Light Enough To Travel

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After 18 months of volunteering in Rwanda, I shall soon be tripping off on a five week holiday on my way home. I will gradually be wending my way down to the bottom of Africa via some beach time in Zanzibar, a three day train journey across Tanzania, a four day canoe camping safari in Zimbabwe, more trains and, well, you get the picture. I will then fly home from Cape Town.

Having found generous friends to take my two suitcases home, I’m free to wander off with my backpack.  But what to pack? I’m not known for austerity and hate to be without my lotions and potions.  That said, I’m determined to join the ‘under 10kgs carry-on luggage’ backpacking fellowship while still packing a few little luxuries. Granted, I’m not going off for a year, but I think there is much the same for a short trip like this as well.

Below is my 10kg backpacking list (OK, it came to 10.2kgs) tips and links to sites I have found particularly useful. I remain unsure if I really need my rain jacket as I will be travelling in the dry season and I think one shirt may be too little.  On the other hand, my make up brushes, bronzers and two pairs of sunglasses are essential! I would love to hear your ideas, tips and comments on whether you think I have this right or not.

gadgets and general kit

gadgets and general kit

General Kit

  • Duct tape – uber useful for lots of things.
  • String – for makeshift washing line.
  • One adaptor for iphone and Kindle charging – mine isn’t fancy but will work in most places. I don’t have any other choice but you can buy more complex (but usually heavier) ones online etc.
  • Small pair binoculars – essential for birders like myself but optional!
  • Small camera – I dispensed with SLR kit some time ago.  I love photography but hate carrying all the kit when travelling around and the attention it draws to me.  I have a Canon Powershot S95  Fantastic little camera.
  • TWO pairs of sunglasses – I’m rather particular about sunglasses and HATE squinting (terrible for ageing lines!). I’ll wear the sport ones when canoeing and when sun is really bright.  Otherwise, I love my Ray Bans.  Both pairs have polarized lenses.  Essential in my book.
  • Head torch – don’t leave home without one! A must for power outs, reading etc.
  • Kindle – remember you can add travel guides to this.  I don’t hear the best reviews of guides on Kindles but there is no room for any actual books in this packing list.
  • iphone – after some consideration, I’ve decided to DHL my laptop home and keep my old iphone as my only ‘true’ gadget.  I have apps on it which will greatly enhance my travels.  These include a diary app called Day One to keep a record of everything along with photos, The Sasol Birds of Southern Africa guide, and Star Walk, for gazing at unfamiliar stars. Possibly the best app ever. 
  • On the subject of phones, I will also be getting an SIM which covers the countries I’m going to.
  • Eye mask and good ear plugs. 
  • A handheld fan. Oh yes.
  • Sleep sheet.

First Aid Kit

  • Antihistamine pills and cream for all those bity things and the reactions to them. I NEVER leave home without these.
  • Tea Tree oil – an excellent all-rounder anti-bacterial for cuts and so on without being a gooey cream which often helps infections fester.  I am planning on making little Fucidin H pouches of cream from drinking straws though (see 13). Mainly to see if it works.
  • A generic penicillin good for parasites and other nasties.
  • Malaria drugs if necessary.

    First Aid Kit

    First Aid Kit

  • Immodium Melts for emergencies – they work really fast. I don’t bother with rehydration sachets and all that malarkey. Coca Cola and a salty meal do the same.
  • Vitamins – If you get run down easily.
  • Pain killers/anti inflammatories
  • For women – you DO NOT want to get thrush or a urinary infection hundreds of miles from a pharmacy with infrequent access to the loo so get the necessary drugs. Some women chose to have little/no periods when travelling such as taking the pill all the time or having a coil fitted.  Otherwise, take tampons with you as a back-up as these are hard to find.

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Make – up Kit – prettifying stuff (danger: indulgence section)

  • One neutral eye cream and an all-rounder palette eye shadow if you can’t bear to be without it.  Keep neutral. My eye palette has a highlighter for the whole socket and a brown that doubles as an eyebrow shaper. A little bit of sparkle is also nice for a beachy evening.
  • A small lip gloss and bronzer with blush keeps you looking fresh and dewy rather than dry and pruney.
  • If you can’t imagine life without a make-up brush (like me), keep to a minimum and either break off wooden handles or buy small travel ones.  I’ve kept one brush for blusher and eye sockets as well as a small multi-purpose and tiny eyeliner brush. Pah! To you scorners!
  • Touche éclat – do I need to explain?!
  • A few bits of jewellery. Nothing expensive that you will miss.  You are BOUND to buy stuff when you are away. Try and match things up.
  • A small travel perfume. Oh yes.
  • Body bronzy sparkly oil – really good on that dry skin!

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Bags

  • Backpack is a Deuter Women’s Act Lite 35+10 that I bought on a visit to South Africa a while back.  There wasn’t much choice but now I’ve used it a few times, I can strongly recommend it.  Empty, it weighs just 1.4kgs. and it easily adjusts to your back length and is not easy for sneaky hands to get into. IMG_5887 It has all the usual features you’d expect from a mid-range pack but it doesn’t have a rain cover.  Some people like rain covers to foil nimble fingers more than as a rain deterrent. I have a lock and cable for mine so I can also tie it to things. It’s a longer thinner pack so when fully packed, it goes 11 cms over the usual allowance for length of 56 cms.  I’m not that worried as I can just wear some of my kit while boarding.
  • A light cotton shoulder bag (with a zip!) is really useful for when not needing your IMG_5889whole pack and can fold up easily into the pack.
  • A small bag to wear at all times for easy access and protection for cash and so on but try not to carry everything in one place.
  • I have packed clothes into a makeshift packing cube (it’s actually the bag my mosquito net came in).  It really does reduce creases in clothes so I put things like shirts and trousers in here.
  • The rest of my clothing and gadgets have gone into dry sacks. When rolled, they take a lot of air out as well as being useful for organising and not getting stuff wet… did I mention the canoeing?! 

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Toiletries

  • Keep all sizes small (under 100mls and no more than 1 litre in total is the general rule). You can always buy more.
  • I LOVE Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap. It lasts for ever as you only need a few drops and it’s fine on your face, as a lather for shaving and even washing your clothes in!
  • Good sunscreen. I have a separate sunblock for my face as I burn really easily.
  • A small proper hairbrush is a luxury. No doubt. But I’ve tried those little plasticy ones and they make my hair stand on end.  I hate them.
  • A small mirror and tweezers to help you keep a check on turning into a swamp woman.

Clothing

Clothes that match and have multi functions are best. Think about where you are going and how modest (men and women!) you might need to dress. Many cultures find things like scruffy hair, shorts and flip flops to be quite offensive. These should often just be for the beach.  I’ve mostly chosen brown, green, blue clothing due to wildlife watching when I go canoeing.  Light clothes and khaki are not a good idea. They also show up the dirt more.

  • One long sleeved shirt, quick drying, with collar – this shirt will be great when canoeing.
  • One long sleeved T-shirt for fending off mosquitoes and the sun (I like Craghoppers NosiLife.
  • Three short sleeved T-shirts for general wear
  • Versatile active wear trousers that convert to shorts – I’m not a big shorts wearer as they can often be inappropriate when travelling so this will do.
  • Thin cotton (Hammer Time!) trousers with elasticated bottoms– not my regular choice but great for when on the move and using toilets you’d prefer not to drag your trouser bottoms on…
  • One pair of leggings – really versatile and double up as bed wear.
  • Long skirt – I live in this skirt and it goes with everything. It’s not a real pack down item but what the hell.  In general, skirts are way better than trousers – see above re toilets…
  • Halter neck red dress – this is definitely a luxury item as it has a lot of material in it but will be perfect for ‘beach to bar’ in Zanzibar.
  • A thick fleece for chilly nights (which can be layered up with T-shirts and rain jacket)
  • A small cardigan to compliment most tops
  • Two vests with support – great for hot nights!
  • One swimming costume – a bikini would take up less room and dry faster but I would rather die than be seen in a bikini
  • A cotton sarong that doubles up as a towel.  Travel towels make my skin crawl but most recommend these.  I’m happy with my sarong as it has three roles; towel, sarong on beach and leg cover when canoeing
  • A long versatile scarf to use as head covering or layering or sarong (if real sarong being used as a towel on the beach.
  • A rain jacket – probably good of windy/wet on the Zambezi!
  • Five pairs of knickers
  • Two pairs of socks
  • Two bras – not cotton as cotton can rub when you get hot and sweaty. Not pleasant.
  • Shoes – flip flops are a must, my Keen waterproof toe protectors will be perfect for canoeing and general use and bumpers (Campers) for when it’s chilly.  Due to canoe shoe needs, sadly, there’s no room for pretty little sandals.  Otherwise, these would definitely be in there!
  • And one hat!  One with a brim is best.

Great links

Never Ending Voyage

Lost Girls World

Lonely Planet

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The Price of Everything

4,000 Rwandan Francs is nearly five British Pounds or six American Dollars.  And below is a list of things you can buy for this or under…

FOUR sacks of charcoal

EIGHT 500g pouches of UHT milk

ONE pedicure

TWO lilos from Simba

TEN return trips to town on the bus

ONE AND ONE THIRD of a chicken (live)

EIGHT days of unlimited internet

ONE plastic patio chair

TWENTY small tins of tomato paste

ONE skirt custom made (not including material)

TWO loaves of brown bread from La Galette

FIVE twelve hour night shifts of a house guard

FOURTEEN Fantas

FIFTY SEVEN eggs

EIGHT small Primus beers

ONE THIRD of a bottle of Elvive shampoo

ONE bar of Swiss milk chocolate

TWO and a THIRD grapefruits

FIFTEEN days of a houseboy

ONE way bus trip to Uganda

THREE weeks parcel storage

TWO plastic buckets (with lids)

TWENTY lighters

EIGHT packets of cigarettes

a day in the life

My alarm goes off at 06.15 a.m.every day although I am usually awake from the dawn chorus, nay, cacophony of birdsong from around 5.30 a.m.and then the sound of the Motos beeping opportunistically for customers; their tiny engines whining at exactly the same pitch as a mosquito in the dark.  I get up and tie the bed net up to keep it pure of pestilience.

Then I pad to the kitchen and boil the kettle; once for a cup of tea and a ‘shower’, or twice for a cup of tea, a shower and hair-washing; it’s amazing how far a kettle of water can go when you don’t have a water heater.


My shower is a red plastic bucket of which I have become rather fond of, given the amount of time I spend with it. I have just about perfected the two-kettle shower which often also includes a foot soak and scrub! Thank heavens I have small feet (see size of bucket).

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Food in general tends to be complicated. Partially as there are just two electric rings for a cooker and no storage and things go off pretty quickly. So I have opted for luxury-in-a-box – Alpen Berries. Imported (along with most things), this box costs the equivalent of around £6.60/$10 when it would cost less than half that back home. I eat it slowly…..

Just lately I have dispensed with wearing make-up. Everything else seems to take so much longer in the morning or is it just an excuse? Either way, I have a shock when I see my reflection. No make-up, and hair scraped back because of the heat is not doing a great deal for my looks; such as they are…
Then off to work. Below are some pictures to show you my commute (the alleyway I walk along next to my house and a nice lady and the road I where my job is.

 

Altogether this takes five minutes and I arrive at 08.00 in time for prayer.
At the bottom of this post is the desk I sit at and if you play the clip, you will hear singing in the background. I must have recorded this on a Tuesday as this is when the team (of three) have ‘big prayer’. It lasts for about an hour and I don’t join in (it’s all in Kinyarwanda). Although I do on every other day of the week. We sing a hymn in Kinyarwanda (of which I am only learning very slowly), then our boss explains what has been happening and what we need to focus on for the day (in english, for my benefit), and then a prayer is said invoking the will of god to support us to successfully perform the tasks just described by the manager.

I am never asked to say a prayer myself and there is no pressure to attend the morning prayer. But I like to join in all the same.  I find it quite a bonding and peaceful way to start the day.

From this morning, things will change. I’m moving house and will be living next door! I will miss the alleyway commute and all the ‘good mornings’ or ‘bonjours’ from my fellow commuters.

into the rose garden

I recently went to see a band  in a beautiful church in Brighton (King Creosote) with some of my dearest  friends.  It was a much anticipated event and had been sold out for weeks.  As we sat huddled in the dark, the band did not disappoint and it was a wonderful evening.  In fact, so wonderful that I kept finding myself being moved to tears.

All I could think about was how I was going to miss all of this very soon when I leave. I found myself missing something that was only part way through.  It was already being placed in the past before the band had even considered what they might play for the encore.

Having lived away before, I know what I am going to miss and how hard it can be to re-establish friendships. So I find myself missing everything and everyone right here and now before we have said goodbye.  I fear that when my future crosses back to this, it will be a different country .

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.

(extract: Burnt Norton, T.S. Eliot)

the gin & tonic enigma

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As humans, we have a curious ability to trick our minds into thinking that, this time, it will be different…but it rarely is.  My mother calls this the ‘gin & tonic enigma’ from when she would be driving home after a hot day at work and imagine the perfect drink she would mix and sit in the garden sipping.

But the dream was rarely realized as perfectly as she had imagined. Something would get in the way or it simply wouldn’t taste as she had told herself it would. Alexander Pope has something to say on this:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

(An Essay on Man, Epistle I, 1733)

This, I feel, is a suitable place to start this blog and I plan to ‘expatiate’ to a greater or lesser degree on the next and imminent scheme.

On 16 February I shall be boarding a flight to Kigali, Rwanda to work as a VSO volunteer for a year or two and this blog will be about this experience and whether or not it is anything like I have imagined it to be.  Mostly.