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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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  • Not exactly a land of milk and honey

    Posted on June 20th, 2010 Nicolas No 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...

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93 Responses to “Not exactly a land of milk and honey”

  1. Nick.. I so worry about what you are going through and what is yet ahead of you! As a mother I say STOP and come home but after getting to know you through your pictures and writing, I’m sure you will push on. I check on your progress just about every day looking for a post. I am so impressed with you and your courage. Please be careful and I am praying for your safe travel. I also pray your vehicle holds up!

  2. Hang in there Nick. You will make it!!

  3. I wish you good luck and God’s speed in your upcoming days. I can’t even imagine what all these recent troubles you’ve incountered are like for you. Just remember the reason you decided to go on this adventure and hang in there, and keep your sanity! God’s Blessings and BE CAREFUL.

  4. Hi all, new update. After a week going every day at the Djibouti embassy, I think i may be able to get the authorizations I was looking for tomorrow. I got my A/C fixed, and two new tires. I am not looking forward to go back in the desert, but as long as I know I can get into djibouti, I will have the energy.
    Thanks for the support!

  5. Good news indeed! Interesting, I awakened this morning thinking about your A/C and the upcoming desert trek. Our prayers are answered. Will write to ARB-USA as Harvey suggested. Hugs, -joyMaria

  6. I am so happy to read this latest post…Yes! You will make it now! You are awesome! So proud of you~

    Kathleen (North Dakota)

  7. Ms. Marti-Nashville

    Nick,
    Just like Dr. JoyMarie said “Good News Will Be Coming Soon”. The endurance you display is more than anyone I have known!!! So glad things are looking up. So glad about the AC, it will make a trip a little more bearable cause this time you will know you are “Getting Close to Being “Out of Africa”.

    Ms. Marti

  8. Karen in Austin

    hi nick,

    it seems to me that a trip does not involve some degree of risk, it can’t be considered an adventure. perhaps it is the sucky moments of an adventure make the good ones even more sublime.

    i’ve been following you from the start. thanks for keeping the dream alive for those of us still chained to our desks! and please know your trip has really made me think about what my own next adventure will be.

    with gratitude for the inspiration you given us all, i wish you continued safe travels.

  9. Sounds like good news! Let’s hope it’s true! Keep an eye on that radiator too, since turning on the A/C will add additional heat load to your cooling system, it might become a problem! If you can get a bigger/better radiator now, I say do it!

    Good luck and post often as we’re all worried!

  10. Marlon Trivino (Corona, CA)

    Nick,

    Great to hear that you got your A/C fixed. This will help you tremendously in your long journey to the upcoming desert countries. Fixing the A/C is a MUST! Your comfort and preventing heat exhaustion are very important when traveling long distances expecially in the desert.

    Good Luck on your future travels. I hope the experiences you had in Ethiopia-Djibouti Border and the back and forth travels won’t happen again.

  11. Nicolas,

    I have been reading since the article came out on your journey in newspapers across this great land.

    Your trials and tribulations are very evident in your latest update.

    Please continue on. Most of the people, including me, could not even attempt the adventure you are embarking on. We read and dream. You are living that dream. Carry on, please… for your readers sake.

    Looking forward to your future book, I am sure will arrive once you finish your mission. I donated some well earned gas money.

    Once again, for your readers and followers, please carry on!

    Geoff

  12. geez, reading parts of the trip puts knots in my stomach. When your tire blew, I really got worried. God is surly protecting you, keep looking up at night at the stars and let Him know that you are trusting Him. Also know you do have alot of us watching you travel, reading your diary and praying that you have a great time and are excited right along with you with what you are doing. To me, when the A/C went…, I would have boarded a plane and come home…, that would be the extend of my suffering.. 🙂 Glad you posted today that things are looking up & will be anxious to see if they finally let you through.

  13. Janice - Canada

    Nick,

    Thanks for both updates. Having the A/C fixed will surely help! I check here daily for updates and to read the comments from others. I will be awaiting your next posting from Djibouti!

  14. Nicolas,

    I have been following your journey since the beginning, but had fallen behind in checking in on you. I am so amazed at what you’ve been through and the courage and conviction that you show us all. Never, ever, feel alone on those roads because so many of us are out here thinking of you and pulling for you every step of the way! You are truly an inspiration and I, too, can hardly wait to read a book full of your adventures. I left a little money at paypal and will try to do so again soon. Please take care and keep the fascinating stories coming our way!

    Britt

  15. This week will be better. Surely it can’t get worse……..can it?

  16. Hi all,
    Spent the day at the embassy again. looks like the letter is ready, waiting to be signed. Same for my visa. With a bit of luck, I will be leaving tomorow, back in the desert. Wish me good luck.

    N

  17. Ms. Marti-Nashville

    Nick! thanks so much for the update. I check every morning on your progress, as probably many people do. Good advice from Edwin about the AC, you sure don’t want to experience vapor lock from the heat running the air.

    Ms. Marti~Nashville, TN

  18. Great News Nick, I wish you all the luck in finally getting that Visa. Your story is amazing and I have enjoyed it from the start. Today, what amazes me most is how many wonderful people you have supporting and living their dreams through you. Good Job Nick, keep it up! Next stop Dijbouti!
    Jaime

  19. Marlon Trivino (Corona, CA)

    Great News! Sounds like you are in your way out of Africa.

    Do you already have visas in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria? Or do you already have plans on getting them soon? I just hope you won’t have anymore problems like you had from the past weeks.

    Good Luck and take care on you future travels.

  20. Good luck this time! 🙂 it will work out!

  21. I’ve been following all along Nick – Stick with it and stay strong.

    Godspeed

  22. Hi NIck,

    Is your route in the states written in stone? I would think with the followers you have here in the U.S. we could arrange one hell of a welcome back home party/route with stops just about everywhere. Probably keeping you from ever getting home. Are you game? Further more, I could arrange for a hotel chain to accomodate you through your journey, and who knows what else we can do for you, once again, you game?

    Manolo-Corvette City

  23. Hang in there man ! once out of Africa, things should look better. good luck

  24. Good luck!

  25. Great news about the visa! Travel safe and keep us posted. We’re all pulling for you!

  26. Kick Djibouit’s bouti!

  27. Just checking on your progress, so sorry It’s been a nightmare.
    What I great adventure and something to cherish for the rest of your life.
    I wish you safe uneventful travels!

    Katie in Tn

  28. Hey Nick,

    Stumbled across this blog right about when you started it and have been reading it ever since. Like everyone else has said, Im really impressed with what you are doing and have loved reading along with your travels. You are doing something most people only dream of, I wish you the best in the rest of the trip and thanks again. We are all here reading along with you!

    -Ryan in California

  29. Just arrived in Djibouti, everything went smooth. My parts already arrived as well!

  30. Yea!!!!! Congratulations….you must be elated! I do hope this drive was a lot better than the last one. I am keeping continued positive thoughts for you for all future travels….Keep safe.
    Charlene in Spokane, WA

  31. You made it! woo hoo!!

  32. Thanks for the updates here in the comments section. Lets us know you’re ok in between more detailed postings. Enjoy those beers with your friends in Djibouti. Travel safe!

  33. Glad you made it safe! I was worried about you!

  34. Good News Nick. As one of your followers said, you are almost “out of Africa” . Glad to know that all went smoothly with the journey and with the mechanics of your Land Cruiser. I sense from over 10,000 miles that you know beyond a doubt your family, close friends, new friends and followers are with you in spirit. You are indeed richly blessed and God does indeed smile upon the faithful. What a calling! Nick, we can see the light at the end of your tunnel, and as Monolo suggested, many of us wouldn’t hestitate arranging a huge homecoming on your behalf in November. Take care, and many blessings your way.
    -joyMaria

  35. I’ve been following your blog since before you left New York, and what you”ve accomplished so far has been nothing short of amazing. I love the pictures and all of the descriptions, and hope someday to see many of these places for myself. There were bound to be snags and nightmarish problems, but in the end, you’re the one who gets to say “I drove around the world.” Good luck with the road ahead, and congratulations on making it into Djibouti!

    Amber

  36. Nic,

    I’ve been praying for you since I first read this piece, and am happy to see you just responded to someone’s “tweet”. You have MANY, MANY people pulling and praying for you—from around the world. I know that’s of little comfort when you’re in your trials alone, but perhaps it will help you when you’re past them and can look back to see how many of us were thinking of you and praying for you then. Hold on, friend. Hold on. We who are living vicariously through you care deeply for your safety and your spirit. Remember the only rush we feel is that which we place on ourselves. If you need to stop and rest, please do. Warmest regards always!

  37. Woot!! Good news indeed!

  38. “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…”

    man do I know that feeling. i hope parts aren’t too difficult to come by. get the Beast back in shape!

  39. Nick,
    I have been intrigued to read your adventures and challenges in your border crossings and visa experiences.
    It reminded me that I believe the most difficult visa to get is a US Visa where the Visa regulations assume that anyone who is applying for a visitor visa really intends to stay in the US.

    For example, I got to know the owner of a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City who wanted to visit the US to see her daughter graduate from community college and her son graduate from high school in San Diego. She had applied twice and paid a non refundable fee of $200 for each filing and was rejected. The US Consulate thought that because she was a widow and her two children were in the US, she would not return. After writing a letter to the Consulate on her behalf that explained that she owned a hotel that employed 5 people, that her children were returning to help her manage the hotel, and that she was willing to put up her hotel as a bond for return, she got her visa after paying another $200. After the graduations, she returned to Vietnam, and her hotel, the Hy Vy in HCMC.

  40. Been following you since you hit the road. Can’t wait to buy the book I’m sure you’ll write. Wish I had the drive to do what your doing. For now I’ll just follow your adventure and what an adventure your on. Good luck and happy travels.
    Thanks.

  41. Nick,
    I have been intrigued to read your adventures and challenges in your border crossings and visa experiences.
    It reminded me that I believe the most difficult visa to get is a US Visa where the Visa regulations assume that anyone who is applying for a visitor visa really intends to stay in the US.

    For example, I got to know the owner of a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City who wanted to visit the US to see her daughter graduate from community college and her son graduate from high school in San Diego. She had applied twice and paid a non refundable fee of $200 for each filing and was rejected. The US Consulate thought that because she was a widow and her two children were in the US, she would not return. After writing a letter to the Consulate on her behalf that explained that she owned a hotel that employed 5 people, that her children were returning to help her manage the hotel, and that she was willing to put up her hotel as a bond for return, she got her visa after paying another $200. After the graduations, she returned to Vietnam, and her hotel, the Hy Vy in HCMC.

  42. I just wanted to comment and say that I really enjoyed reading your blog post here. It was very informative and I also digg the way you write! Keep it up and I’ll be back to read more in the future