- About Nick
- People helping the expedition
- Expenses breakdown
- Truck and equipment (Sept. 16)
Posted on October 15th, 2010 Nicolas 20 comments
I spend few days in Calcutta after getting the Bangladesh visa. I was relieved to get this document easily, as I am now always worried about possible problems on this front. The day after I applied, I go get my passport back at the embassy where a crowd of hundred of people surrounds officials screaming names and handing passports. Finally I get mine and now can take the time to visit the city.
Friendly Calcutta is the thirst most populated city in India and feel even denser than Delhi or Mumbai. I take several walks in the city and can witness some nice example of British colonial architecture. Among the many stops, I see the Victoria memorial.
Built to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1901, the construction finished only twenty years after her death. The white marble of the building and its dome is a reminder of the Taj Mahal.
Surrounding the Memorial, the Maidan is a vast park bringing memories of New York’s Central Park to me. The 3 km-long green lung offers a little bit of space against the density of the city itself. I also visit the impressive Nakhoda mosque which offers a nice view on the surrounding streets.
Walking around the city is exhausting and I am glad to get back to the hotel every evening and have a drink and a meal there. For lunch, I also have a lot of chances to try the best examples of Indian food available. If you are there, try Amber Essence, 11 Waterloo St which I highly recommend.
But it is time to go now, and I pack up for the next adventures. Leaving early morning, it takes me three hours to get to the Bangladesh border. Shortly before I get there, I notice that the truck begins to overheat.
Checking out the engine, I notice I am loosing some water. I decide that the best place to take care of it will be in Dhaka, the country capital. So I continue on my way, and stop every fifty kilometers to replenish the radiator. Not much is available on the road in term of car repairs, and I absolutely need to go on and make it to Dhaka.
It takes me two hours to cross the border, and no major problems there. I still have three hundred kilometers to cover to get to Dhaka after that. I am pretty stressed out by the over heating problem, and increase the frequency of my stops as I go. I also put the heat on in the cabin as it provides an additional outlet to the engine heat. It is already a really hot day, and I will get a cold in the following days as a result.
The roads are pretty good, and there’s not much traffic in the west of the country. It seems that there’s not much population either ¬– comparatively to India – in this area. I checked few maps before I left, and there’s a mystery I still need to clarify. Some maps shows a road going over the Ganges River, some other don’t show any…
When I arrive there, of course there’s no bridge, but many boats are taking trucks in for the crossing. There’s a long wait and they sell tickets on the city prior to arrival, but because everything is so unclear and I don’t have Bangladeshi currency, I just went on.
Before rolling on the boat, I speak to a guy who tells me I can’t embark without a ticket. I ask him to get his boss, and while he is away, I just roll on the boat. When they are back, there are already trucks behind me, and movements will be impossible. They don’t have any other choice than to accept my 500 Indian Rupees, which is anyway generous.
Night falls as I am crossing the river and after an hour, I attack the last portion of the trip. This will turn out to be the most difficult piece of driving I ever experienced. The traffic close to Dhaka is horrendous, and I stay stuck in traffic jam for hours. People are driving in the worst way I ever saw in the dozens of countries I crossed. The driving rules are nonexistent, and it is basically OK to bump into each other cars. I am glad I have a good front bumper, and the rear carrier and tire on the back somehow attenuate the shocks. It is just as being in another world, and I just turn up the volume of the stereo as a bicycle crash on my side and I carve a large hole in the flank of a bus with my front bumper. Nobody cares, nobody stops. On the other side of the street, a bus driver looses control of its vehicle. The 40 passengers fall from a bridge into a deep river. Most of them will die, as I will read in the newspaper the following day.
I am exhausted when I arrive in Old Dhaka, and it still takes me a little bit to find a hotel where I can park the truck. I also locate an ATM and I am glad to have at least some cash in the pocket. I will spend the next few days at the “Hotel Royal Palace” where I get a non-AC room for US$15 a day. I will experience frequent power outage as I am in the country so I know not to count on the AC. Or on hot showers.
The following day, I decide it is time to take care of the truck, and I find a shop close to the hotel. I spend twelve hours there as there are many things to fix. There are seven holes in the radiator, and I have to bring it to an aluminum welder (US$12). Someone looks into the AC system which is down since Iran. A guy fixes the diverse cosmetic damages caused by the crazy driving of yesterday (US$4). Another man fixes the truck corner lenses which I broke in the accident in Honduras. It is amazing how he does that. With knives heated on a kerosene fire, he cuts the old plastic lenses, and mold a new one to replace it (US$ 5). The whole day I supervise the work and have many cup of tea with the boss of the shop. Bangladesh seems to be a good place to fix your car. Let’s see how long it last.
The days after all this work is done, I spend time visiting Old Dhaka. The major problem is this crazy never-ending traffic jam which makes every movement very difficult. Going anywhere would take hours, even on a Tuk-Tuk, as the traffic is so dense they can’t even go through. So I stick to destinations I can make by foot. I am able to buy some clothes so I can look like a normal human being when I go speak to customs officials. I still drag the same clothes from the beginning of the trip, and some of them are in really bad shape. On the sidewalk of the city, it is possible to buy all kind of U.S. brand-name clothes, mostly overruns from the city factories.
Lastly, I visit the customs authorities of the city to get information about my car shipment to Southeast Asia. People are very nice there, and I leave the building with the cell phone number of a very high-ranked officer, which should help when I am in Chittagong doing the shipping paperwork. This is my next destination. After I pack the car for this other bit of travel, I will come back to Dhaka and spend a little bit more time here.
Posted on July 17th, 2010 Nicolas 32 comments
It was like crossing the desert as a storm. On the morning of July 12th, I left Aden to go East, in the direction of Oman. The road between Aden and Mukalla is closed to foreigners, but I decide to take my chance and drive it. Shortly after leaving the city, I am stopped at a military checkpoint, and sent back to the city. There, I find the military headquarter and by chance, I am given a “laissez-passer” that authorizes me to drive the 600 km (375 mi.) stretch of road to Mukalla.
(NOTE TO TRAVELLER: You can try to get the authorization from the “Security” building, opposite to the Aden Hotel.)
The paper is written in Arabic, and I am not sure what it says, but an hour later, when I am back at the military checkpoint, I am given a military escort of three people with machine guns in a vehicle.
There will be many other checkpoints, and each time, I pick up a new escort, as the previous one goes back home. They drive fast, and I have to follow. It is unclear if they roll at high speed because of danger or just because they want to go back home fast. It is a stressful situation also, since each time I got a new escort they try to get some money from me. And each time, I say the same story. I gave all my money to the previous escort and don’t have a penny left.
After twenty minutes of discussion, they are furious and we go back on the road.
At the beginning of the afternoon, we stop for lunch in a police station where I am invited to share the meal, a pile of bones a dozen of person fight for on the soil of the yard. I will pass on this one.
We cross some villages where I am happy to not be alone. Most problems happen in the remote smaller towns. There were recent cases of kidnapping by locals in an attempt to get money or jobs from the government, or worst kidnapping by extremists, usually finishing in bloodbath.
By 6 p.m., the escort let me at the gates of Mukalla, a charming town on the Arabian Sea.
I can finally relax, and take a room at the Half Moon Hotel, on the river that divides the city. I can tell the police always know where I am, since I overhear the hotel manager speaking on the phone about me.
Later in the evening, I go to the police station to try to get another authorization to go to the border, another 600 km (375 mi.) from the city.
I thought I saw the best office setup while I was in the Moka port, where in a small office, customs officers were just sitting on the ground, chewing qat, in front of their desks. No chairs whatsoever. But at the police station in Mukalla, the inspector decided to just bring a bed to work, and set it up in front of his desk. And it is here that he receives me, and assures me that a fresh escort will come pick me up at my hotel at 7:30 a.m. the following morning. Given the setup, I have my doubt anything remotely close to that will happen. And of course, the day after, at 9 a.m., I am still waiting for the Yemeni Starsky and Hutch to show up.
The hotel manager speaks all the time with the police, and asks me to go back to the headquarters. It looks like they have trouble putting an escort together this morning. And there, they finally decide that I don’t need an escort to go east, which I am happy with, given the burden of the high-speed pursuit through the desert. And not having the police on my back with money request will be nice as well.
The last stretch of road is truly amazing, one of the best road I saw so far. By some kind of miracle, after I pass Al Ghaydah, the temperature drops. The road is now kind of small, and after following the coast, I enter the mountains. The sun disappears, and a heavy fog rises, forcing me to do the last 30 kilometers to the border at 15 km/h (10 mph).
On the Yemeni side of the border, I get some paperwork done with an officer who adopted as well the bed-desk configuration. After that, still in the fog, I go on the Omani side, where I spend a very long time trying to get my visa.
For some reasons, they think my passport is counterfeit, and the verifications will take three hours. They also go through my luggage in what turns out to be the most meticulous search I went through. As a matter of fact, nobody really looked at my stuff since I left the U.S. Customs officers usually realize quickly I am just a tourist-bum leaving in my car and let me go. But this time, it is a big deal. When it is done, they also ask me to go pay the required car insurance, which cost US$83 for 15 days. It will be my first time driving with insurance since Argentina. I also have to pay US$ 20 for the visa.
It is now midnight, and with the fog and darkness, I decide to camp on a parking lot right after the border crossing.
In the morning, it’s raining and still foggy, and I start to go down the mountain toward Salalah. I arrive at destination few hours later, and run some errands in the city. I am back in civilization here in Oman, and see signs that there is a lot of petrol money around. Shopping centers are well stocked, and I wish I could buy more food, but my secondary battery, the one that runs the fridge, went dead as well. Too much heat, too many bad roads made it leak, and the expensive deep-cell battery bought before my departure is now useless. I plan to get a new one in Muscat or Dubai.
I find a spot on the beach, and set up camp at the end of the afternoon. It is great to enjoy the tempered climate.
In the next days, I have 1,100 km (690 mi.) of desert crossing to Muscat, so I am trying to cool down here. I didn’t camp in a while too, so it is nice to be back in the tent. The sea is cold and dangerous at this period of the year, so no baths are possible.
In the morning, I go back to buy food for the day, and go northeast toward Muscat. The roads are very good, and gas cheap, so I plan to be in Muscat in 48 hours, and drive 100 km/h (65 mph) toward destination.
The road goes close to the Saudia Arabia border and its “Empty Quarter”, one of the biggest desert in the world, where summer temperatures can reach 55 deg. Celcius (131 deg. Farenheit). It is also a very oil rich area.
I camp in the desert during the night. The temperature doesn’t go down much. I plan to be the following day in Muscat, where I will spend few days visiting the city and doing the necessary paperwork for the next steps of my trip. The plan now will be to go to Dubai, where I would catch a ferry boat to Iran. From there, I will cross Pakistan and reach India. A lot of visas to get, which will be my homework while in Oman.