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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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MONTHLY ARCHIVES

THE ROUTE

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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.

  • A mountain of paperwork

    Posted on June 6th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    Mount Kilimanjaro, seen from Kenya.

    Mount Kilimanjaro, seen from Kenya.

    Later in the day, and after I got into Kenya, I was finally able to see the Kilimanjaro, after the clouds unveiled it. Getting out of Tanzania and into Kenya was easy.

    Small villages pepper the south slope of the mountain.

    Small villages pepper the south slope of the mountain.

    I was first convinced I got lucky when officials asked me for US$25 for my visa, when I projected to spend US$50.

    Driving the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.

    Driving the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.

    But few minutes later, I found myself paying an extra US$40 for the road tax. I was alone at the border post, but everything is going slowly. I got out of the office around 1 p.m., and saw that the clouds have moved a little, partially uncovering the mountain. I drove away and easily found an ATM at Oloitokitok (Good luck for remembering this name), the first town after the border.

    Going down toward Kenya.

    Going down toward Kenya.

    My plan was to go spend at least a night in the Tsavo National Park. Unfortunately, the road being in state of repair, there was no sign and I could not find my way. As a result, I changed my plans, and decided to get to the famous Amboseli national Park. After a bit of time searching, I found a track going there, but when I arrived at the gate, I found out it would cost me US$100 a day to be in the park!

    Clouds are unveiling part of the mountain.

    Clouds are unveiling part of the mountain. As some of you noticed, I changed my NY plates to get more generic ones. Discretion in some of the upcoming countries will be important.

    Ridiculous. The cost is similar than in Tanzania. As much as I want to take advantage of my time in Africa, I can’t afford such an expense. Why would it be so much more expensive than in South Africa, or Mozambique? I am pissed at the overpriced fee, and decided to leave at once. At this point, it is already time to find a place to spend the night, and there is not much in the area.

    The mountain, seen from Amboseli, where I stayed just few minutes.

    The mountain, seen from Amboseli, where I stayed just few minutes.

    With that in mind, I stop in a small village, and ask if it would be OK to spend the night there. Unfortunately, the men are at a ceremony somewhere else, and women can’t give me the authorization. I continued north. After a while, I spot a sign advertising a nearby camping. I leave the road and discover a place with no water and electricity but few local guys thinking they will become rich soon.

    Amboseli’s tracks.

    Amboseli’s tracks.

    To this effect, they ask me US$40 to spend the night there. Now I am really pissed and tired. Will it be the same everywhere? I leave without a word. I am so upset that I decide to drive all the way to Nairobi, where I know it ill be easier to find a place to rest.

    The infamous experience of driving at night in Africa.

    The infamous experience of driving at night in Africa.

    I drive for hours in the night, which is hell with all the slow trucks and crazy drivers always ready to pass with no visibility whatsoever. This is definitely not my lucky day. Fortunately, in Nairobi, I find the excellent Upper Hill Camping (US$6 a night).
    I still want to see some wildlife, and project to get out of town again as soon as I can. It is now Sunday morning, and I decide to stay again for the night, and be at the Ethiopian embassy when it opens on Monday. I hear it takes 48 hours to get a visa, which I would spend with giraffes.
    I expect this visa quest to be just a formality, but of course, after so long on the road, I should have known better.
    The Ethiopian visa is the first one on my whole trip I can’t get directly at the border. It is the first of a long series. I do know that I will have to do some advance work for countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan or India, for example. Some of these visas will be long or tricky to obtain. But who would have imagined that the Ethiopian visa would be trouble? After all, many overlanders use the east road to go through Africa, and the visa is often obtained in Kenya…
    But not in the past few weeks. After I get rejected on this Monday morning, I go on the internet, and find out that few other people recently got into the same trouble. As me, they were refused the visa on the ground that they were not Kenyan residents.
    I look at other alternatives. There are only two. I can drive northeast to Sudan and cross the whole country. Difficulties would be huge, including bandits on the way, terrible tracks to progress on, and a lot of work to find places to stay and food.
    The other option, which I chose to give a try, is to send my new passport via DHL to my parents, so they can apply for me at the Paris embassy. Few hours later, it cost me US$50 to send the passport, application and an I.D. picture to Europe.

    Shortly after exiting Nairobi, I enter the Rift Valley.

    Shortly after exiting Nairobi, I enter the Rift Valley.

    Monkey

    Monkey

    I then spend the afternoon visiting Nairobi, a resolutely modern city. After another night at the Upper Hill camping, I leave in the morning. I figure the paperwork issue will take at least a week to get solved, so I better visit Kenya.
    I selected to explore the Rift Valley, which stretches 6,000 km (3,750 mi) from the Middle East to Mozambique. In Kenya, old volcanic peaks line the valley.
    Before I leave, I catch a movie and get enough groceries for the next few days. Then, I drive 100 km (63 mi) to Lake Naivasha

    The old crater is now a lake home to flamingoes and water buffaloes.

    The old crater is now a lake home to flamingoes and water buffaloes.

    I sleep at the not-so-charming Fishermen Camp (US$ 6), on the south shore. Around noon the next day, I get to the next place on my list. A small park, set around a volcano crater which would be my home for few days.

    Baboons along the road.

    Baboons along the road.

    The place is a pearl. I projected originally to spend only one night, but stay there for four days. There, I am able to see a lot of wildlife, and walk around the rim, which is not permitted in National Parks.

    Spending evenings in the Rift Valley.

    Spending evenings in the Rift Valley.

    I can’t recommend enough this place. Entrance is US$10, and every night at the camp cost US$6. I am the only camper there, and every night, someone comes to build a fire.

    Driving to the Crater Lake Camp.

    Driving to the Crater Lake Camp.

    During the day, I walk around the crater, and get lost in the nature. At the end of the afternoon, it invariably rains for few hours, which I spend in the tent reading. Then I cook.

    Flamingoes on the shore of the lake.

    Flamingoes on the shore of the lake.

    On Thursday, I get a quick access to the internet, so I can read an email my mother sent me. She thinks she will be able to send me back the passport with the visa on Friday. This means I could get it on Monday. Let’s hope…

    You can get very close to the wildlife, by foot.

    You can get very close to the wildlife, by foot.

    On Saturday I leave the camp, and advance further north. In the highlands, I get to Nyahururu, an ugly town close to a cascade I want to see, the Thomson’s Falls.

    Passing the Equator line. Last time was in Ecuador.

    Passing the Equator line. Last time was in Ecuador.

    I spend the night there, and do a short trek to the bottom of the falls. It is very nice, but there are too much people everywhere trying to sell you things, wash you car, and take picture of you with some tribe members. This drives me crazy, and after my little walk, I am back in the truck, taking the direction of Nairobi. I plan to change the oil of the truck on Monday, and if I get my papers, leave the city immediately after. The next week will be devoted to what I believe will be the hardest road so far.

    The Thomson’s Falls.

    The Thomson’s Falls.

    From Isiolo, Kenya to the Ethiopian border, lies the worst dirt road you can imagine. At least 48 hours of inferno. The road used to be dangerous as well because of thieves, and vehicles form a convoy before leaving Isiolo, but I get conflicting reports and I am not sure if it is or not required anymore.

    NOTE: I am looking for residents of Saudi Arabia and Iran who could help me to sponsor upcoming visas. Please send me an email!