Image: monkey
A monkey snacks on the remains of a muffin taken from Nicolas Rapp on May 6 in South Africa's Saint Lucia National Park. While traveling from New York City to Iran, Rapp discovered that the farther you are from home, the harder it is to proceed.
updated 11/1/2010 5:41:47 PM ET 2010-11-01T21:41:47

Somewhere on the way from Ethiopia to Djibouti, as I continued an overland trip around the world that has taken me 30,000 miles from New York City through two dozen countries, I developed a theory about travel.

I call it the theory of global stickiness. The formula behind this discovery is this: The more you press forward around the world, the stickier countries become — meaning that it's harder and harder to get to the next country the farther you are from home.

I developed this theory as I drove from South Africa to Iran, on the second leg of a trip that started nearly a year back in the U.S. For the first leg, I drove my '96 Toyota Land Cruiser from New York to Buenos Aires. Then I put the car on a ship bound for Durban, South Africa, flew across to pick it up, and started driving north through East Africa, headed for the Middle East.

I consider this expedition to be the last true adventure on earth, and my South Africa-to-Iran drive, though difficult at times, was also filled with wonders. My first night in the wild in Africa, I camped on the shores of the Indian Ocean, waking up the next morning to find monkeys stealing my breakfast muffin and soap dish. In the weeks that followed, I shared the road with elephants, giraffes, camels, nomads, and on one harrowing stretch, with military escorts armed with machine guns.

I saw the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro, the dry deserts of Ethiopia, the tallest building in the world in Dubai, and the mysterious mosques and bazaars of Tehran. Throughout my safari in Africa, I was stunned to find hot showers. In Latin America in winter, it was difficult to find this comfort, even in hostels, but all the way through the hottest continent, I would find them in the most unexpected places — like in Malawi, on a walk through a forest, where a fire kept a pot of water warm.

In Iran, it was my luck to be short on cash in a country where people are so hospitable. Whenever I stopped, people would bring food, drinks and offers to stay at their home. I'm a French citizen; they are happy to see foreigners and they show it. Once, on the highway out of Tehran, the employees even refused my money to pay the toll.

But, for every stranger who kindly shared a meal with me on my long journey across continents, there was a bureaucrat or soldier trying to stop me from crossing a border. And it was probably somewhere around my third attempt to enter Djibouti from Ethiopia that the theory of global stickiness proved almost deadly.

Denied entry
The first time I was turned away from the border, I had just finished a 400-mile drive in 110-plus degree heat, my head wrapped in a scarf against the scorching wind, the massive sun overhead in a deceptively gray sky. Mystified by this bizarre foreigner without a visa, the guards sent me back through the desert, where I attempted to find an unmarked — and illegal — road across the border. The sand tracks I was following ended at a collapsed bridge.

I turned around and tried a third 500-mile detour on a dirt road where lava rocks were so sharp they shredded my tires. As I worked to fix the punctures, I found myself surrounded by a group of Somali migrants who appeared very interested in my possessions and water reserves. It was one of the few times I felt in danger since my trip began. I managed to get my truck back on the road with my head still on my shoulders — although a few bottles of my precious water went missing. But once again I was turned away by hostile border guards. Finally I headed back to the country's capital, where I bothered officials for a week until they got tired of me and gave me the documents I needed to cross the Djibouti border.

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The ordeal not only gave rise to my theory on global stickiness, but it confirmed a conclusion I'd come to earlier in the trip, as I spent days and $1,300 in port fees reclaiming my truck after it arrived in South Africa. For the kind of journey I am undertaking, some qualities are more important than courage or strength: Patience and endurance.

I traveled through Latin America with a friend, but she decided not to come to Africa over concerns about security, so I've been on my own since May. When you travel alone, you have take care of everything by yourself — driving, cooking, washing clothes, gathering information for the next leg of the itinerary, finding ways of communicating and suitable campsites. There is really not one minute of down time. When finally I can crash somewhere for a few days, I get a great deal of sleep and then bury myself in the maddening paperwork and logistics.

It is hard sometimes to face all these difficulties alone, and I had fewer connections with locals in Africa than in Latin America. Don't get me wrong, everybody was courteous and curious about my trip. But the cultural divide was enormous, and in the eyes of many, I was just a white lad one might make a bit of money on. On that awful drive to Djibouti, and for the first time in my jaunt, I did wonder at times why in the world I left the comfort of my old life to end up in such a situation.

I got the same feeling later in the trip as I sailed to Yemen after loading my truck on a boat the size of a nutshell to cross the Red Sea. A friend had come to say goodbye at the port, and when he saw the tiny, rickety wooden boat, I could see from the look in his eyes that he thought it might be the last time he would see me. But somehow, after a 17-hour voyage and three breakdowns, the boat made it to the no-less dangerous Yemen territory.

Nerve-racking journey
The trip from Yemen to Oman was nerve-racking. The road was closed to foreigners, but I decided to take my chances and drive it. After obtaining a special pass, I was given a series of military escorts made up of guys with machine guns driving recklessly. It was unclear if they rolled at high-speed because of danger or just because they were in a hurry to get back home. Each time I got a new cortege, they demanded money. Each time, I gave the same story: All my cash was long gone to the hands of eager previous policemen.

It was also sometimes challenging in remote areas to find banks, gas stations, food and suitable places to spend the night, though sometimes I was able to negotiate lower fees or get a free pass when I was out of cash. One night, I was in rainy Mozambique with no place to stay after an unsuccessful attempt to follow the steps of Livingstone along the Zambezi River. I spotted a flag from the European Union outside a building that turned out to be a non-governmental organization operating on grants from the EU. When I explained I was a French citizen, they opened the gate and let me stay for nothing.

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Throughout my trip, I've blogged and posted photos on my website,, and from time to time, I also answer questions from the many individuals around the world who are following my travels. One reader asked, "What kind of gun do you carry?" Well, I have no gun. I keep pepper spray handy, but running away when I need to is still my best plan.

Another reader asked, "You do tell us interesting things about the trip, but truly, are you having fun, or has it become tiring and tedious?"

The answer to that is not straightforward. I am still having fun. But it is true that the trip has taken a toll on me. Above all in Africa, I felt drained, partly due to the heat, lack of sleep, and a haphazard diet. Heat and vibrations from dreadful roads damaged my truck and equipment (shock absorbers, air conditioning, radiator, refrigerator, laptop), so I was continuously fixing things or managing without.

Worst of all was the bureaucracy involved in the quest to cross borders. I had to adjust my itinerary many times. I'd planned to drive through Angola and Pakistan, but couldn't get visas. I didn't have time to get the permission to go through Siberia either. Finally, in a frantic effort to leave Iran, I put my truck on a container ship to India, and flew to pick it up and continue my trip.

Each time I do succeed in getting into a new country, though, I am thrilled. I have learned not to take no for an answer, and I have found that eventually, no matter what the problem is, everything turns out for the best. I won't be done with my trip until early 2011, when I plan to arrive back in the U.S. But I don't worry much anymore about anything. I am in high spirits, stronger, and proud to be still on the road.

Nicolas Rapp's account of his drive around the world:

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Scintillating South Africa

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  1. Scenic canyon

    A tourist looks down the Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon in the world, in South Africa's Mpumalanga province. South Africa is host nation for the 2010 World Cup, and tourism operators are looking to market the country as a tourist destination long after the games are over. (Jon Hrusa / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Golden glow

    Golden Gate Highlands National Park, located in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains in northeast South Africa, derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the park's sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock. (South African Tourism Board) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. City skyline

    Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and home to the most skyscrapers in Africa. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. End of apartheid

    Visitors to the Apartheid Museum walk past the entrance June 13, 2009, in Johannesburg. The nation's apartheid system, a legalized form of racial segregation under which minority rule by whites was maintained while the rights of the majority black inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed, ended in 1994. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The story of apartheid

    The Apartheid Museum opened in 2001 and features exhibits on 20th century South African history, at the heart of which is the nation's former system of apartheid. (Christof Koepsel / Bongarts via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A piece of history

    A view of the oldest house in Kimberley, South Africa, and the first church to be built there, the Lutheran Church of St. Martin. The town is historically significant due to its diamond-mining history and siege during the Second Boer War. (Tom Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Voortrekker Monument

    The Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria is a national icon for Afrikaners, descendants of settlers from northwestern Europe whose native tongue is Afrikaans. The monument commemorates the Battle of Blood River, fought between Voortrekkers and Zulu warriors on Dec. 16, 1838. (South Africa Tourism Board) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The Big Hole

    A view of 'The Big Hole' in Kimberley, South Africa, where diamonds were mined between 1871 and 1914. (Tom Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Leader of a nation

    A portrait of former President Nelson Mandela hangs in the Mandela House Museum in Soweto, South Africa. (Denis Farrell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Luxury sightseeing

    The Blue Train travels through Mpumalanga province at Waterval-Boven And Waterval-Onder. The luxury train is a moving five-star hotel known for its personal service, exquisite meals and opulent suites. (South African Tourism Board) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. God's Window

    The God's Window viewpoint shows the majestic cliffs above the Lowveld, one of Africa's prime wildlife destinations, in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. (Norbert Millauer / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Distinctive trees

    A baobab tree in Limpopo province in Kruger National Park. (South African Tourism Board) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Wildlife viewing

    A black rhinoceros mother stays close to her calf in Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga, South Africa. The park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and a popular destination for safaris. (Warren Little / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Augrabies Waterfall

    The Augrabies Waterfall is the main attraction at Augrabies Falls National Park in a remote area of the Northern Cape province. The Orange River divides itself into numerous channels before plunging 183 feet into the gorge below. (South African Tourism Board) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Enduring art

    Rock paintings made by the San people in the Drakensberg mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The San people lived in the Drakensberg area for thousands of years before they were killed in clashes with Zulus and white settlers. (Alexander Joe / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Elephant march

    A herd of African elephants walks in the Addo Elephant National Park just outside Port Elizabeth. In 1931, just 11 elephants remained in the area. Today, the sanctuary is home to more than 450. (Alexander Joe / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Flora and fauna

    A sunbird sits on a flower from which it sips nectar in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa. (Alexander Joe / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rugged coastline

    A view of the coastline near Betty's Bay. A former whaling station, Betty's Bay is now home to the beautiful Harold Porter National Botancial Garden. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Up close and personal

    Tourists get a closeup view of a great white shark as it swims past a partially submerged cage Oct. 18, 2009, in Gansbaai, South Africa. The waters off Gansbaai are one of the best places in the world to see great white sharks, due to the abundance of prey such as seals and penguins. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Scenic route

    The Beacon Island bridge and beach in Plettenberg Bay along the Garden Route. South Africa's N2 highway meanders some 500 miles between Cape Town in the Western Cape province and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. The Garden Route – the name given to the stretch of forested, coastal area between Mossel Bay and Port Elizabeth – is a popular and scenic stretch along the southeastern coast. (Nic Bothma / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Big waves

    Professional surfer Kelly Slater advances during the Billabong Pro, held at Supertubes in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. The area is known for its epic waves that attract surfers from around the world. (Pierre Tostee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Edge of the world

    An aerial view of the clubhouse and 9th and 18th holes at The Caves Course at Pinnacle Point Beach and Golf Resort in Mossel Bay, South Africa. (Andrew Redington / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. The Golden Mile

    Durban is the third largest city in South Africa and a popular tourist destination due to the city's warm climate, sandy beaches and promenade known as the Golden Mile. ( via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Zulu tradition

    Members of South Africa's Zulu tribe perform traditional music to entertain tourists visiting the famous Valley of a Thousand Hills in the outskirts of Durban on May 3, 2009. The area is named after the hills along the Umgeni River, which flows from the distant Drakensberg Mountains to the Indian Ocean. (Saeed Khan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Side trip

    An art gallery in the tourist town of Clarens, South Africa. (Kim Ludbrook / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Primo vino

    Vineyards dot the Stellenbosch region west of Cape Town, South Africa. More than 200 wine and grape producers operate in the area. (B. Bahr / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Waterfront view

    A view of the harbor in Cape Town. Cape Town is South Africa's most popular tourist destination. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Home to penguins

    African Rockhopper penguins walk along the shoreline at The Boulders in Cape Town's Table Mountain National Park. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Inside a township

    A sign advertises a B&B in Cape Town's Khayelitsha township on Feb. 25, 2010. Vicky Ntozini has run her guesthouse in one of South Africa's biggest and poorest townships since 1999 after deciding she wanted to show a different side of Cape Town to the tourists who flock to the city's pristine beaches, high-end shops and historical landmarks. (Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Robben Island prison

    Robben Island prison, which once housed Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first democratic president, is now a museum and heritage site. (Shaun Botterill / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Mandela's cell

    A view of Nelson Mandela's former prison cell on Robben Island. Mandela was released from prison on Feb. 11, 1990, after serving 27 years for his anti-apartheid activities. He was elected president in 1994 in South Afica's first fully representative democratic election. (Dave Hogan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Overlooking Cape Town

    The mountains known as the Twelve Apostles rise above Cape Town. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Awaiting the world

    A view of the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, newly built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: South Africa FIFA 2010 World Cup tourism
    Jon Hrusa / EPA
    Above: Slideshow (33) Scintillating South Africa
  2. Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town
    Slideshow (16) Cape Town calls
  3. Gianluigi Geurcia, Stephane De Sakutin / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (10) 2010 World Cup stadiums


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