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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.

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  • 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.

  • Hundred of miles across the desert to Lima

    Posted on February 19th, 2010 Sergio 6 comments
    Driving to Playa Tortugas

    Driving to Playa Tortugas

    In the evening, after cooking a pasta diner with some squid, we went out on the beach to see some traditional Peruvian dancing. At midnight we were in bed, and stayed around until 1 p.m., to take advantage of the beach. In the afternoon, we would go to Trujillo, and we knew it would be harder to find a good spot to camp in the more populated area. I did quick a interview for a Los Angeles radio show and we left to cover the 200-miles to the city.

    01_market

    Getting supplies at a market close to the Pacific Ocean

    On our way out, we stopped at a market to buy fish and vegetables and got back to the Pan-American. I am so surprised by Northern Peru. Little did I know that we would be traveling through the sand desert until Lima. Here and there, there are some artificially irrigated areas, but often, you will go 70-miles before seeing a town or hamlet. It is also a large country, and I imagined being in Lima earlier than we would be. It now looks like Dan will leave us in Cuzco to go back to work.

    Quick stop in the desert, on our way to Trujillo

    Quick stop in the desert, on our way to Trujillo

    And there is also a larger distance between gas stations we see. Now, we try to refuel each time there is 95-octane gasoline available, which is not that often.

    Trujillo

    Trujillo

    We stopped in Huanchaco, a town few miles outside of Trujillo. As I was working on uploading pictures to my website, I was surprised to ear screams behind me. When I turned, I saw the French guys we have been spending time with in Colombia. They just arrived at the same spot than us and saw me at once. It was great to see them again. Traveling with more people and several vehicles is always safer and more comfortable.

    Buying ice cream on the way south

    Buying ice cream on the way south

    We quickly agreed we would need some drinks to celebrate the event of having found each other, and soon we were having beers and eating ceviche (again). We decided to stick together for few days on our way south, and split before Lima, where they didn’t intend to spend time. With the kids, they travel at a slower pace than we do, since every afternoon they have to do homework. If you see families traveling for a long time in remote region, chances are that they are French. This is the only country at my knowledge that allows kids to not go to school for years, as long as they follow the governmental learning path, and send homework every few days by email.

    Chan Chan

    Chan Chan

    We stayed Huanchaco for two nights, and camped on the beach. We spent the daytime visiting the Trujillo historical center, doing groceries, and checking out Chan Chan, the largest pre-Colombian city in South America, constructed of adobe brick and covered with carved surface. The huge city of 10,000 dwellings was built around AD 850.

    Chan Chan

    Chan Chan

    Back on the road, we decided to drive and do an overnight stop in Tortugas, a small town in the desert, bordered by the Pacific Ocean.

    More desert

    More desert

    We gathered it was worth seeing it by a Peruvian barman we met in Playa Rochas. He was saying it was the most beautiful beach of the whole country.

    Looking for a spot along the beach

    Looking for a spot along the beach

    And indeed, we did find there the nicest place we saw so far in Peru. North of the fishing town was another bay, completely empty outside of a small fishing process plant. The site was gorgeous, huge and empty.

    Tortugas bay

    Tortugas bay

    We parked the trucks in a way I was protected from the wind, made a fire and opened a bottle of rum. What can I say, there’s not much more you can ask when you get this beautiful place for yourself.

    Ready for the night

    Ready for the night

    In the morning, Felix, one of our companions, cut my hair, as the US$1.50 haircut I got in Nicaragua was far behind, and the beatnik look is not necessary the best way to cross borders.

    Leaving in the morning

    Leaving in the morning

    Then we said good-bye again to the rest of the convoy, and the three of us were gone to Lima, a bit less than 300-miles away. Again, we crossed huge sand deserts.

    Mountains seem to be covered with snow, which end up to be pale sand

    Mountains seem to be covered with snow, which end up to be pale sand

    It is a pleasant drive, as long stretch are quite relaxing, unlike Lima which would be a giant automobile chocked metropolis.

    Entering Lima

    Entering Lima

    *Sergio is posting for Nick, who’s having trouble to access the internet.