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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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  • Expedition redeploying to Southeast Asia

    Posted on October 22nd, 2010 Nicolas 42 comments
    This chicken will not keep its head for a long time. Chittagong Old Market.

    This chicken will not keep its head for a long time. Chittagong Old Market.

    The road from Dhaka to Chittagong is good tarmac all the way down. It is one of the major highways of the country, and there are heavy trucks and bus traffic. It is a little bit difficult to find petrol, as much of Bangladesh is running on CNG. In an effort to reduce pollution, the government banned petrol-run vehicles in Dhaka, as well as plastic bag use. I can hardly imagine how the air quality was in the past, as it is kind of bad right now. Once again, there are terrible traffic jams as I approach the city, and I barely can move for two hours.

    Fishing is huge in the many rivers of Bangladesh. Fish is a major source of food for many of the people in the Ganges Delta.

    Fishing is huge in the many rivers of Bangladesh. Fish is a major source of food for many of the people in the Ganges Delta.

    In Chittagong it is difficult to find my way as there are no signs, as always. For once, I decide to stay in a nice hotel where I will get A/C. It is somewhat warmer and stickier down there, and I will have to be around for at least a week until my truck is ready to be shipped to Malaysia.

    Rice is grown everywhere. The country is very flat and covered with water. The country would be the first nation to disappear if the sea level rose due to global warming.

    Rice is grown everywhere. The country is very flat and covered with water. The country would be the first nation to disappear if the sea level rose due to global warming.

    There’s not much to do in Chittagong, but there is a Hindu festival while I am here. I roam the city and spend time in the market to get the necessary tools to do the lashing of my truck in the container. Wood blocks, nails… Every stop in little shops is an occasion for tea and smoke cigarettes. People are exceptionally nice in Bangladesh, and it has been very nice to spend time with locals.

    The WWII Memorial cemetery, where bodies of Japanese and Allied forces that died on the Burmese front lay.

    The WWII Memorial cemetery, where bodies of Japanese and Allied forces that died on the Burmese front lay.

    As in India, the population density is high. I didn’t camp once here, as dealing with crowds and finding a suitable spot is very difficult.
    Regardless, I have the best experience ever with the shipping part. The Chinese company I chose has agents in Chittagong, and everybody is so nice and helpful, it is unbelievable. As always, travelers will find information at the end of this post.

    Boy selling bananas in a street of Chittagong.

    Boy selling bananas in a street of Chittagong.

    The few days I spend in the city are pleasant, and my nights at the top-end hotel (Grand park Hotel, US$40 per night) are very relaxing. They get the Indians TV channels here, which features a lot of American movies.
    Bangladesh is 80% Muslim if I recall correctly, and it is technically prohibited for its citizens to drink alcoholic beverage. The rest of the population is mostly Hindu. I begin to discern more Asian features in people faces. East of the country is Myanmar (Burma) which also share a border with Thailand.

    Dry fish at the Chittagong Old Market.

    Dry fish at the Chittagong Old Market.

    As mentioned previously, the Myanmar government doesn’t allow foreigners to drive through the country. There’s an application you can fill, but it is always rejected. This is why I didn’t have any other choice but to send the truck by way of sea to Malaysia. It should take a week to arrive to Port Kelang, close to Kuala Lumpur.

    Once again the truck is in the can.

    Once again the truck is in the can.

    When I am done with the truck and fed food by the shipping company, I take the night train back to Dhaka. The trip lasts eight hours but I am lucky enough to get a seat in an A/C car (US$6). Locals need to book train tickets well in advance, but the station chief always has few seats kept for emergencies or foreigners.
    It is unbelievable how well travelers are treated in the country. It is very important for the people to give a good image of their countries, and they will always go out of their way to help out. They never let you get in line anywhere, and you are giving preferential treatment always. Of course you can be overcharged like everywhere else in the world, but in the several occurrences it happened to me, people in the streets came to help me out.

    People at the train station argue with the station chief to get a ticket.

    People at the train station argue with the station chief to get a ticket.

    Once after taking a rickshaw, passersby heard how much money I was asked. Soon enough a mob was shaking the driver for trying to overcharge me. The same thing happened again few days later as I was buying cigarettes at double the usual rate. People then decide of the price I should pay.

    Chittagong train station.

    Chittagong train station.

    When I am back in Dhaka, I take care of buying the flight tickets which will allow me to reach Southeast Asia. I get a flight Dhaka – Kuala Lumpur for US$185.
    In the afternoon I go to meet people from the shipping company so we can settle the last details.
    My plan was to then go to the National Museum, a visit I pushed back several time because of the horrendous traffic. But soon enough the plan change as I meet everybody at the company. I should be on the radio they decide, and soon we are driving to the studios of Radio Foorti where an interview is promptly scheduled.

    At the radio station with Tanvir.

    At the radio station with Tanvir.

    Following this parenthesis, Tanvir – my contact at the shipping company – invites me in a nice restaurant before we go to his house to meet his family and have tea. It is late when I go back to the hotel for my last night in the country.
    The following day I go out to say good-bye to few people I met in the neighborhood, then take a cab to the airport.

    Approaching Kuala Lumpur. You can see the famous and once highest in the world Petronas Towers.

    Approaching Kuala Lumpur. You can see the famous and once highest in the world Petronas Towers.

    What I will fondly remember about Bangladesh is the kindness of its people. The culture of welcoming travelers and foreigners is deep-rooted in Muslim countries with rich histories. It is how I will also remember Yemen and Iran. Pakistan also has a similar reputation and I regret I missed that.
    I decided to go a bit out of my way before collecting my vehicle in Malaysia. You will have to wait to see in what surprising place I will be next week after the 40 hours or so I will spend in airports and planes…

    Flying to Manila. What will be my next destination?

    Flying to Manila, Philippines. What will be my next destination?

    Notes to travelers, shipping from Bangladesh:
    Of all the time I had to ship my truck, this was the best experience. Everything was well organized and no hassle. I used the Yang Ming lines, and their agent in Bangladesh is Transmarine. Super nice people really, and I can’t recommend them enough. They also let you do your own lashing which saves money.
    It is a lot less expensive to ship from here than from India. So far I paid US$700 for the shipping while it would have cost me US$ 1,350 from Chennai, India. I expect to pay $500 on the Malaysian side. I will update with definite cost later.

    Email friendly Mr. Tanvir Alam at: tanvir.alam [AT] yangmingline-bd.com
    Cell: 01713481367

    Yang Ming Line
    As Agents: Transmarine Logistics Ltd.
    Jahangir Tower (5th Floor)
    10, Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue
    Karwan Bazar, Dhaka-1215

  • Calcutta to Dhaka: Can’t stop, won’t stop

    Posted on October 15th, 2010 Nicolas 20 comments
    Calcutta sidewalks.

    Calcutta sidewalks.

    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.

    Colonial architecture in the BBD Bagh area of Calcutta.

    Colonial architecture in the BBD Bagh area of Calcutta.

    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.

    Victoria Memorial.

    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.

    Nakhoda Mosque.

    Nakhoda Mosque.

    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.

    The Maidan, Calcutta's Central Park.

    The Maidan, Calcutta's Central Park.

    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.

    Street food in Calcutta's sidewalks.

    Street food in Calcutta's sidewalks.

    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.

    Every night, a drink and a meal at the Broadway Hotel.

    Every night, a drink and a meal at the Broadway Hotel.

    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.

    Fishing in Bangladesh rivers.

    Fishing in Bangladesh rivers.

    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.

    Night is already falling and I am still far of Dhaka.

    Night is already falling and I am still far of Dhaka.

    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…

    Forcing my way into the boat to cross the river.

    Forcing my way into the boat to cross the river.

    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.

    Crossing the Ganges River.

    Crossing the Ganges River.

    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.

    One should avoid the city buses at all price as they just bump into you without pity.

    One should avoid the city buses at all price as they just bump into you without pity.

    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.

    Dense traffic in the streets of Dhaka.

    Dense traffic in the streets of Dhaka.

    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.

    Street food, Dhaka.

    Street food, Dhaka.

    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.