I’m going to start working with African Adventures on a Photography project. I have been a Freelance Photojournalist for 25 years and there isn’t much I haven’t seen or done. I don’t want to bore you to death with me, we can get to know each other as we go along. I have written a piece on how I travel. People always think we have the greatest job in the world, and they would be right, but it’s extremely tough as you will see.
As a Photo Journalist I get to travel a lot. Unfortunately I don’t always have the luxury to travel in my own vehicle. I have to fly to a lot of my destinations and although it sounds like fun it’s a real nightmare for me. I’m not scared of flying, the amount of equipment that I have to take with me on a trip is the scary bit. My camera bag alone weights 34kg. Then I add my laptop and my tripod on top of that. As you can imagine there is no way I’m checking my cameras in as luggage, it all has to go on board as hand luggage. It is always a delicate balance when I check in. I keep my camera bag on me to make sure they don’t check it in. My luggage is always over weight and here is where the fun and games start. I always travel with a big portable studio with me. It includes a portable studio light, two soft boxes, an Octa box of 90cm and the most important is the Beauty Dish with its grid that is a diameter of 87cm in diameter. Remote triggers for my lights, rechargeable batteries with all their chargers and various small things that I will need for my shoot. You have noticed no clothing this far. I only pack what I can get in. My gear is more important. I can always buy clothes from vendors under a tree in the middle of nowhere. You won’t believe how many times I get called to explain what I have in my bag. Most of the time they think it’s a bomb and they are always worried about my trigger wires. Usually we just open the bag go through the stuff until they are happy…
At last, time for boarding. Here I have to be careful when I get on the plane. If I’m first the over keen hostesses always wants to help me with my camera bag that weights more than they do. I try to be in the middle of the group and I know exactly how to fit my camera bag into the overhead compartment pretending it weighs nothing. Now only can I start to enjoy my flight.
I always have accommodation booked for the first night just to help with the chaos at airports and the safety aspect. From the second day I’m on my own. I can hire a car, but where I usually go there is no roads or the roads is so bad that you don’t want to drive there. I use local transport for most of my traveling and you will be amazed at where you can get with the local transport system. Mini buses are usually my first choice as they will get me to a town. All over the world mini buses has a system similar to ours, you have to go to a bus rank and from there they set of in all directions. It can be tricky sometimes to get on the right bus. When I get to the mini bus I ask the driver what the ticket cost and then I pay for 3 seats so that I can have all my equipment with me on the seat. It gets difficult some time when the people wants to move my bags to have a seat. You know how they can squeeze 20 people into a 16 seater and they see the empty seats next to me. These trips vary in dangers from county to country, East Africa is most probability the worst in Africa, whereas most west African countries you will have an enjoyable trip.
In the next town I have to start looking for my next ride to my destination. Usually there is a pick up that goes to where I want to go, but you are never guaranteed. I have been on the back of bicycles, motorbikes, horses, donkeys, Ox cart, canoe, rafts and you can just keep on naming it. Boats that leak so much water that 2 people can’t bail the water fast enough. Some days you wonder if you ever going to survive the trip, then you just have to remind yourself that the local people does this every day of their lives.
We haven’t even started with what we eat where we sleep. That is another article on its own. The only thing I will say is that at a taxi rank you will always get good food, not what you are use to but you will survive.
Food is always a problem on field assignments. I have worked with people that organise a buffet on the shoot. While it’s wonderful to eat good food it just doesn’t fit into my budget. As South Africans our immediate mind set is to take all the food with us on an assignment. But as I have already explained weight is a big problem in my life when I travel. I don’t have the space for food. Sometimes I would manage to pack in a piece of Biltong.
Food is not a real problem in big towns, you have a choice of restaurants and usually they are in walking distance from my hotel. I always try not to eat in my hotel and rather mix with the local people. It helps if I can build up a relationship with them as I’m going to need their help with my assignments. You will also find the best quality of food where the local people eat and not just mass produced food for the tourist trade. Local cuisine is very regional and I always try to find out what the region is known for. In a country like Tanzania you can go from the most amazing food to the most boring, depending where you are. A lot of people go to Zanzibar and try not to spend a night in Stone Town, they always rush out to the beaches. Very few people know that Stone town has a food market in the evening on the beach. Forodhani Night Food Market is world famous for the best place to buy freshly prepared seafood.
The fun and games start when you have to get on the bus and there wasn’t time for breakfast. You can always buy fresh food at a taxi rank, bus stop, ferry terminal, train terminal or any place where public transport departs from. You will be amazed at the choices that you have. One of my favourites is a sandwich with 2 thick slices, egg, polony and cheese. You will also always get some form of freshly baked scones. The ultimate will always be Makoena’s – pronounced Makwenja- This is a form of Vetkoek in small bread that the people make. Makoena’s is very addictive and will be bad news for your diet as I have seen on numerous occasions with groups that were with me.
There is a few things that I off course won’t try to eat. I don’t eat fish as a rule and if something is not fresh I will also steer clear of it. In India is saw that some stews gets made over years. They just add new ingredients every day. They never empty the pot or wash it. Just imagine how sick you will get from this stew. The funny thing is that the local people eat it every day of their lives and it’s perfect for them.
When you travel on public transport they will always stop for lunch and there will be some restaurant under a tree that will have a fresh meal. It can weary from some kind of goat or chicken stew with pap or beans and sometimes you will get sosaties or grilled chicken.
Another thing that you can always bargain on is that you will get bread, fresh fruit and soft drinks where ever you go. Coke is the soft drink that I come across the most. There is area’s like Asia where they prefer Pepsi.
Water has changed a huge amount in the last couple of years. You will get bottled water, nearly everywhere in the world. It’s so easy now a days. In the old days we had to boil the water and then let it cool down, it was a big thing. There is a few tricks that you have to watch out for water. You need to make sure of the source of the ice if the water is kept cool by ice. This ice can and will most probably be made with local water. While your water is in a bottle there can still be some problems. If your bottle gets some of the ice water under the screw top and you open it to drink the water your lips is going to come in contact with the ice water and you never know what’s in that water. I always wipe my bottle top after I have unscrewed the top.
The big con comes in where they have picked up empty bottles and just filled at a tap and want to sell it to you as bottled water. You have to check the seal properly, superglue is very cheap and a few drops will fool you easy. I don’t mind drinking water from the tap in most countries, but you have to be careful. You might spend your holiday in a hospital. As a rule I don’t have a lot of problems with food on a trip, except in India. You might not always know what you eat, is it beef, sheep, goat, donkey, camel or horse meat? There is no problem if it tastes good, like we all have found out with the horse meat scandal.
Accommodation can be one of the most difficult things to plan ahead on an assignment. Fortunately there are wonderful resources available today. Most probably the most important is a guide book or as I fondly call it “The Travellers Bible”. There are many of them on the market, I prefer Bradt in Africa and Lonely Planet in Asia. With technology growing at the alarming rate it has made our lives a bit easier. You can now download these guides for your laptop, smart phone or tablet and we don’t have to schlep the heavy books around anymore. The next big thing for us is Internet connectivity, all these guides has websites with discussion forums on them if you don’t want to buy a guide. These are usually up to date, but I don’t care where the best party in Laos is and that can be the problem with these forums.
Wikipedia has started a site called Wikitravel. I know a lot of you is going to say Wikipedia is not the most reliable source, but Wikitravel is written by the travellers that are there and you can add something if you don’t agree with the author. Wikitravel is usually the first place I go to get a feel for a place when I have a new assignment. There is a lot of info as I get the hotel websites and e-mail address to familiarize myself with the current prices and facilities. No preparation will be complete without spending some time on Mapcarta and Google Earth.
I always try to have some kind of accommodation arranged when I arrive in a place. Just to make sure I know where to direct the taxi driver and I know I have a bed to sleep in. I have found that you waste a lot of time looking for places when you are tired and the taxi drivers take advantage of you at that moment and you might end up in a hotel all by yourself and you think you found a bargain, only to find out the next morning that the hotel is a Brothel and you have to leave before they open for business. This is not the best experience to have when you are traveling.
As a rule I don’t stay in luxury accommodation for a few reasons. I want to be able to take photographs of the local people and I have found that they think you are a rich tourist when you stay in the luxury accommodation and they don’t like that a lot if they are struggling to survive. I don’t really go by rating of hotels a 3Star in South Africa and a 3 Star in rural Africa or Asia is not the same thing, you can’t even think to compare the two. I just want a place that is easy for me to work from, and the people is friendly.
I have slept in a few unusual places in my life, ranging from police-prison cells, trains, busses, cars, boats, hammock, my faithful tent, floor of a hut ect. The list is just too long to mention. A good tip is that when you have nowhere to go in a place it’s better to look for a missionary than the police station. Police is now a days very alert and they don’t want strangers in their police stations, especially a stranger with a lot of luggage. Whereas missionaries will be always welcoming. Some will try to safe your soul and that is not the worst price you can pay for a bed and a roof over your head.
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