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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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  • 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!

  • 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...