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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

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THE ROUTE

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  • When it begins to look like our traveler is going to make it around the world

    Posted on February 11th, 2011 Nicolas 143 comments
    Driving through Utah.

    Driving through Utah.

    Indeed, as I am writing this, at least than 400 miles from New York City, it does look like I am going to be able to do it. On Saturday, after fifteen months on the road, I am going to reenter the city via the George Washington Bridge.
    For the longest time, while advancing through remote countries, I have been reluctant to say I was driving around the world. I always preferred to declare I was “trying” to go around the world. Now it may be time to change that.
    Few days back, after spending the night in southeast Utah, we were back on the road and passed the Colorado state line. We were still going through arctic temperatures, and I couldn’t help but be amazed that the truck never gave me much problem, no matter what climate I was in. In temperatures ranging from -30F to 130F, the vehicle started right away each time. The steering box is not leaking as much now, since the liquid is not as thin in the cold, and my fridge doesn’t complain either after having kept food cold through the hottest climates on earth. Basically, me and my dad are the only one to object to the ridiculous freezing temperatures.

    Mesa Verde National Park, dwellings in the cliffs.

    Mesa Verde National Park, dwellings in the cliffs.

    Nobody knows what became of the inhabitants.

    Nobody knows what became of the inhabitants.

    Shortly after entering Colorado, we leave the main road to penetrate the Mesa Verde National Park. A civilization of Pueblo Indians lived in the cliffs there around AD 1,200.

    Nobody knows why they disappear in the next hundred years. Disease or just looking for better life conditions may have been the cause. Regardless, it is fascinating to visit the dwellings protected from the natural elements by the cliffs.

    The visit is very uncomfortable because of the cold and snow, and soon enough we are back on the road.

    I drive through the mountains of Colorado after stopping for lunch in charming Durango.

    Leaving Mesa Verde Park.

    Leaving Mesa Verde Park.

    Everybody does a good work at keeping the road relatively free of snow, so the progression is easy. We spend a night in Alamosa, and in the morning I spend some time finding a new power converter for my laptop, as I forgot mine in the previous motel. I guess I can’t complain, given that I really didn’t loose much in this long trip.

    In the Colorado mountains.

    In the Colorado mountains.

    Once the mountains are behind, we go a bit south and enter Oklahoma. It is the first of many days driving through monotonous landscapes. There are not many photos to take, and I apologize for the banality of the ones I present here. As I was traveling though foreign countries, I noticed that most inhabitants spent a lot of time outside, therefore I could witness easily their intimate life. Now, because of the cold and the very different ways of our western life, I am just going through mostly empty landscapes.

    Leaving Colorado.

    Leaving Colorado.

    Many people think my accent is pretty funny tough, when I stop for food in restaurants along the route. It seems like they don’t see many foreigners driving through. Food is not great in the many places we stop at, but the option of cooking outside is not here anymore. It is beyond doubt not a culinary tour anyway, and we eat in the cheapest places around.

    Church in Oklahoma. Everything is flat and immense.

    Church in Oklahoma. Everything is flat and immense.

    You can drive straight lines for hundreds of miles.

    You can drive straight lines for hundreds of miles.

    We stop quickly in Guthrie, a town north of Oklahoma City, famous for its brick and stone Victorian buildings. The place seems to be empty of its inhabitants as people are awaiting a fresh snowstorm later in the evening.

    Guthrie, few miles north of Oklahoma City.

    Guthrie, few miles north of Oklahoma City.

    After a night in Oklahoma City, we visit the Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, which is fun and features interesting painting exhibits.

    The Oklahoma City Capitol. Notice the oil well just in front.

    The Oklahoma City Capitol. Notice the oil well just in front.

    The Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

    The Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

    More driving brings us to Fort Smith, at the border with Arkansas, where we spend the night. The following evening sees us in Memphis, Tennessee. The place is somewhat depressing usually, but even more under the snow and bad weather.

    In the morning we walk in the city center, and here too, streets are empty. Poverty is rampant in the city named after the capital of ancient Egypt.

    Memphis skyline.

    Memphis skyline.

    One of Memphis many churches.

    One of Memphis many churches.

    I can see my father begins to be tired by the long trip. Maybe I miscalculated a bit when I planned the trip back, as it is a lot of driving every day, more than what I am used to.

    Egypt is on the news every night as well, and I think of the people on the road in Africa, trying to do the eastern route as I did last year. It was already not easy, but now it has to be more difficult.

    Beale Street, Memphis. Where people go out to bars.

    Beale Street, Memphis. Where people go out to bars.

    The Djibouti-Yemen route I used may see an influx of visitors now, even so I believe I was the first one in many years to have used it.

    The world famous Gibson guitars factory.

    The world famous Gibson guitars factory.

    Back in the U.S., we continue to drive toward Nashville, where I have diner with Mrs. Marti, with who I have been emailing since the beginning of my trip. A little incursion south the following day allows us to visit the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg. It is worth to visit if you are around, but I would not do hundreds of miles to check out the site.

    Typical landscape in eastern Tennessee.

    Typical landscape in eastern Tennessee.

    The county is dry, so I can’t even get one shot for the road before I leave for Chattanooga. A nice surprise awaits me there, as the city is very agreeable. Katie – another follower of the blog – takes me around in the nighttime for a visit, and it looks like people have a nice quality of life and enjoy living there.

    Jack Daniels bourbon distillery.

    Jack Daniels bourbon distillery.

    Barrels of Jack. Wish I could take one for the road.

    Barrels of Jack.

    Named the “dirtiest city in America” back in the 1960s, you would be surprised by its evolution. Nowadays it is very green, there are plenty of waterfront paths for pedestrians and bicycles, a pedestrian bridge also across the Tennessee River, and many museums can be found across the city.

    Lynchburg, Tennessee.

    Lynchburg, Tennessee.

    Too bad I am not visiting during the summer, I bet there’s enough to spend few days without getting bored. But I have to get going, and after Katie gives me nice samples of southern food, I am back on the highway.

    Another familiar sight in Tennessee.

    Another familiar sight in Tennessee.

    This time I am going north, and for good. There will be no more sinuous paths. I am going to New York, and should be there before the end of the week.

    Sunset in southeast Tennessee before entering Chattanooga.

    Sunset in southeast Tennessee before entering Chattanooga.

    Crossing Virginia takes a long time, especially because I try several times to get to the Blue Ridge Highway. The 75 years old road was part of the New Deal’s efforts to provide jobs to the unemployed of the Great Depression. I already used part of the ribbon of highway along the high Appalachian ridges when I left NY in 2009, and wanted to take the same route to come back.

    Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway.

    Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway.

    Unfortunately, after driving few dozen miles, the road was closed. Once again we were punished by the snow. We attempted to reenter the road several time at different points of its 400-miles path, but it was closed everywhere.

    A lake along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

    A lake along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

    On Thursday night I arrived in Winchester, northern Virginia. I was now only a few hours away from New York.

    Fixing coffee in front of one of the numerous motels we stayed at while driving across the country.

    Fixing coffee in front of one of the numerous motels we stayed at while driving across the country.

  • Nevada and Arizona, states of great contrasts

    Posted on February 6th, 2011 Nicolas 34 comments
    Playing craps at the Venetian.

    Craps table at the Venetian.

    I arrive in Las Vegas on Friday afternoon and check-in what may be the cheapest hotel on the Strip, the Imperial Palace. Nauvlet – a follower of the blog – works for the group who owns the casino, and she was able to get me a great price. After a hunt to find free internet in the city – which is almost mission impossible – I find myself working at the public library and updating the website.

    Welcome to Las Vegas.

    Welcome to Las Vegas.

    Last time I was in Vegas was in 1998, and I feel that the place changed a lot. But this has always be the story of this city located in the middle of the desert and surrounded by mountains. Back in 1911, there was not much there to be found, until divorce laws got liberalized in the state of Nevada.

    The Luxor casino. 4,400 rooms in the pyramid.

    The Luxor casino. 4,400 rooms in the pyramid.

    A quickie divorce could now be attained after six weeks of residency which was much easier than in other states. Short-term residents needed places to stay, and hotels on the Strip were born. Nowadays, the city is in bad shape due to the collapse of the real estate market, and the unemployment rate is above 14%.

    The New York, New York casino. Am I home already?

    The New York, New York casino. Am I home already?

    Meeting with friends.

    Meeting with friends.

    There, I meet with some people following the blog, and we go out for dinner. I also see again Gwenaelle and Max, who flew from Texas to meet me. They are longtime French friends who live in Houston, Texas. You may remember that I stopped there for a quick visit in November 2009 on my way out of the U.S.
    Back then I had no ideas of all the adventures awaiting me.

    The Venetian casino and hotel, built at a cost of $1.5 billion.

    The Venetian casino and hotel, built at a cost of $1.5 billion.

    Trying my luck – with no success.

    Trying my luck – with no success.

    Since then, I drove 35,000 miles in my effort to go around the world. We spend two days in Las Vegas visiting the casinos and observing the interesting architecture and interior decoration of these astonishing places. The major attractions in Las Vegas are the casinos, hotels and more recently fine dining. The most famous hotel and casinos are located on Las Vegas Boulevard on the portion called the Strip. Many of these hotels are huge and have thousands of rooms as well as vast casino areas.

    View of the Strip.

    View of the Strip.

    The Hoover Dam, harvesting the power of the Colorado River.

    The Hoover Dam, harvesting the power of the Colorado River.

    One historical event which was part of the city growth was the construction of Hoover Dam in 1931. This did bring an influx of construction workers and started a population boom giving the city in the grips of the Great Depression a most needed boost. The dam was the next place we were going to visit. Back in 1998, I drove from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, and at the time I had to use the road on the dam to cross the Colorado River.
    Since October 2010, a new bridge has been open, which allows vehicles to by-pass the dam. Regardless, I took the alternative route so I could stop quickly once again at this monumental piece of engineering.

    The new bridge across the Colorado River.

    The new bridge across the Colorado River.

    Once the bridge behind, we were driving through Arizona. We pushed to Williams – 60 miles south of Grand Canyon Village – and stopped for the night. That was the first night of serious cold, and not the last.

    View from the Grand Canyon south rim.

    View from the Grand Canyon south rim.

    The Grand Canyon, 277 miles long and 6,000 feet deep was carved by the Colorado through the rock layers of the Colorado Plateau. It is truly is a special place, and one that you can never forget after visiting.

    Spectacular view once the fog is gone.

    Spectacular view once the fog is gone.

    Buttes, spires, mesas and temples in the canyon are in fact mountains looked down upon from the rims.

    Buttes, spires, mesas and temples in the canyon are in fact mountains looked down upon from the rims.

    During the winter, the north rim of the Canyon is closed to traffic due to heavy snow, but the south rim remains open. The trouble met by a traveler during this season is the visibility. The winter fog can be present and you may not be able to see anything when visiting. It is what I got in the first few hours of the day, and I was beginning to think I would not see the Canyon this year. But suddenly, shortly after noon, the white veil lifted, and the fantastic view appeared. Of course the haze dimmed the vivid colors, but regardless, the show was spectacular. In the winter, all the roads of the south rim are open to vehicles, which make the exploration easier as well.

    Still looking good for a 2 billion years old canyon.

    Still looking good for a 2 billion years old canyon.

    Going down the road and exiting the park via the eastern route is amazing as well, and one can find surprising natural wonders on the route to Tuba City as well. It is where we stopped for the night. There was not much to do in this small town on the western side of the Navajo Nation. Chief Tuba – at the origin of the place’s name – converted to Mormonism in the late 1800s and invited the Mormons to settle in the area. Tuba City was founded in 1872 and is now home to 8,000 inhabitants, most of them Navajo.

    Leaving the Grand Canyon.

    Leaving the Grand Canyon.

    The next destination was Monument Valley. As we progressed east in the morning, the weather got worst and snow began to fall in a dense fashion. Visibility dropped quickly, and it was rapidly more difficult to drive on the icy roads.

    As we get closer to Utah, snowfalls get worst.

    As we get closer to Utah, snowfalls get worst.

    The road 163 is recommended for the fantastic scenery surrounding it, but there’s not much we could see while we drove it. After a while, we arrive at Monument Valley park headquarters, and given the weather, the staff there didn’t recommend a visit of the site. Maybe I’ll see it next time I go around the world…

    The scenic route 163. Exciting even in the snow.

    The scenic route 163. Exciting even in the snow.

    We enter Utah and the snow suddenly disappears. But it gets much colder as well. We arrive in Blanding, southeast of the state earlier than scheduled, and it is for the best as I have to get some things done before sunset. The temperature is supposed to drop to -10 Fahrenheit (-23 Celsius) later, and I am afraid for the radiator of the Landcruiser. Last time I changed the cooling liquid was in Bangladesh, and it was then hard to imagine such cold temperatures. In order to save money, I used a ratio antifreeze/water pretty low, and now I have to deal with the consequences.

    The snow disappears as we enter Utah.

    The snow disappears as we enter Utah.

    In the freezing cold, I am able to empty a third of the radiator and refill with unmixed antifreeze. That is probably what allows me to start and drive without trouble the following day. The weather is not going to get any better as I progress east, and I am now getting closer to the Atlantic winter storms. I plan to arrive in New York on February 12, and it is an thrilling prospect. This Sunday, folks in the city can read in the New York Times an account of my trip through Cambodia with my friend Vikas. It feels like an early welcome back from the city I am from.

    The colder temperature I have been in so far.

    The colder temperature I have been in so far.