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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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August 2020
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MONTHLY ARCHIVES

THE ROUTE

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  • At the crossroads between Africa and the Arab world

    Posted on June 28th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    Getting my new shocks on in Djibouti. Ready for more dirt roads!

    Getting my new shocks on in Djibouti. Ready for more dirt roads!

    It took me eight days to get the paperwork I needed. Nervous about taking the risk of seeing myself turned back again at the Djibouti border, I didn’t want to leave Addis without a letter signed from the Ambassador of Djibouti in Ethiopia. This would just be a letter of recommendation, giving me the authorization to drive in the country. The problem I had back at the border was primarily my visa, but I could tell they didn’t like the customs documents I had in my possession.

    Eight days of work to get my leeter and visa from the Djibouti embassy.

    Eight days of work to get my letter and visa from the Djibouti embassy.

    So after going every day to the Djibouti embassy for more than a week and writing two letters to the ambassador, I assume they got tired of me, and wanted to get rid of the guy always in the waiting room or in front of the outside gate. So I got my letter as well as my visa (US$40).
    In the meantime, I got the AC of the truck fixed, bought two new tires and a new battery. When Jim Jackson, the president of ARB USA learned that my shock absorbers did let me down, he decided to send me four new Old Man Emu shocks for free. I asked him to send it to the address of an American friend, David, who works for the military in Djibouti. This way my shocks would be here in no time, transported by military plane from Washington D.C. to Africa.
    Every night in Addis, I spent time with new friends I met there. Riaan, Stephanie and Joel who are from South Africa, Belgium and Canada are going south from Sudan, and stopped at the Holland House to spend time working on their trucks (Here’s where you can follow their adventures). They ended up spending the week there as well, and soon, I moved in the room they rent on the premises. I am not cooking much now anyway, and it is raining every day. I may as well stay dry.
    So we meet every night after every one of us try to get things done during the day, and we watch the soccer games, get some food, drink beer and listen to the rain.

    Back on the desert road.

    Back on the desert road.

    We leave the camp at the same time. Previously, I did copious provision of water and Ethiopian cheese, and I am ready to go. They continue their drive south, and I am going east. Too bad, it was nice to meet them, and I would have like if we could spend more time together…

    Last night in Ethiopia. Kind of happy about it...

    Last night in Ethiopia. Kind of happy about it...

    It takes me two days to be back at the Djibouti border. Now I know the road. This time, it is less hot in the desert. I even got some rain, and there was an electrical storm. Sometimes I had to stop because there was so much sand in the air I could not see anything.

    The infamous Djibouti border crossing.

    The infamous Djibouti border crossing.

    I sleep at the same place than last time, behind the Oasis Restaurant. Late morning, I pass the border with no problem.

    The road to Djibouti.

    The road to Djibouti.

    It is hot in Djibouti. Around 110F again. But this time, I decide I suffered enough, and I do use the AC. I never did that since the beginning of the trip, and I feel like a fake adventurer using it, but at the end of the day, I am in better shape.

    The desert in Djibouti. Hot!

    The desert in Djibouti. Hot!

    In Djibouti City, I stay at the house of my friend Dave and his roommates. They all work as contractors for the U.S. military base nearby. For the first time in years, I am in a French speaking country, which made things easier when it comes to find Dave’s house.

    Arriving in the city of Djibouti.

    Arriving in the city of Djibouti.

    I just rest on Sunday. Anyhow, the temperature is too high to do anything. On Monday, I work on the truck and install the new shocks. I can’t work for a long time outside because it is so warm and humid. As planned, the shocks arrived fast, on Friday.
    This week, I have to get a visa for Yemen. Then, I will try to find a cattle boat to load the truck and sail to the Yemenite coast, 150 miles away. All of that, of course, if everything works well. What I project to do next is to cross Yemen, get to Oman, Dubai, and find a boat to Iran.
    So as you can see, this last week has been better, and I have been luckier. I want to thank you all for the support and all the encouraging comments on my last post. It really helped a lot when the future looked grim.

    Made it!

    Made it!

  • Beautiful roads of Bolivia

    Posted on March 11th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    At the Salar de Uyuni

    At the Salar de Uyuni

    When we arrived in Uyuni, I was relieved to be done with the long 250km dirt road coming from Potosi. Little did I know the Bolivian roads kept more surprises from me.
    We stopped in the town to get lunch and immediately after, went to get the truck ready for our trip to the saline.

    Spraying oil and diesel under the truck to counter the salt and water effects

    Spraying oil and diesel under the truck to counter the salt and water effects

    Before you enter this super salty area, you are supposed to get the engine and the lower part of the truck sprayed with a mixture of oil and diesel to avoid electrical shortcuts and rust, which we did.
    We planned on staying few days in the saline, and got all the drinking water we could. We wanted to go 100 km deep in, and spend at least two nights there.

    Entrance of the saline

    Entrance of the saline

    The dirt road to the saline entrance was even worst than the ones we previously used. It sounded like the truck could brake in parts at any moments. Frankly, at this point, driving was not relaxing. There was a last military checkpoint at the entrance where we let our plate numbers and names, in case we disappeared, I gather.
    At first, the road was a bit higher than the water and salt level, but after five kilometers, we were driving on the salt, and there was 30-centimeters of water on top.

    Nadia enters the saline to see how deep is the water

    Nadia enters the saline to see how deep is the water

    It was pretty scary to drive on this unknown material, as at first, you can’t help but be afraid you will get stuck in the soft white substance. But salt is pretty hard, and we gained confidence quickly. Toward the entrance, some people with trucks were collecting salt, and watching us go by.

    Pyramids of salt get ready before arriving on your tables

    Pyramids of salt get ready before arriving on your tables

    The only annoying thing is that there was way too much water on this saline. It probably rained a lot in the previous day, and as we were advancing, water level was going higher. We could not go faster than 30km/h (20mph), and even at this speed, we got salty water splashing above the rooftop. We knew that it is better to visit the saline when there is water, to witness the reflection of clouds and mountains, but how could it be an enjoyable experience in these driving conditions?

    Checking what could possibly be wrong. Everything?

    Checking what could possibly be wrong. Everything?

    Finally, I noticed my oil pressure was going dangerously high. I stopped to check the engine and fluid levels. Under the hood, it was salty as salami. The engine was lacking oil, which was strange, as I was checking the levels almost every morning.

    Driving there is no different than piloting an aircraft

    Driving there is no different than piloting an aircraft

    I topped off the fluid with what was necessary and started again the truck. This time, the pressure was at the lowest possible. I really started to not like the situation. I drove a bit more, and soon, the dashboard began to look like a Christmas tree. Now there was a light on for the automatic transmission oil temperature, a blinking ‘overdrive off’, and the oil level was stubbornly at its lowest level.

    Surprising landscape

    Surprising landscape

    At this point, the electronic was driving loco. I would not care much about it, except it looked like the systems was sending erroneous messages to the engine, which was burning too much oil. So after 20 km on the saline, I decided to turn back to Uyuni, get an engine wash, and see what was up.

    The only way I can go is down

    The only way I can go is down

    Taking back the bad dust road to town and checking the oil level every kilometer, I made it back without problem. The engine temperature was stable, which somewhat helped me trust that the way the engine was working was fine. It was night now, and we took a room in a depressing and dark hotel.
    The following day, I got an engine and car wash, which didn’t change the way my dashboard was acting. To date, it still has the problem, and I am still trying to troubleshoot it.
    The previous night, I spoke to a guy whose work it was too bring tourists to the saline, and he told me what everybody, including the military failed to let us know. There was way too much water on the saline, and all the popular tourist tours there were canceled, or replaced by a simple visit of the site entrance.
    Discouraged, we decided to not go back on planet salt. What we imagined we would do next was to visit the colored lagoon southwest of the town, on the road to Chile. From Chile, we would have reach Argentina and continued our trip. But the guide also told us the road there was simply terrible, worst than the ones we used until now.

    Back on dirt roads

    Back on dirt roads

    That would have been three days of terrible roads, in a truck I was not sure was working well.
    So we opted for another solution. Going southeast by a dirt road that was supposed to be in better shape, and in two days we would be in Argentina, via the Villazon border crossing. The only other solution we rejected would have been to go back to Potosi, and do something I hate and never did so far. Backtrack.
    So after our car wash, we were on our way to Argentina. Always careful, of course, I kept checking the oil level and engine temperature, promising myself to stop in a Toyota garage in Argentina.

    Getting ready for the night

    Getting ready for the night

    After driving few hours, we spent the night in front of a hospital in Atocha. In the morning, we continued our trip on the long dirt road. Altogether, when I will reach the Argentinean border, I would have been on dirt roads for 500km.

    You can still be surprised after thousands of miles

    You can still be surprised after thousands of miles

    But the scenery along the way from Potosi to where we were now had been exceptional. At the end, I was not too sad I spent so little time on the saline, and didn’t see the colored lagunas. It was still a great time to have.

    Driving toward the border

    Driving toward the border

    The goal was now to arrive to the border before night. There, we will replenish in water, gasoline and everything we could, as Bolivia was certainly cheaper than Argentina.

    Hoping that nobody will come from the other side

    Hoping that nobody will come from the other side

    It was still daytime when we arrived there. I rushed to buy some cigarettes (US$ 0.70 a pack!) and we were in line for some paperwork action.  Checking out of Bolivia, canceling vehicle importation, migration in Argentina, and everything looked good for us while we were walking toward the Argentina customs.
    Unfortunately, it was written we would not be able to enjoy the legendary steaks on the night of March 7.
    As we were traveling across all Central and South-American countries, we got used to not worrying about car insurance and other papers that are so important back in Europe or in the U.S. We were driving down the road with no worries, and cops along were satisfied with whatever papers we would show them. Down there, a New York City library card would become a life insurance card, and a subway card and international car insurance.
    In Argentina, it was different. Welcome back to more rigorous laws. They would not let us through without a paper stating we were covered in the country. It was not looking good for my steak.
    Because it was Sunday, there was no way of getting this insurance proof before the following day. So at the end, they just kicked us out of the country. Only for few minutes. On the Bolivian side, the law was stating that to re-enter the country you have to spend at least 24-hours outside. It looked like we would have to spend the night on the bridge between the two countries.

    Back on the Bolivian side for the night

    Back on the Bolivian side for the night

    Bolivia was the first country to make a move to solve what was taking the direction of an international dispute, and allowed us to sleep on the custom parking on their side. I was glad we had a solution before Argentina sent the artillery. The parking was attracting some dubious characters, so we slept in the truck. To avoid being stabbed in the face.
    In the morning, I crossed the border by foot, and went in an insurance office where I purchased liability coverage for US$40. I went back at the border, and an hour after, we were able to go through.

    Never seen such roads since the U.S.

    Never seen such roads since the U.S.

    And there, as soon as we passed the border, we were back on exceptional roads. Good-bye cheap gasoline, we are now back in the modern world, with its good and bad sides…