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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)

  • At the crossroads between Africa and the Arab world

    Posted on June 28th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    Getting my new shocks on in Djibouti. Ready for more dirt roads!

    Getting my new shocks on in Djibouti. Ready for more dirt roads!

    It took me eight days to get the paperwork I needed. Nervous about taking the risk of seeing myself turned back again at the Djibouti border, I didn’t want to leave Addis without a letter signed from the Ambassador of Djibouti in Ethiopia. This would just be a letter of recommendation, giving me the authorization to drive in the country. The problem I had back at the border was primarily my visa, but I could tell they didn’t like the customs documents I had in my possession.

    Eight days of work to get my leeter and visa from the Djibouti embassy.

    Eight days of work to get my letter and visa from the Djibouti embassy.

    So after going every day to the Djibouti embassy for more than a week and writing two letters to the ambassador, I assume they got tired of me, and wanted to get rid of the guy always in the waiting room or in front of the outside gate. So I got my letter as well as my visa (US$40).
    In the meantime, I got the AC of the truck fixed, bought two new tires and a new battery. When Jim Jackson, the president of ARB USA learned that my shock absorbers did let me down, he decided to send me four new Old Man Emu shocks for free. I asked him to send it to the address of an American friend, David, who works for the military in Djibouti. This way my shocks would be here in no time, transported by military plane from Washington D.C. to Africa.
    Every night in Addis, I spent time with new friends I met there. Riaan, Stephanie and Joel who are from South Africa, Belgium and Canada are going south from Sudan, and stopped at the Holland House to spend time working on their trucks (Here’s where you can follow their adventures). They ended up spending the week there as well, and soon, I moved in the room they rent on the premises. I am not cooking much now anyway, and it is raining every day. I may as well stay dry.
    So we meet every night after every one of us try to get things done during the day, and we watch the soccer games, get some food, drink beer and listen to the rain.

    Back on the desert road.

    Back on the desert road.

    We leave the camp at the same time. Previously, I did copious provision of water and Ethiopian cheese, and I am ready to go. They continue their drive south, and I am going east. Too bad, it was nice to meet them, and I would have like if we could spend more time together…

    Last night in Ethiopia. Kind of happy about it...

    Last night in Ethiopia. Kind of happy about it...

    It takes me two days to be back at the Djibouti border. Now I know the road. This time, it is less hot in the desert. I even got some rain, and there was an electrical storm. Sometimes I had to stop because there was so much sand in the air I could not see anything.

    The infamous Djibouti border crossing.

    The infamous Djibouti border crossing.

    I sleep at the same place than last time, behind the Oasis Restaurant. Late morning, I pass the border with no problem.

    The road to Djibouti.

    The road to Djibouti.

    It is hot in Djibouti. Around 110F again. But this time, I decide I suffered enough, and I do use the AC. I never did that since the beginning of the trip, and I feel like a fake adventurer using it, but at the end of the day, I am in better shape.

    The desert in Djibouti. Hot!

    The desert in Djibouti. Hot!

    In Djibouti City, I stay at the house of my friend Dave and his roommates. They all work as contractors for the U.S. military base nearby. For the first time in years, I am in a French speaking country, which made things easier when it comes to find Dave’s house.

    Arriving in the city of Djibouti.

    Arriving in the city of Djibouti.

    I just rest on Sunday. Anyhow, the temperature is too high to do anything. On Monday, I work on the truck and install the new shocks. I can’t work for a long time outside because it is so warm and humid. As planned, the shocks arrived fast, on Friday.
    This week, I have to get a visa for Yemen. Then, I will try to find a cattle boat to load the truck and sail to the Yemenite coast, 150 miles away. All of that, of course, if everything works well. What I project to do next is to cross Yemen, get to Oman, Dubai, and find a boat to Iran.
    So as you can see, this last week has been better, and I have been luckier. I want to thank you all for the support and all the encouraging comments on my last post. It really helped a lot when the future looked grim.

    Made it!

    Made it!