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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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  • 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)

  • Entering the Arab world by way of sea

    Posted on July 11th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    An early attempt to load the truck. Only few hours later I will be able to get it done.

    An early attempt to load the truck. Only few hours later I will be able to get it done.

    I waited many days in Djibouti for my boat to depart. Everyday, I go to the port, and they tell me to come back the following day. First they can’t unload because of customs issues, then the captain is marrying is son and needs to buy some present.
    Finally, on Wednesday July 8th, I show up at the port at 9 a.m., in order to load the truck. It’s a mess there, and nobody knows what they are doing. Everything in Djibouti works with bribes, and you can hardly get anything done without giving right and left. My last expense is at 10 p.m. the same day, when I have to give 70 dollars to borrow the right equipment to put the truck on the boat, as all the attempts with the available tools had failed. The guys damaged the truck as well, but it is just cosmetic, and nothing vital is altered. I could not believe the size of the boat when I saw it. It looked pretty small to cross the Red Sea. Dave, who comes at night to the port to say good-bye, is also surprised, and I can see in his eyes he thinks it may be the last time he see me.

    17 hours on a small boat is no fun, especially when temperatures are so high.

    17 hours on a small boat is no fun, especially when temperatures are so high.

    At 11 p.m., we leave the port for a trip that will last for 17 hours. The boat is very slow and the weather hot, as usual. The Yemenite staff on board cooks food once in a while. I sleep in my car and the sea is a little bit agitated.

    The sailors also fix us lunch and breakfast.

    The sailors also fix us lunch and breakfast.

    Night is already here when we arrive in Yemen. It is anyway Friday, day off in Muslim countries, so there’s no hope to get anything done. In the port I meet the chief engineer of a big Syrian boat. He invites me for diner, and I am able to take a shower in his vessel.

    Finally in Yemen, and alive.

    Finally in Yemen, and alive.

    I sleep on the roof of my car, and wake up when the sun rise. It is slightly colder here, in the Mokha port, than in Djibouti. I am invited for breakfast with sailors on the dock, and then, have breakfast on my boat. I spend the morning looking for the right crane attachment to lower my truck on the port, but can’t find it, and finally, my Syrian friend helps me build a bridge from the boat to the wharf, so I can drive out. Scary moment. The wood cries, but I am able to go out without damage. By safety, we also had a cord between my truck and another Land Cruiser, so he could help to drag me out in case of problem. As always, I have to distribute few dollars to the guys all around who helped transport the construction wood.

    It took me a long time to access the Yemeni landscapes.

    It took me a long time to access the Yemeni landscapes.

    Later, I have lunch on the Syrian boat, then lunch at the customs office. Yemen is like that, you are constantly invited to eat, or have tea.
    It takes me many hours to finish the paperwork, and I am finally out of the port by 5 p.m.
    If anyone wants to attempt such crossing, there are some details at the end of this post.

    Typical buildings in the mountains of Yemen.

    Typical buildings in the mountains of Yemen.

    As soon as I am out, I drive to Taizz, in the mountains. There, I hope to get temperatures more suited for humans. It seems that in Yemen camping is not well seen. And since it is my birthday, I decide to go to the hotel. It is clean here, and it cost me US$17 to spend the night. I take an elevator for the first time since South Africa to get to my room. Later I have kidney and eggs, a Yemenite fixture, with a Yemenite guy I met at the hotel. The road is pretty good, and I see beautiful houses that are here since hundred of years, a big difference with Africa.
    In the morning, I begin to drive to Aden, 160 km (100 miles) from Taizz. There I go to the Oman consulate to make sure I will be able to enter by road from Yemen. They are very nice, and warn me of danger on the road going there. I promise I will be careful, and in the afternoon I begin to look for a hotel in the city.
    The next few days, I will be driving the small road following the south coast of the country, until I enter Oman. In front of me, there are few thousand kilometers of very hot travel.

    On the road between Taizz and Aden.

    On the road between Taizz and Aden.

    [NOTE FOR TRAVELERS]
    To ship my vehicle to Mokha, I had to pay:
    – Transport: US$380 (Including one passenger)
    – Crane and operator, plus agent in Djibouti: US$200
    – Bribe to get the right attachment in the middle of the night: US$75
    – Agent in Mokha: US$20
    – Helper in Mokha to build bridge: US$20
    – Permit to exit port: US$14

    Total: US$709

    Phone number of Djibouti agent: 870 274