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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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THE ROUTE

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  • Discovering sophisticated Iran

    Posted on August 8th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    The Nasir-Ol-Molk Mosque prayer hall.

    The Nasir-Ol-Molk Mosque prayer hall.

    I had to be at 4 p.m. at the port of Sharjah, north of Dubai. The ferry boat was leaving harbor at 9 p.m., but as usual, paperwork and immigration had to been taking care of.
    [TRAVELER NOTE: Check out at the end of this post for details about getting Iran visa]
    The boat, few decades old, was operated by the Iranian company Valfarej 8. Anyhow, even with the rust nothing could be scarier than the dhow I took from Djibouti to Yemen, so I embark with confidence. After driving the truck in the belly of the whale, I walk upstairs and sit on one of the many benches travelers already made their territory.

    Taking the boat to cross the Persian Gulf.

    Taking the boat to cross the Persian Gulf.

    The truck in the ferry.

    The truck in the ferry.

    Studying maps, I ask one of the officers on deck some information about roads leading to my first destination in Iran, Shiraz. He insists to take the important matter higher up, and soon the captain of the boat is here, giving advices.  Fidel to the legendary Iranian hospitality, he decides on the spot that I should travel in a more elegant fashion, and make available for me a large cabin on the upper deck. It was a treat to spend the 11 hours in this comfort, and after diner was served, I immediately felt asleep on one of the sofa of the royal cabin among my guidebooks and maps.

    Arriving in Bandar Abbas, Iran.

    Arriving in Bandar Abbas, Iran.

    I woke up an hour before reaching destination and was on the outside deck when the anchor was let down. How exciting to be here, in one of the cradle of the civilization, now a provocative country dominating the media coverage.
    Without waiting any longer, I jumped out of the boat and entered the immigration building. I had to wait a bit, as the usage is to process first the Iranians, and then the foreigners. Of course I was the only foreigners, so I couldn’t help but feel a bit lonely in the massive waiting room.

    It will take many hours to be on the road again.

    It will take many hours to be on the road again.

    But soon, few members of the so-called “Secret police” asked me to follow them. I was asked many questions, and had to write the story of my life listing every place I spent time since I was born. I had to answer many questions on my job, my revenues, why I was doing this trip, why I was not married, if I had a Taeser, which place I would go to in Iran, and where next. After doing copies of my log book to keep a record of all the places I had been in the last months, they inspected my car quickly and took pictures of it. I was free to go, they finally told me. I have to say everybody was very nice.

    Going north toward Shiraz.

    Going north toward Shiraz.

    Almost free in fact, since I had to take care of the import papers for my truck. While I was waiting, someone came to ask me my “Carnet de Passage”, and I assumed he was a custom officer. I should have known better. In fact he was a clearing agent happy to make some money while driving me from office to office, from the bank to the customs, to the port authority to the police. Back and forth. After few hours of this game, I was done and really ready to go. The agent asked me US$ 100 for his work. He was crazy, I told him. Even in the U.S. you don’t make that much money in so little time. I rounded up all the bills of mysterious currencies I keep with my documents, gave it to him and took of. I passed the gate before he was done counting his fortune. $40.

    Still desert, yet a little bit more green.

    Still desert, yet a little bit more green.

    I arrived at 8:30 a.m. and it was now 4 p.m. With difficulty, I was able to get out of Bandar Abbas despite all the signs being in Arabic. My goal was to leave as soon as possible the coastal area and enter the mountains. There, I believed, I would be able to get some drier and colder air, making camping easier. The night came as I was driving. 150 miles from the port, I decided to spend the night on the parking of a gas station I spotted in the arid landscape. An hour later, I was speaking with curious truck drivers, and soon they invited me in a restaurant close to the gas station for refreshments.

    Spectacular landscapes around the Zagros Mountains.

    Spectacular landscapes around the Zagros Mountains.

    Let me tell you my surprise when I was served these “refreshments”. I will just say that it is not the kind of drink you think you will find in a country like Iran. Few glasses later, the drivers paid the drinks and took off to continue their long drive, and I climbed the ladder to go to bed. I was indeed back in a more human climate, with temperatures going down a little at night. I woke up early in the morning, and after making a dent in the food reserves I got in Dubai, I took the road going to Shiraz.

    Bakery.

    Bakery.

    Small tunnels, no emergency exit.

    Small tunnels, no emergency exit.

    The landscape, if dry, was a relief compared to my recent adventures. I was finished with sand. Now there were trees, mountains, greenery. The roads were good, but sometimes slow due to tunnels with two lanes only. Gas is cheap here too, as you can imagine. Foreigners have to pay four times the price for locals. US$ 1.52 per gallon for gasoline (40 cents a liter) is the price I have to pay. Still pretty cheap. Gas doesn’t seem too be very clean, and I can witness a lot of pollution in cities.

    Glad to have a road to drive across the salt pan.

    Glad to have a road to drive across the salt pan.

    I was happy to see a saline as I was driving to Shiraz, but this time I decided to stay away of it, remembering my electric troubles after crossing the Uyuni salar in Bolivia. (getting smarter).
    Shiraz is the center of the Persian culture and one of the most important city in the historical Islamic world. There, I looked for a hotel where I could park my truck off the street, but discouraged by the high prices (US$17), I continued to drive until I finally found a campground half-an-hour walk from the city center (Shiraz Tourist Complex, Ye Sa’di beginning of Nasr Blvd., US$10 a night). I opened my tent and happy to find a shower, I decided to stay here for the next two days.

    Ancient buildings, getting closer to Shiraz.

    Ancient buildings, getting closer to Shiraz.

    The following day, I walked to the center and visited various monuments, including the Aramgah-E Shah-E Cheragh mausoleum, the Bagh-e Narajestan (Orange garden), and the Nasir-Ol-Molk mosque.

    Shiraz, typical street.

    Shiraz, typical street.

    Bazaar in Shiraz.

    Bazaar in Shiraz.

    All these sites were splendid. You can really see the level of refinement in monuments belonging to old civilizations. It reminded me that I didn’t see such marvel probably since I crossed Peru. The architecture through Africa was not precisely stunning, but since Yemen and due to the rich history of the Arab world, the level is improving. That makes spending time in cities more enjoyable, and necessary.

    The Bagh-e Narajestan. Garden and pavilion.

    The Bagh-e Narajestan. Garden and pavilion.

    The day after, I would be equally surprised and comforted in this idea while I visited the bazaars, equaled only in atmospheric charm by markets in the Americas. While Africa was interesting for its inhabitants, landscapes and adventures, I was longing for the sophistication you find in countries as Iran.

    Shiraz's Bazar-e Vakil.

    Shiraz's Bazar-e Vakil.

    After checking few things on the car in the evening and cooking dinner, I watched an episode of “The long way round”. Few readers recommended me to it check out. I was able to download it in Dubai, and wanted to see it as I am now interested in taking the Siberia roads these guys followed. It is interesting to see how much logistic was involved in their trip. I guess I am lucky to still be on the road.

    Selling carpets in a bazaar.

    Selling carpets in a bazaar.

    The following day, I spend few hours in the various and many bazaars in the city. At 4 p.m., I drive the 50 km (31 mi.) to Persepolis. I will camp in the parking lot, and visit the site in the morning.

    Tea house.

    Tea house.


    TRAVELER NOTE ABOUT IRAN VISA:
    I was lucky enough to obtain a visa for Iran. It took me two weeks, and was arranged by “Touran Zamin -Tour Operator”. You just need to send them a scan of your passport, a vague itinerary and for 35 euros they will obtain the visa for you. You can pick it up in any consulate abroad. At the time I applied I was in Djibouti, and I selected Oman as a pick up location, and there it took two days to get the visa sticker after I paid around US$60 for the visa itself.
    Touran Zamin didn’t ask for any hotel reservation, which lot of other company did. I really recommend the company, and you can reach them at this address: touranzamin [AT] yahoo.com
    The fee has to be paid by wire transfer to an account in Germany.

  • Vegas on steroids

    Posted on August 3rd, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    The Burj Dubai, tallest building in the world.

    The Burj Dubai, tallest building in the world.

    Welcome to the Emirates.

    Welcome to the Emirates.

    It took me few hours to leave Oman and reach the United Arab Emirates. The border was easy, and the customs and immigration didn’t cost me a dime. After more driving, I reach Abu Dhabi, my first destination in the country. It is a big change to be here compared to Muscat.

    Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates.

    Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates.

    The city is huge and very modern. I didn’t see skyscrapers in a while, and it would be easy to think I am back in the U.S. There’s also the incredible Zayed Mosque, which they just finished.
    I drive around the city for a little bit and find a construction site on one of these pieces of land reclaimed to the water. I decide to camp there, since it’s already close to midnight. It is still very hot, and it’s not very easy to sleep.

    Who says you can't camp in Abu Dhabi?

    Who says you can't camp in Abu Dhabi?

    The following morning I get to the Pakistani embassy as soon as I wake up. After few hours there, I am left with very little hope. I was able to see the consular officer, and he agreed to send my request to Karachi, but thinks there are very few chances for me to get the visa. Later, I stop at the newspaper to have lunch with a friend from the U.S. and at 3 p.m. I am driving toward Dubai.

    Abu Dhabi at night.

    Abu Dhabi at night.

    It’s a short distance, two hours of driving and I see the first skyscrapers of the city. Dubai is even more impressing than Abu Dhabi. Everything here is huge and the city is difficult to navigate. Few days later, I am able to download some maps for my GPS. But the cities changes everyday and the GPS can’t keep up.

    Driving in Dubai.

    Driving in Dubai.

    For a week I will stay with some friends from the Americas, Guillermo and Luis, who work at Gulf News, an English-language newspaper.
    There are a lot of places to go at night and have drinks, and I find myself going out every night with them. Bars are usually in hotels, sometimes in malls. During the day, I do some shopping to replace the items damaged during the trip. Food is great also, with a lot of options including Afghan, Chinese, Filipino and Indian food. Money is spent fast here.

    The Burj Al Arab.

    The Burj Al Arab.

    I get a small point-and-shoot camera which will make it easier to take pictures in cities or places where a big camera attract too much attention. I also get a laptop, a small Vaio netbook, a lot smaller than the one I previously had. I was under the impression that electronic items would be cheap in Dubai, but prices are a bit higher than in the U.S. On the other hand, I try to find a deep-cycle battery to replace my old one without success.
    I also take advantage of the internet connection at my friend’s house, and research what will be the next steps of my trip. Unfortunately, I can’t say it is looking good.
    map_iranThe Pakistan option looks like it is a no-go. I believe there are no boats going directly from Iran to India. The border crossings between Georgia/Russia and Azerbaijan/Russia are currently closed. I am now looking into going Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan-Russia. But I will need to get to Tehran to arrange these visas. I will also give another try to the Pakistan visa while I am there, but I think that will become the one visa I couldn’t get during the trip.
    I spend time in the huge malls one can find everywhere in the city. No place I saw reminds me more of Las Vegas.
    On Sunday I arrange the details for the ferry crossing to Iran. For around US$700 I will be able to sail with the truck from Dubai to Bandar Abbas overnight on Tuesday.

    Ski and winter sports in the mall.

    Ski and winter sports in the mall.

    There’s no way of getting money from the outside once in the country, so I try to get the maximum of U.S. dollars and also get Iranian rials. The cash takes a lot of space, as one dollar equals 10,000 rials.
    The loading of the truck will begin in few hours now, and I am on my way to the port.