A Travellerspoint blog

One bag challenge

Since coming back, I have been thinking what I would take on an overland trip if I could only pack one bag.

My fellow travellers seem to have managed to do just that - and they were travelling for more than 3 weeks. I never asked them what was in their rucksacks - a missed opportunity...

But here is what I've come up with as my minimum gear:

Clothes:
Long trousers in neutral colour (i.e. Safari-friendly) - I had a pair that could be changed into three-quarter length trousers and shorts, so I effectively had 3 trousers for the price of 1 (though I found the three-quarter length a bit of a gimmick)

Safari-vest with lots of pockets (saves carrying a daypack; mine had enough pockets for camera, sunglasses, money and other essentials. (My hubby had a Safari jacket that could be turned into a vest, which is even more practical - but really practical stuff often only comes in men's sizes!)

Kikoi/sarong - great for those long hours on the truck or on the beach (less great if a village walk turns into a 3 hour long march, as the wrap restricts free movement, especially when climbing hills)

2-3 T-shirts and 1-2 Long-sleeved shirts (to keep sun and bugs at bay)

Sturdy sandals (mine were washable, which was great, as they got dirty just from briefly touching the ground)

Socks (I know, I know, socks and sandals don't look great - but I prefer to look unfashionable to having my ankles scratched by thorns or eaten alive by bugs!)

Swim shoes (not just great when entering unknown water, but also shower and toilet cubicles of questionable cleanliness)

1-2 lighter load towels (strange texture at first, but you get used to it - and they are tiny)

Sunhat

Scarf (sometimes more comfortable to wrap around the head than a hat and also useful to protect neck from sunburn - I have also been told that a wet scarf around the neck is a great way of keeping the head cool)

Sunglasses

Camping:
No bug sleeping bag liner (Warning: You will feel snug as a bug in its cocoon, so if you are a very restless sleeper, you may start to feel a bit claustophobic wrapped up so tightly. Apparently, the liner can instead be used to cover the foam matress. I found that the liner was often sufficient as a sleeping bag, and if I were only travelling in hot weather I would not bother with the additional sleeping bag BUT if you do our journey in Oct/Nov, you need an additional sleeping bag, as temperatures can drop significantly!)

LED head torch - I think I've made it clear throughout this blog that a windup torch only serves one purpose: To wind you up (and probably everybody else as well, as it sounds like a mosquito buzzing right next to your eardrum when you are winding it)

Tent - is likely to be provided by overland company. You want one that's very easy to erect and dismantle, as you may have to do the job in the dark. Most companies seem to use dome tents, but they come in various sizes. Personally, I want mine as big as possible to avoid feeling claustophobic in heavy wind or when the tent heats up like a sauna!!

Thermos - our truck carried drinking water, but when the water heated up, it tasted disgusting! I had an aluminium bottle, which cracked when I tried to keep the water cool in the freezer... (I like herbal teas like Roibosch, and I find they are drinkable at any temperature, hence my preference for a thermos.)

Medication:

Malarone - unless you are travelling for so long that docs advise against taking anti-malarials. Malaria is definitely to be taken seriously. Our tour leader got sick, even though we were travelling at a low mosquito season... Malarone taste vile and is expensive, but we experienced no side effects

Incognito Spray - I'm usually a bug magnet, but only got bitten once (and not by a mosquito)

Ibuprofen/Anti-Diarrhea tablets - I would pack lots of both. They aren't heavy/expensive, and better safe than sorry. You don't want to have pain or the runs in the middle of nowhere. Don't rely on a pharmacy being nearby when you need it. (Same goes for any sanitary products)

Olbas inhaler stick - helps to breathe more easily in stuffy environments

Tea Tree Oil - great allrounder

Cosmetics:

One World Citronella Soap - lasts forever and can be used for body and hair (and helps to keep mosquitoes in check). I tried Incognito Shampoo, which is also a 3 in 1 product. Liked the smell, but it wasn't economical. I had gone through the bottle in less than 2 weeks!

Facial cleanser that works even when hot water is not available (I used the Evolve cleansing melt, which is supposed to be washed off with water, but I found that a toner does the job equally well). The skin does get incredibly grimy. Sometimes it looked as if I had got a nice tan, but it turned out that the red earth had just acted as a temporary bronzer

Nailbrush - it is otherwise almost impossible to keep the nails clean and get the dirt off the soles of the feet

Aloe vera - great fragrance-free allround moisturizer

Suncream - I think Factor 30 for the body is enough if you stay well covered up. Haven't found one I can recommend. I generally like natural/organic products, but the trouble is that most are very hard to rub in! (However, I did like the L'Occitane Brightening Shield SPF 40 for the face. It's not exactly cheap, but economical and lightweight. I used it practically every day for 3 1/2 weeks on face, neck and decollete and still have product left.)

Toothbrush and toothpaste

Anti-bacterial handgel and wipes

Other:

Camera with at least one spare battery and plenty of SD cards (Yes, most camping sites have charging points, but there is often a lot of competition for electric sockets. Our truck was supposed to have the facility to download pictures regularly, but there was a virus on the computer, so don't rely on the equipment provided by the tour operator.)

Big fat notebook and pens: There are so many new impressions, and it's easy to forget things if you don't write them down. (Pens are also popular bargain items.) If you decide to take a Netbook, make sure it has a really decent battery!

I have not checked this, but I do think all the items can be squeezed in 1 big rucksack (plus all the jacket and trouser pockets!)

Oh, yes, and don't forget to bring curiosity, flexibility and a sense of humour!!!

Posted by TTraveller 11:46 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Flight home

7th November 2010

Nairobi Airport: I’ve never been security-checked so thoroughly in my life, not even when I’ve visited the US.
First luggage check: As soon as we enter the terminal. Second check: random check of one of our bags just before check-in. Then my photo is taken and all my fingers fingerprinted. And at the departure gate, our luggage is sent through 2 scanners. Some people’s luggage was once again searched by hand.

AH ran into trouble because of a bottle of gin we bought in Malawi because it was not in a special plastic bag, but in the end they let him go and check it in.

I only hope the late bag arrives safely at the other end, as AH has been diligently journalling throughout our trip. I am used to him writing one word commentaries, but not on this occasion...

As most people have already checked in online, we are informed that only middle row seats are left. Not the most comfortable way of travelling, especially for my poor neighbour who had to get up twice during the night to let me out.

I lose track of time without my watch, but must have slept for a few hours because suddenly it’s morning.

A steward asks why AH and I have not been sitting together during the flight. Well, because it's not that easy to check in online when you are bumping along countryroads in the middle of nowhere - but hey, all this is suddenly behind us now.

We are back in England. Cold and wet and familiar England.

We have made it home! (And all our bags have made it too!)

The end - or rather the end of the beginning... I am convinced that I will never be the same after such an epic journey!

Posted by TTraveller 07:24 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Searching for Karen Blixen

7th November 2010

We are driven to Karen Camp in Karen – all named after Karen von Blixen whose farm was once based in the suburb (or rather the suburb WAS her farm!)

It now doesn’t look anything like „Out of Africa“, but I am still hoping to see her house, especially as AH’s mum would have known it.

We are told it’s a 10 minute walk, and I am a little bit puzzled when we are advised to take a cab back for US$5. Do they think Europeans can only walk for 10 minutes one way?

When we tell the security guard where we are going, he says it’s too far for a walk, but changes his mind when he finds out that we have the info from the bar manager (whom he would consider his superior I suppose – and you don’t argue with superiors in that part of the world.)

We are keen to go for a walk anyway, but soon decide to ask a young woman in Western clothes who is coming towards us with her young son for direction. She says she used to live in Fulham and tells us that we have been walking in the wrong direction: „It’s not far. I’ll show you.“

I beg to differ. It takes an hour to walk to our destination, partly because there is a lot of confusion about which one is the right building.

There are a lot of buildings here either called „Karen“ after the suburb or „Karen Blixen.“

When we finally get to the gate of the right building, the gate is shut. We’ve missed the entrI beg to differ. It takes an hour to walk to our destination, partly because there is a lot of confusion about which one is the right building.

There are a lot of buildings here either called „Karen“ after the suburb or „Karen Blixen.“

When we finally get to the gate of the right building, the gate is shut. We’ve missed the entry by 10 minutes, and for a change, they seem to be sticklers for time here.

All I can do is try to take a picture through the bars. Most of the house is hidden from view, so there is not much to see...

AH is on edge by now. As darkness falls, he remembers stories of people being robbed and left for dead at the side of the road. He is suspicious that a woman with a child would go out of her way to show us this place. The little boy is tired and has been carried by his mum for a good while.

His presence makes me feel safe. To me the problem is one of the different perception of distance and effort in Africa. Everyone is walking much longer than we Europeans are usually used to, so „not far“ is very relative. Next time I shall ask „Not far in comparison to what?“

AH is nervous about the cab the woman orders, but we are left with little choice. It’s too dark to walk back – we haven’t even brought torches.

The driver charges US$5 – exactly what I had been told at the outset, so I believe everything was genuine.

I feel a bit bad that we never give the woman a tip (not sure whether she was expecting one). All we do is offer her and her son a lift.

She asks me for a contact when she is next in the UK, and I give her one of my e-mails.

AH is still on an Adrenalin high – for the first time I see him smoke a cigarette! I think this time he had the more vivid imagination (one could of course also argue that I can be blissfully naive...)

Posted by TTraveller 07:23 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Stalling at the final hurdle

7th November 2010

At first the journey is pretty uneventful. The landscape looks quite similar to things we have already seen in Tanzania.

One last time we set up our tables for lunch somewhere in the middle of nowhere – well, not completely the middle of nowhere. (The Massai shephard boys who get the rest of our lunch are wearing western clothes because we are near a city.)

One last time I wish I had practiced how to use the She Wee when one of my fellow travellers says she has spotted cow bones – cow bones that have been strewn over quite a wide area: „Wonder what killed the cow?“

I don’t really want to wonder about that right now, as I have to go out of sight to do my business... Men, you don’t know how easy life is for you!

We are only about an hour from our destination, when our truck breaks down on Mombasa Road in the middle of a drab and uninspiring industrial estate. Something has gone wrong with the water supply pipe (I think).

We are waiting for the motor to cool down and restart the engine after 2 hours, but only get a few hundred yards further before the truck breaks down again.

It is therefore decided to switch mode of transport to a Matatu, one of the hair-raising local minibuses - no seatbelts; the bus making suspicious noises, making me wonder whether there will be another engine failure; drivers who make up their own rules, like turning 2 lanes into 3 if required/desired...

I notice a Zen calm about me. I observe, without being fazed by things. Have I caught the Hakuna Matata spirit after all?

Nairobi is buzzing, even on a Sunday afternoon. There are several markets going on, with a flower market stretching for miles.

Everywhere are huge billboards and the city comes across as modern. We don’t see the huge slum at the centre of the city.

At the last census, the number of inhabitants was put at 3.8 million, but one cab driver thinks the real number may be close to 5 million: „Not everyone wants to be counted.“

Posted by TTraveller 07:22 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Welcome back to Kenya!

7th November 2010

AH is entering his home country for the first time in 37 years, but we don’t get quite the welcome we would have liked.

First, there is the paperwork. We have to fill in two virtually identical forms. Then we are asked to take a seat while our Visa is processed.

We are entertained in the meantime by a TV evangelist, followed by a church rap artist. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a clue what they were saying.

African preachers often seem to think that a powerful message is a LOUD message.

Everybody else was already back in the bus, and we were still waiting. And waiting... And waiting some more when we discovered that we had been given the wrong visa.

They want to charge us US$25 for a single entry visa instead of US$10 for a transit visa.

Their argument: „But you are with the group.“

Yes, that’s right, we are with a group, but if someone had bothered to read the forms we were asked to fill in they would know that we are all doing different things from now on!

I hand over our flight confirmation as further proof.

We sit back down and listen to some more evangelists/bishops shouting about Jesus...

When we are finally back in the bus, I realise that I have not received back our flight confirmation, so AH dashes back to get it.

He is told that it was handed over to us, but luckily he spots it on top of a pile of paper...

Posted by TTraveller 07:12 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

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