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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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MONTHLY ARCHIVES

THE ROUTE

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  • Out of Africa

    Posted on July 3rd, 2010 Nicolas 41 comments
    Out of Africa
    It is now Saturday, July 3rd. In few hours, hopefully, I should be sailing toward Yemen. It has been easy to find a boat on the Djibouti port. Maybe too easy, so I am still waiting for confirmation of the trip before I can consider this trip a done deal. Around 11 a.m., I will know…
    It has been a week now that I am in Djibouti. I didn’t do much, because of the heat. It is so hot that you can’t move between noon and 4 p.m. Most stores are closed during this period of time. It is the summer here, in one of the hottest city in the world.
    On Monday, I went to the Yemen Embassy to get my visa, and for US$ 35, it was done in one hour. My friends here have a “fixer”, Alex, a local guy who helps getting things done. He drives me around Djibouti and he does make things easier since he speaks Arabic, the country second language with French.
    So we went to the port and found out that a boat, a wooden dhow, would be leaving on Saturday or Sunday. Most of these ships are cattle boat, but I am not sure exactly what mine will carry. Anyhow, no dhow leaves the harbor before it’s completely full, and if we transport cows, we will have to wait for sundown to load them.
    The trip, if you do it alone, cost you US$ 40. With my car, it should cost me US$380. To this price, I will have to add something like US$150 on this side to load the vehicle, and US$100 to unload.
    I will arrive in Al Mukha (Moka) on the Yemenite side, a coastal town right across from Djibouti. Crossing will take 12 to 16 hours, depending on the weather. At this location, the entrance of the Red Sea can’t be more than 150 miles wide, but the sea is sometimes rough. After touching down, I plan on going down to Aden, then east toward Oman.
    Because of the security situation in Yemen, I will need to find out as quickly as possible how to get an authorization to travel from the police. I believe I should be able to procure that in Aden. Some roads across the country and the border crossing with Oman are sometimes closed to foreigners. The situation is changing all the time, so I will have to find out all of that upon arrival.
    This will be the most unstable country I cross since the beginning of the trip, and I am not planning to stay there longer than necessary. I will try to put the few thousand kilometers to the border behind, even so I want to see this beautiful country. Landscapes and cities should be an unforgettable adventure, and I hope to share the pictures with you very soon. Unfortunately, I believe there’s hardly any internet access through the country, so my faithful readers will have to wait a bit to see my report. In any case, you know it will be a while, so please don’t worry and stay tuned.
    Sophie prepares coffee the Ethiopian way.

    Sophie prepares coffee the Ethiopian way.

    It is now Saturday, July 3rd. In few hours, hopefully, I should be sailing toward Yemen. (UPDATE: As of Monday, july 5th, still in Djibouti, and not sure when the boat is leaving) It has been easy to find a boat on the Djibouti port. Maybe too easy, so I am still waiting for confirmation of the trip before I can consider this trip a done deal. Around 11 a.m., I will know…

    It has been a week now that I am in Djibouti. I didn’t do much, because of the heat. It is so hot that you can’t move between noon and 4 p.m. Most stores are closed during this period of time. It is the summer here, in one of the hottest city in the world.

    Relaxing with Dave and Mimi.

    Relaxing with Dave and Mimi.

    On Monday, I went to the Yemen Embassy to get my visa, and for US$ 35, it was done in one hour. My friends here have a “fixer”, Alex, a local guy who helps getting things done. He drives me around Djibouti and he does make things easier since he speaks Arabic, the country second language with French.

    So we went to the port and found out that a boat, a wooden dhow, would be leaving on Saturday or Sunday. Most of these ships are cattle boat, but I am not sure exactly what mine will carry. Anyhow, no dhow leaves the harbor before it’s completely full, and if we transport cows, we will have to wait for sundown to load them.

    The trip, if you do it alone, cost you US$ 40. With my car, it should cost me US$380. To this price, I will have to add something like US$150 on this side to load the vehicle, and US$100 to unload.

    Little celebration for my upcoming birthday.

    Little celebration for my upcoming birthday.

    I will arrive in Al Mukha (Moka) on the Yemenite side, a coastal town right across from Djibouti. Crossing will take 12 to 16 hours, depending on the weather. At this location, the entrance of the Red Sea can’t be more than 150 miles wide, but the sea is sometimes rough. After touching down, I plan on going down to Aden, then east toward Oman.

    Because of the security situation in Yemen, I will need to find out as quickly as possible how to get an authorization to travel from the police. I believe I should be able to procure that in Aden. Some roads across the country and the border crossing with Oman are sometimes closed to foreigners. The situation is changing all the time, so I will have to find out all of that upon arrival.

    Due to security concerns in Yemen, I changed my plates as well as country sticker.

    Due to security concerns in Yemen, I changed my plates as well as country sticker.

    This will be the most unstable country I cross since the beginning of the trip, and I am not planning to stay there longer than necessary. I will try to put the few thousand kilometers to the border behind, even so I want to see this beautiful country. Landscapes and cities should be an unforgettable adventure, and I hope to share the pictures with you very soon. Unfortunately, I believe there’s hardly any internet access through the country, so my faithful readers will have to wait a bit to see my report. In any case, you know it will be a while, so please don’t worry and stay tuned.

  • Not exactly a land of milk and honey

    Posted on June 20th, 2010 Nicolas 93 comments
    Not much gas stations in the desert between Ethiopia and Djibouti.

    Not much gas stations in the desert between Ethiopia and Djibouti.

    The last week has been one of the most difficult since I arrived in Africa. Once again, what was supposed to be a straight forward affair – going from Ethiopia to Djibouti – turned out into a nightmare.

    Every afternoon, rain starts in Addis, to stop in the evening.

    Every afternoon, rain starts in Addis, to stop in the evening.

    The road going to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, was an easy road, if you let on the side the perpetual danger of animals and human in the middle of the road. Ethiopians, like Kenyans, are driving like there is no tomorrow, and you have to be extra vigilant while driving.

    Wim’s campsite, in the center of the city.

    Wim’s campsite, in the center of the city.

    In Addis, I had a very pleasant time at Wim’s Holland House, a campsite located in the center of the city. The place serves as a meeting point for all the overlanders using the east road to cross Africa. A bunch of people, mostly Europeans, spend time here waiting for visas, spare parts for their vehicles, or just to rest, drink beer and watch the World Cup. I watch the disappointing performance of the French, and I am the only one on the American side while they play, with many British bikers around. Addis is an OK place, and you can easily walk in the city, if you don’t mind people constantly asking you for money.
    After a couple of days here, I decided to leave and get to Djibouti. Under the impression that French citizens don’t need a visa to go there, I didn’t bother stopping by the embassy.

    There is always something on the road. You have to be extra cautious.

    There is always something on the road. You have to be extra cautious.

    It is a two-day journey across the desert to get to the border. Two roads are going to Djibouti. One of them is very good and used by many trucks. The other one is a terrible gravel road. Of course I did choose the first option, and left Addis happy, not suspecting I will end up not only taking the first road, but also the second, with no success whatsoever in getting to Djibouti.

    There are just accidents everywhere. I consider myself lucky until now.

    There are just accidents everywhere. I consider myself lucky until now.

    I thought I knew bout hot weather. I didn’t. It was horrible to cross the desert. The temperature was horribly high, at around 45C, the air hazy, no shade anywhere, and a strong wind was blowing boiling air. The sky was gray, and the sun seemed huge.

    A city in the middle of the desert where I chose to open my tent behind a restaurant.

    A city in the middle of the desert where I chose to open my tent behind a restaurant.

    I traveled with my head wrapped in a towel, and windows closed to avoid the hot wind. I have no AC in the truck, and doubt it would have helped. The temperature didn’t go down at night, and the wind shook the tent endlessly, making sleep impossible.

    The flat landscape let you battle with strong winds.

    The flat landscape let you battle with strong winds.

    The following day I made it to the border, barely alive. I drove for about 600 miles (1,000 km), and you can imagine my disappointment to learn from the immigration officer that I would not be allowed in the country. If you do fly into the country, you automatically get a visa, but it is another story when traveling by road.

    Some area of the world were never meant for human presence, and I wonder why I am here.

    Some area of the world were never meant for human presence, and I wonder why I am here.

    Of course, as you can imagine, I did everything I could to have the officials let me get into the country. I begged them for hours, spent 24 hours lobbying them, even sleeping in front of the immigration building. I tried everything with no success. I had no more Ethiopian money, and had to pay US$10 to place two calls to the French embassy in Djibouti, only to have to hear that they didn’t care about my case.

    A night at the border crossing.

    A night at the border crossing.

    So this horrible trip was done for nothing. I was suffering now from heat exhaustion, and had to keep moving. The immigration officer mentioned to me that there may be a way to Djibouti through tracks in the desert. After going back south 200 km (125 mi), I tried the track, shown on no maps.

    The road close to the Djibouti.

    The road close to the Djibouti border.

    I have to admit, I was really afraid to take this direction. If I had any mechanical problem, I would be in the middle of nowhere, risking the worst in the extremely hostile environment. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the track finished with a collapsed bridge after 60 km (38 mi). Once again I had to backtrack.
    The next solution was to try to drive back south-east and go to Dire Dawa to get a Djibouti visa at the consulate there. Another two-day trip.

    Back in colder temperatures.

    Back in colder temperatures.

    After one day of driving, I was back in a colder area, a hilly region where tea and coffee grow. I had a nice fresh night, unfortunately just on the side of the road, as I could not find a proper area to camp. A shower would be a dream after all these days.
    Late morning, I was showing up happy at the Djibouti consulate in Dire Dawa, taking for granted I would have no problem getting my visa. “But”, I was told, “the consul is in Djibouti, and will only be back in a week”.

    Donuts in the mountain.

    Donuts in the mountain.

    Of course he was the only one who could sign for the visa. Another lost fight. The consulate employee advised me to go to the border, and explain the immigration officials my situation. Surely, she told me they will let me through. At this effect, I had to get to the second border crossing at the end of a terrible 250 km gravel road.
    It took six hours to complete this road. The heat was terrible again, and the gravel on the road was so sharp it took a real toll on my tires. I was able to fix two puncture, but one of the back tire exploded, making necessary the use of my spare wheel. No there was no space for mistakes. If another tire blew, I will be stuck there forever. In addition, the area was not very safe, and as I was changing the tire, a group of Somali illegal immigrants, roaming the desert, took an interest in my possessions and gather around the truck, trying to put their hand on anything they could. I was constantly locking and unlocking the doors to grab tools and work under the truck. This episode I will remember as being one of the few times I felt in danger since the beginning of the trip.

    Another day, another desert.

    Another day, another desert.

    But I made it to the border alive, driving as slow as 30 km/h (20 mph) to avoid a will be catastrophic tire blow up.
    Of course I was decidedly in no luck, and this time Ethiopians officials kicked me out of the border area, in no gentle way, asking me to please get lost. They would no let me speak to the Djibouti officers, arguing I had no visa and had to go back.
    In rage, and in the middle of the night, I decided to turn back and drive the entire dirt road back to Dire Dawa. There was anyway no way of sleeping anywhere in the desert where I would have been exposed to Somali gangs.
    At 4 a.m. I was back in the city. The trip going back was slow, as I just went easy and slow, listening to an audio book, smoking Yemeni cigarettes and trying to not let the adventures of the week get to me. When you are alone and face all these difficulties, it is hard to not be down and suffer for the lack of luck. I know that failing is not an option, but this week, for the first time, I did wonder at times why in the world I would have left the comfort of my life to end up in such place and situation…
    Exhausted, I slept few hours behind the wheel and woke up at 8:30 a.m., surrounded by people looking at me.

    Once again across the mountains to get back to Addis.

    Once again across the mountains to get back to Addis.

    I started the truck, and drove back all the way to Addis where I arrived at 5 p.m. I will have to buy new tires there, as mine are in poor shape. My shock absorbers look like they are gone as well, with oil leaking out of them. Because of the heat, one of my car batteries is dead for good I believe, and some other electronic equipment like the GPS or even my iPod suffered greatly as well. I am in poor shape myself, feeling sick in the last two days, probably another consequence of the unsupportable temperatures. I had to unplug the fridge, which couldn’t make it anymore. In addition, I wasted hundred of dollars in fuel trying to get to Djibouti.

    Back in Addis for a busy week.

    Back in Addis for a busy week.

    I imagine I will be pretty busy this next week. I plan to get the most urgent things fixed on the truck, and get few visas. The ideal will be to get Djibouti, Yemen and Saudi Arabia visa, so I will not have to worry about it later on.
    So as you may have understand, the last week has not been easy. I will need a little bit of luck and some good news soon to overcome all the difficulties and do more than just try to survive.

    I have been going down last week, looking forward to good news now...

    I have been going down last week, looking forward to good news now...