentary bridges.

    Most roads are good, but there are still some rudimentary bridges.

    As I advance north, there is a more mountainous landscape, and some forests. I recognize rubber trees which inhabitants milk after cutting the skin of their trunks.

    Natural rubber is collected in the mountain.

    Natural rubber is collected in the mountain.

    The landscape is indeed more interesting up there, and I get better nights of sleep as the temperature is lower during the night. As I know I will spend some time in higher altitudes, I take some time to change my rear brake pads, which I bought back in Texas. I doubt I would have been able to find parts in this part of Africa, as I don’t see many Land Cruisers on the roads. As in South Africa, there are many used vehicles coming from Japan, and also the group Tata seems pretty successful with their trucks.

    The shore of Lake Malawi.

    The shore of Lake Malawi.

    Very few individual vehicles are in fact seen on the road, mostly buses and trucks. People here use bicycles as the main transportation mode, very often just pushing a bike loaded with goods.

    The landscape becomes mountainous.

    The landscape becomes mountainous.

    Basic accommodations…

    Basic accommodations…

    The last campground I stay at has no showers, no electricity and fence, which makes me wonder why I just don’t sleep on the border of the road (Where it is located as well…). It is time for me to go to the next country. Tanzania.

    The welcoming border between Tanzania and Malawi.

    The welcoming border between Tanzania and Malawi.

    When I get to the border, it is a little bit trickier than previous crossings. In fact, it’s just a question of money. The Tanzanian authorities want some cash. At first, they ask me US$50 for a visa. I find it too expensive, and I wonder if it is a scam. I can’t remember how much it is supposed to cost. So I tell them it is too expensive, and have to sit down with the chief who finally agree to bring down the cost to US$30. Later, when I look into my notes, I figure the visa is indeed supposed to cost $50. In addition, they want me to pay US$25 for road tax. I don’t have enough US dollars easily accessible, so they agree to let me pay US$5 for a week worth of the tax. I can later go in a city to pay more to extend. Or not.

    A common sight at border crossings. Street vendors offer food to travelers.

    A common sight at border crossings. Street vendors offer food to travelers.

    Once again, I have no currencies for this new country, and almost no gas left. In the first town I stop, I can’t get cash at the ATM. I have to try to get to Mbeya with the fuel I have left. And I reach the city, probably running on gas vapors. There I am able to get cash, fill up the tank and an additional jerry can I usually keep with me full at all time. It cost me almost 200,000 Tanzanian Shillings. Sounds expensive…

    Open or closed? Open.

    Open or closed? Open.

    Later on, I get to a church-run center where they let me camp for a dime. The following day, I will take the direction of Dar Es Salaam on the long northeastern road through the low mountains.

    Going to Dar Es Salaam.

    Going to Dar Es Salaam.

    I leave in the morning and begin my trip through the wonderful landscape. I changed time already, and I am now at GMT +3. I have tons of things to do in the large city, mostly visas, and I hope everything will go well. As I am driving, I try to remember everything I need to get done. This does include stopping at the French embassy for my passport problem, get the Ethiopian visa, which I can’t get at the border as I usually do, and also spend some time on internet, so I could reply emails and update my blog.

    Going northeast.

    Going northeast.

    The trip to the city should take me two days at least. The road is sinuous, and there are an impressive number of accidents. I pay extra attention and prefer to go slow than to finish down the mountain.

    Common sight in the mountain.

    Common sight in the mountain.

    At the end of the day, I stop close to Mikumi, in a campsite surrounded by baobabs. I am the only visitor there, and decide to use the restaurant of the camp. After all, I don’t have anymore food left, and definitely deserve a nice meal. In the morning, I decide to stay an extra day to wash some clothe and prepare my visit to Dar Es Salaam.

    Two days to go to Dar Es Salaam.

    Two days to go to Dar Es Salaam.