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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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MONTHLY ARCHIVES

THE ROUTE

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  • In between modern and old world

    Posted on July 26th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    The Muscat souk at night.

    The Muscat souk.

    In Muscat, I make myself at home at Antonio’s flat. It is the second time I take advantage of his hospitality. The first time was back in Honduras (see here what happened in Honduras), when I stayed at his home for two weeks, while trying to locate a part for the truck. As I was driving through South America and Africa, he decided to take a job in Dubai, and moved there four months ago. It took him one day to fly there, while I had to drive for 7 months to get to the same point. I share the apartment with him and three other expatriates, all working at the newspaper “The Times of Muscat”.

    Antonio in old Muscat.

    Antonio in old Muscat.

    The Sultan.

    The Sultan.

    The country is ruled by the Sultan Qaboos who seized power in a coup against his father in 1970. He is the prime minister and heads the foreign, finance and defense ministries of Oman. He decides everything in the country and is very popular despite the fact that there is no election.
    The temperature is still very high here, and you can’t go out much during the day. But I have to take care of my visas, which I do as soon as I arrive in the city. I am able to obtain easily the Iran visa in three days. It has been more easy than I thought. A month ago, I used a travel agency (recommended, US$42) as a sponsor to get the authorization number from the government. Then I just had to drop my passport here and get it back few days later (US$60).
    The India embassy asked for a week for the visa processing. So I just let my passport down there and begin to think that everything is going well.

    Observation tower or spaceship?

    Observation tower or spaceship?

    While it is in the work, I stop by the Pakistan embassy to enquire about the visa process. Here, I am surprised to learn that they would not grant me any visa, and that I am supposed to apply in my home country.
    I really can’t fly to France to get my visa, so I keep going every day to the embassy hoping to meet with the consul. After few days, they are tired to see me, and ask me to stop coming.
    This new story seems to confirm a theory or more precisely a new physic law I started to identify in Africa. It is very simple and I chose to call it “The theory of global stickiness”. Basically the mathematic formula behind this great discovery is:
    More you advance around the world, more the countries become sticky.
    Sticky in the sense that it is harder and harder to go to the next country as I progress in my trip.

    At the port.

    At the port.

    While I research a solution to this new problem, I see on internet discussion boards that people are having similar problems in the region. No way of getting the visa in Istanbul, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Tehran, New Delhi. Great.

    Regardless, I send emails to people in New York, Pakistan, Canada, Mexico, Iran, India and France, and as you are reading this post, many people are working on the issue and trying to push on different fronts in an effort to get me the visa.

    Small fishing harbor close to the old city.

    Small fishing harbor close to the old city.

    It is a very annoying problem, because Pakistan is the only way to Asia. Afghanistan, just north, is not easy right now, and even if I could go through, I would still have to cross a part of China to access India. And crossing China is very costly and a paperwork nightmare. I could try to ship from Iran to India, but it would be costly as well and I am not sure of the frequency of travels. In addition I will have to ship again from India to Asia, and I want to drive around the world, not SAIL…
    I even looked into crossing Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia to Vladivostok from where I could ship the truck to Korea. But that would mean bypassing India and part of Asia, which would be sad.

    Oman Finance Ministry. Ruled by the Sultan.

    Oman Finance Ministry. Ruled by the Sultan.

    Anyway, it is too soon right now to know what direction I will be going, but I seriously hope I will get this damn visa.
    When I am not working on this particular matter, I go out, mostly at night to enjoy more moderate temperatures, and visit the city. We go to the souk and the old Muscat, visit the beach, and even follow the example of locals and go to the mall.

    Official visit to the Muscat mall.

    Official visit to the Muscat mall.

    Monday afternoon I picked up my India visa (US$48), and I will drive on Tuesday to Abu Dhabi or Dubai. This will be an intriguing visit, and I am excited about it. In parallel to the city visits, I will have to get ready to cross the Persian Gulf, this time by ferry boat. And of course, pay a courtesy visit to the Pakistan consulate.

    The souk at night.

    The souk at night.

  • The crew run run run

    Posted on July 17th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    I get a military escort to cross eastern Yemen.

    I get a military escort to cross eastern Yemen.

    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 city of Aden, set inside of a crater of an extinct volcano.

    The city of Aden, set inside of a crater of an extinct volcano.

    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.

    The port of Aden.

    The port of Aden.

    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.

    High-speed tourism across the Yemeni desert.

    High-speed tourism across the Yemeni desert.

    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.

    The desert in Yemen.

    The desert in Yemen.

    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.

    Getting closer to Mukalla.

    Getting closer to Mukalla.

    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.

    Yemen could be a great tourist destination, but seems to become the next Afghanistan…

    Yemen could be a great tourist destination, but seems to become the next Afghanistan…

    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.

    Mukalla city.

    Mukalla city.

    Leaving Mukalla.

    Leaving Mukalla.

    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.

    Fishermen village.

    Fishermen village.

    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).

    Fog appears as I am driving the amazing road leading to the border.

    Fog appears as I am driving the amazing road leading to the border.

    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.

    Close to the Oman border.

    Close to the Oman border.

    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.

    Still foggy in the morning, and camels are looking for trouble.

    Still foggy in the morning, and camels are looking for trouble.

    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.

    One of Salalah many mosques.

    One of Salalah many mosques.

    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.

    The beach in Salalah.

    The beach in Salalah.

    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.

    Camping on the Arabian Sea.

    Camping on the Arabian Sea.

    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.

    Driving toward Muscat.

    Driving toward Muscat.

    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.

    Close to the Saudi “Empty Quarter”.

    Close to the Saudi “Empty Quarter”.

    Oil well in the desert means gas at US$ 1.14 a gallon.

    Oil well in the desert means gas at US$ 1.14 a gallon.

    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.

    Upcoming countries include U.A.E, Iran, Pakistan and India. (google map)

    Upcoming countries include U.A.E, Iran, Pakistan and India. (google map)