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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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  • Life on Mars… or Ethiopia

    Posted on June 11th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    In Northern Kenya, Samburu walk their herds of camels.

    In Northern Kenya, Samburu walk their herds of camels.

    The precious Ethiopian visa.

    The precious Ethiopian visa.

    I came back in Nairobi on Sunday, and went straight back to the Upper Hill camping where I spent time previously. On Monday morning, waiting for the DHL guy, I changed my oil with expensive synthetic fluid I bought in South Africa.

    Nairobi city center at dusk.

    Nairobi city center at dusk.

    Also, I had to amputate the truck of its emergency brake, ate by rust and broken in pieces by the bad dirt roads. This stopped the terrible noise annoying me since Tanzania. I am ready to go, and have plenty of groceries I got the previous day. Finally, I go to the DHL depot to get my passport, and leave the city by 1 p.m.

    Let’s hope it will be true for the rest of my trip.

    Let’s hope it will be true for the rest of my trip.

    The first part of my travel brings me to Isiolo, 250 km (156 mi) from Nairobi. The hard part is to leave the city, and the traffic is hectic. I am sorry to say the following about Kenyans, but I don’t think that the king of bad drivers is Italian.

    Getting closer to Isiolo.

    Getting closer to Isiolo.

    Isiolo is the last place with decent facilities. It marks the frontier with the wilderness of the northern part of the country, and has a Wild West feel. There, I go to the Jabal-Nur hotel, where I get a room for US$ 3.5.

    Me and my truck get a last night of sleep before attacking the northern road, the worst in Kenya.Me and my truck get a last night of sleep before attacking the northern road, the worst in Kenya.

    Me and my truck get a last night of sleep before attacking the northern road, the worst in Kenya.

    I spend the evening speaking with Kenyans and go to my room to take some rest. The following day I am up by 4:30 a.m., and getting ready for the next step. Marsabit is 8 hours north of here, and there is no town in between.

    Isiolo mosque.

    Isiolo mosque.

    As usual before a trip of this kind, I go to the gas station, and fill my tank as well as my three jerry cans which guarantee me that I will not get stuck somewhere. There’s actually only one place you can get gas in the 500 km (313 mi) between Isiolo and Moyale, at the Ethiopian border. And sometimes pumping stations are dry, which can force you to wait for fuel delivery.

    The first 100 km (60 mi) is a tar road.

    The first 100 km (60 mi) is a tar road.

    The last convoy, going straight to the Ethiopian border, left at midnight, and I didn’t feel like driving for 20 hours straight on dirt roads, which means I am leaving alone. I have the good surprise to see that some work has been done recently on the first 100 km (60 mi) of the track, and there is now a tar road.

    The end of the tar road.

    The end of the tar road.

    Kids on the road.

    Kids on the road.

    But soon, the dirt road begins. The road is made of corrugated dirt, rocks and sand, and shakes the guts out of me and my car. This is the worst drive since Bolivia. And like Bolivia, the trip is very rewarding as well. I see the nomads in the desert, proud camels, and birds follow my car for several minutes at a time. There’s not much traffic, just a truck every few hours coming the other way. Once in a while, there are some shady characters with machine guns making signs to stop, which I don’t.

    House in the desert.

    House in the desert.

    The dust is the worst. It goes everywhere in the truck, in my hairs and mouth. The dashboard and my luggage are covered by a thick layer.

    The traveler takes a break in the middle of the desert.

    The traveler takes a break in the middle of the desert.

    There are huge rocks everywhere, of the volcanic kind. Sometimes, tracks in the sand follow the road, and are easier on the truck than the gravel. But I have to be careful to not get lost…

    Northern Kenya landscape.

    Northern Kenya landscape.

    Around 2p.m., I arrive in Marsabit, and go to Henry’s rest camp where I spend the rest of the afternoon cooking, reading and having beers. Marsabit is located on a mountain in the middle of the desert. Because of this situation, I get a lot of wind during the night, and don’t have great night of sleep.

    The road gets worst as I advance north.

    The road gets worst as I advance north.

    Regardless, I am back on the road the following day. The landscape is less interesting now, and the track is getting worst.

    I share the road with camels.

    I share the road with camels.

    The heat is intense as well, and there is no shadowy place where I could take a break, so I keep driving and driving. Once in a while, I stop to inspect the truck, and make sure I don’t have a flat.

    Rocks on the road eat the rubber of my tires.

    Rocks on the road eat the rubber of my tires.

    I have to fix the attachment of one of my battery which broke, and I also notice my radiator is leaking, but not enough to be an immediate problem. Some other pieces need to be fastened harder, and I am surprised the truck just doesn’t fall in pieces. I read the previous day in the guest book of the camp that previous travelers had scary experiences with this road, including wheels flying off the car, or frames breaking.

    Animals have hard time finding shadow in the desert.

    Animals have hard time finding shadow in the desert.

    But I make it OK, and around 3 p.m., I am at the border. In Moyale, it doesn’t cost me more than the 30 US$ I had to pay in Paris for the visa. I don’t have one shilling left of Kenyan money, and was expecting to find an ATM close to the border.

    Village on the Kenyan side.

    Village on the Kenyan side.

    Dangerous travel.

    Dangerous travel.

    Unfortunately, I am told the closest ATM is more than 300 miles (480 km) from the border. And I don’t have enough gas to make it down there. As a result, I drive 220 km (138 mi) to Yabello, where I expect to find a bank where I can change some green bills.
    It is night when I arrive there, and the bank is closed. Since I don’t have cash, I ask guards in a school if they can let me sleep there, and they are fine with the idea.
    I just arrived in Ethiopia, but everything sounds like Mars to me. First of all, the country use the Julian solar calendar, made up of thirteen months. I believe we are in 2003 or something here, which make me younger by a few years. It also follows a different time system. That means for example that when I am told the bank open at 2 p.m., it actually means it opens at 8 a.m. whenever I cross a village, everybody screams “youyouyouyou” which seems charming at first, but is kind of tiresome at the end. it is also time to switch back to drive on the right side of the road.

    Giant anthills in the Ethiopian countryside.

    Giant anthills in the Ethiopian countryside.

    Later in the evening, I also have the visit of a professor of the school, and share a beer with him. I have the strangest experience. The discussion is really mysterious, and he keeps making mentions about who I really am. He also refuses to answer some questions I ask him. Eventually, I understand what he is thinking of. He believes I am some CIA spy. It may sound funny, but it I am actually kind of worry about possible outcomes of such suspicion. He mention that the American vice-president is in Kenya, which make me laugh at the idea that I could just work for him, and he would ask me to go with my U.S. truck across the border and camp in a school to try to get some secrets.
    Eventually I go to bed, and take some rest after this long day.

    After the Ethiopian border, the tarmac starts again.

    After the Ethiopian border, the tarmac starts again.

    On Thursday, I go to the bank and change US$100. I figure I will get some more cash at the first ATM. I am now able to get some gas (US$ 4 a gallon) and leave. Unfortunately, after few hours of driving, and as I arrive at Awasa, famous for being the first town with ATM north of the border, I figure this precious piece of equipment is not working. So I have to go again through the lengthy wait at the bank to get some more cash. After that, I get some gas and continue north.

    Lake Langano.

    Lake Langano.

    In the evening, I stop at Lake Langano, which is famous for its brown color, to spend the night (US$4). The next stop should be Addis Ababa. In a week from now, I should be in Djibouti.

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35 Responses to “Life on Mars… or Ethiopia”

  1. Norbert Cassegrain

    Tu passes pas loin du pays de Rimbaud, Nicolas !
    Une pensée pour la route.
    NC

  2. Wow….I’m the first one 🙂

    I like this post a lot…especially the last picture, the trees are so beautiful!!!

    You made me laughed about the suspicion that the teacher have…lol I guess after the 2nd, 3rd beer, he is convinced that you’re one of the CIA…lol

    Also, that type of road OMG…..I can’t imagine driving there!!!

    Have a safe journey and I’m waiting for a next post.

    Wan

  3. Oh my God! This has to be the most amazing post to date since you started your trek, at least in my opinion. Just amazing photos and experiences. Glad to see you are being careful and safe. Again, godpseed.

  4. The pictures are amazing. Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

    Stay safe.

    Jennifer
    Alabama, USA

  5. You are the man. Great details. Keep rolling and be safe.

  6. Wow! Great instinct no to stop for the guy with the machine gun. Thank God he didn’t fire a shot. How fast were you going when he tried to stop you? Good thing he didn’t try to get on to your vehicle.

    Anyways, I am relieved that’s all behind you now. Good to know you are safe.

  7. Spectacular account of the events.
    I love your photos.
    Glad youre making your way without to many obsticales

  8. What an incredible chapter of your story! I didn’t know about the Julian solar calendar in Ethiopia. Thanks for sharing that information. Traveling alone through all of this must have been so difficult. You are a courageous, adventurous man!

  9. Nick, how are you going to watch the world cup???

  10. Podgorsek family

    Reading your blog brings the saying, ” Shake, Rattle & Roll” to a whole new meaning. WOW, if you have any loose teeth by the end of that drive they’d be out. lol

    Very smart of you to not stop for the shady looking guys with the big guns. Doing this part of your trip alone is a scarey venture.

    Stay safe and I hope you are carrying some extra tires with you too. Dan, Lisa & Bryce

  11. Great! Good News; and how wonderful it is that you are taking time to relax and are watching the FIFA World Cup games. High on my list of things to do before, and sometimes after all daily essentials is to check in with Trans World Expedition :), It is a good and welcomed daily habit, Nick. But, thank you for keeping us so informed. Figuratively, It helps to know that you have successfully climbed these mountains. We have “you” in common. Btw, I am enjoying reading the comments from your blog followers. Remain focused as you have been all along. . -JoyMaria

  12. Harvey (Naples, FL)

    Nick,

    My throat feels parched. I’ve gone from the edge of my seat to the floor…. words like pulsating and riveting come to mind as I scroll to get to the next picture, description, chapter. We’re all sitting here… all over the planet… watching and reading a book as it is being written… day by day checking to see any new word from you that might excite the readers mind. Totally disappointed when no new entries are recorded… yet delighted when they are.

    At 63, this ranks as one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had… and the whole damn thing is taking place on my computer screen before my very own eyes… AMAZING… TRULY AMAZING!

    GO NICK GO!

  13. Hey Nick, whenever you get a chance could you please update your expense. Very interested to see how the costs have changed between Latin America and Africa.

    Budgeting to do a world trip myself with big inspiration from yourself.

    Safe Travels.

  14. Ya God will make a way when their is none- yep your proof of this from day one . Great blog glade to seee this update

  15. I think you nedd lot of courage to not to stop for those shady characters. Are they thugs or security forces? Can’t they do whatever they want becasue you may not be going in high speed due to road is being dirt road?

  16. Wow, 2003?!? That’s wicked…

  17. That sounds like it was a real rough/nervous leg of the trip.
    Keep on Truckin’

  18. I love it!

  19. Great reading your travels! Thank you so much for sharing. I’ll never get to Africa, so you’re my eyes. I have a couple of questions: 1) Speaking of Africa, are you able to follow World Cup action? 2) Do you think you’re “on schedule” with your year-long trek?
    Be safe.

  20. hang in there, man! with all the issues you are running into, I appreciate you taking time to update the blog.

  21. Do you carry any kind of weapons for protection?

  22. Norbert Cassegrain

    Une pensée pour la route (ou la piste) ! NC

  23. Vas-y Nick! Merci pour tes photos
    Let’s go Nick! Thanks for your pics. I’m back over there

  24. I spent some time in Serbia and I was asked many times if I was a CIA agent. The sad truth of the matter was not political relations between the US and Serbia but rather a depressed view of their own country. Beyond spying, they couldn’t understand why any American would want to come spend a lot of time in their country. This wasn’t true for everyone, but I did meet a lot of people that asked if I worked for the CIA. Nothing ever came of it, just some interesting conversations, so I wouldn’t worry about it!

  25. Nick

    As always, I’m thrilled to read your updates!
    Africa is beautiful…and the roads are crazy-ridiculous!
    Travel safe and thanks for updating your blog – its a treat for me to read of your adventures!

    Amber
    Arizona – USA

  26. Hello Nicolas, long time since our latest conversation…
    I followed every single one of your reports, which I enjoyed a lot…
    Please solve the leaking radiator problem ASAP. OEM gauges are not as accurate as desired, you will have the red flag when is too late…
    Other than that, Buen Viaje!!!

  27. Hi Nick, I have been following your trip since day 1, and find it so exciting. You are so brave to follow through with your dreams of this adventure. Good Luck and God Bless!

    Sandy
    Florida – USA

  28. So Cool! I’ve been following the trip from the start.

  29. This is that North Dakota grandmother that is loving every mile of your journey..I have 7 little grandchildren under 10 years and I am entertaining them with your story and your pictures…They are planning to do the same thing one day and want me to come with them! Who knows what dreams you are sparking for others?

    Be safe and Godspeed~

    Kathleen

  30. Hello Nick,
    Love ur journey. Just wish you did more exciting things and vlog it. It seems ur just finding places to sleep or buying food and of course paperwork. That and you should have drawn more awareness to your expedition by doing more school visits…you would have changed so many more lives with your experiences. Try not to take it the wrong way, just wanted to give you my opinion. There are so many things u could do that would be free and helping children do projects would be so rewarding.

    Keith Hamil

  31. Nick-
    Haven’t heard from you for a couple of days. Everything OK?

  32. Hey Nick,
    First time I’ve commented but have followed your amazing journey since day one! Regardless of the present hardships you are enduring I still wish I was traveling with you seeing the “real” world. God Bless and keep your chin up.
    Perc
    ps. sent you some gas money.

  33. I just read your blog on you trying to get across the border and I am worn out just reading of the heat, gravel, blown tires, etc. Most of all I was feeling your anxiety of coping with the heat, frustrations and the danger being alone around men with ideas of taking all you have. We do not know each other but from one traveler to another, I wish you God’s speed and some better luck in getting onto the road with repairs done and visas in hand. And yes, I do worry about you when there are days of no new postings. I think I am just one of many!

    Bon Voyage, Wende

  34. Nick
    I have followed you from the start. I have to hand it to you. You are one persistant guy. I would probably have packed it in a long time ago. Keep up the good work and keep us posted. I check your blog every day to hear the latest.

  35. Dear Nick,
    Many blessings and good vibrations(no pun intended) are sent your way! :o)
    Fondly,
    Lori