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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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  • 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!

  • Route planning: trying to stay out of trouble

    Posted on September 30th, 2009 Nicolas No comments

    The first step in planning a round-the-world trip is to study which country you can cross or not. Somehow, driving west to east may be more difficult now than in the sixties, even if cars are stronger and roads better. Latin America is actually easier now, but the Middle-East is more of a challenge.
    It is difficult now to cross Iraq and Afghanistan, and Myanmar (Burma) closed all its land borders to foreigner. China is more economically open now, but they make an overland trip an expensive affair by forcing you to take a government-approved guide in exchange of a considerable amount of money. The road to South-East Asia is sealed.

    In Africa, it is very difficult to obtain visas for Chad and Sudan, making the west-to-east road impossible, as crossing the Algeria deserts and even isolated areas in Egypt is a good solution if one wants to experience kidnapping – or worst.

    It takes a bit of time for the traveler to settle on an itinerary, which will never be perfect anyway. Situations keep changing, and need to be monitored frequently.

    On my current route, there are still few places that could be problematic:

    few spots on the road are still hazardous

    Few spots on the route are still hazardous

    The Darien Gap
    A 100 miles long area of swamps and rain forest separating Panama and Colombia. There is no existing road connection, which make it the missing link in the Pan-American Highway. The inhabitants of this mountainous jungle with no marked trails are Indian tribes, guerillas and drug traffickers. There are no police or military in the area, and National Geographic calls it the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere.

    Solution: Find a boat in Panama to ship the car to Colombia. While the car is on its way, take a small plane over the jungle, and pray to not have to do an emergency landing.

    Angola
    The problem with Angola is to get the visa. Hopefully I can get it in South Africa, the only place where it is available. Not getting it would force me to ship the car again, or to cross through a larger part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is better avoided these days.

    Solution: Don’t leave South Africa without visa.

    Nigeria
    Violent crimes, religious tensions, armed muggings, assaults, burglary, kidnappings, extortions, carjacking, roadblock robberies, and armed break-ins are few of the features the country.

    Solution: Go as fast as possible, and try to cross the country in few days.

    Iran
    Once inside the country, no problem. great country, nice people, few incidents are reported by travelers. I am more worry about arguments between countries that would lead to border closures, and no visa handed to foreigners.

    Solution: Hope the situation stay under control and that my government will not get too excited. Get the visa in Paris at the same time I’ll get India and Pakistan visa.

    Pakistan
    Just imagine how much fun it will be to cross the country with NY license plates. A recent wave of suicide attacks dissuaded the last tourists to visit the country. Swat in the North West Frontier Province, which used be a great attraction for tourists, is in the grip of violence with militants demanding implementation of Islamic laws through the country.

    Solution: Go as fast as possible, and try to cross the country in few days. Right now, foreigners driving overland benefit of military escort, which make the travel even more fun as soldiers drive like New York taxi drivers.

    Myanmar (Burma)
    The government doesn’t allow you to cross the country overland. Officially you can apply for a transit visa, but in reality, it is always denied. Tourists can only stay in few cities and areas.

    Solution: Ship the car from Bangladesh to Thailand or Singapore. It is too difficult and costly to go via China.

    Moving target: In few weeks, my route changed considerably

    The old route

    The old route

    The new route

    The new route