Lying Down On The Job

Day 20 of the blog post a day in May challenge and it has all gone a bit off schedule again.

TODAY was supposed to be the easy one. The last day the subject matter had been scheduled in advance and the first of a week off.

So the plan was simple, rattle on about the chosen subject matter – the latest A-Z post if you need to know – in the extra time available and draw up a schedule for the remaining 11 days of this idea (suggest the last day may be a piece on the wisdom, or otherwise, of trying this).

It started to go wrong when it became clear was not going to reach the end of H on the A-Z Challenge, the intended stopping off point for the next post. That’s one for tomorrow.

And then it went a bit haywire when the available time was lost by a fair chunk of today spent lying on my living room floor.

That’s not totally true and, thankfully for somebody who has had to do just that a few times after his back gave out, not down to health reasons.

Yeah, it definitely needs a clean

Was actually lying an inch or so off the ground on the air mat which has been retrieved from the cupboard where it has sat since returning from Africa getting on for four years ago.

And the lying down did have a purpose – an ongoing one at that, give me a second…

… sorry, just had to have another quick lie down, checking to see whether the mat is staying up sufficiently.

The need for this was to check whether the air mat is in a condition to come with me to South America, one of the bigger items needed for 31 weeks on the road and among a few key decisions to kick off the process of working through the kit list.

Apart from the state of the air mat, learned a few interesting things while lying there:

  • It needs a clean. Not sure quite what some of those stains are or even if they will come out. But suggest it has only been cleaned when dunked in swimming pools to find leaks and it got used a lot in Africa after a day of getting dirty and sweaty with no chance of a shower. Wet wipes can only do so much.
  • Need to get another repair kit if it is coming to South America with me.
  • The complete break in the chair at my desk is pretty impressive through pretty much the thickest part of the structure. It has its upside – having to sit straight rather than lean off to the right to watch the TV is keeping the weight off the crack and helping my back.
  • My floor needs a vacuum. Slight issue there as don’t own one so my sister likely to be getting a begging phone call.

And the mat itself?

It is pretty battered – one of its valves is blocked up with a patch and a load of adhesive from the original repair kit – and after about eight hours of inflation, it has gone down a bit (which is pretty much how remember it in the last days of Africa).

But it is most definitely still inflated enough to sleep on.

Would have been easier if it had gone down rapidly (or not at all) as the decision would have been made for me. As it is, it is fine to take – but what will it be like by the end of the trip?

May need some more research. And some more lying down.

The air mat is one of three key decisions to make which shape a lot of what follows in building my kit, joining my sleeping bag and rucksack.

In an ideal world, all three would come with me again but question marks hang over them all.

The sleeping bag is possibly not warm enough for the colder extremes of nights in the mountain (to say nothing of the puzzle of zipping it up after it was always opened up as a quilt), but it packs down much smaller than all the options found so far.

And packing down small is key – unlike Africa when was able to dump the bigger items on Oasis for the truck to carry it out to our starting point in Gibraltar, everything has to come with me on a plane to Quito this time.

Which, with full sleeping kit wedged in, limits the room for other stuff and adds to the importance of the rucksack.

It is a bit battered – it has been around the world, Africa and the USA – and one of the zips needs repairing (again) but my existing bag fits the bill in many ways.

Mainly its size (70L in the main bag) but also its 20L detachable part which can double as a day bag and back pack on days or longer away from the truck – the Inca Trail springs to mind.

The growing piles of kit

Like the air mat, the sleeping bag and rucksack need a bit of a clean but suggest one or two – probably not all three – have more life in them yet.

Some kit decisions and purchases have been made – need to break in the new pair of walking shoes and the camera basically comes down to the best deal out of three options in tomorrow’s main job on the to-do list.

Other big decisions need to be made – will my iPod Classic make it through another overland trip or does it need replacing? – but after that it is down to balancing want v need, what shiny things catch my eye and how much of it will fit in my bags.

All adds up to more updates to the kit list.

Just might need another lie down first.

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The Packing List

Blog a day in May – Part five

DO any internet search on overland travel and you will not have to scroll down too far to find an article on packing.

How to pack light, what to pack, what to leave at home, how to fit everything you need in your shoe… everyone has got their view before coming to the same conclusion – you will not need as much as you initially thought.

And never being one to shy away from nicking other people’s ideas (especially with topics for 31 days worth of blogs to come up with), here’s another one for the list.

But instead of going through what you should be taking and how little you actually need (we will get to that one after trying to shove it all in my bags), this one is about what is on the list this far out and the decisions that need to be made on what – and how much – goes with me to South America.

It keeps changing, some of it needs buying, some of it will drop off the list, new stuff will be added and a fair amount of it is sat on some shelves in my front room waited to be sorted.

Assorted gear which is on the list (bar The West Wing and The Wire box sets which live there)

Electrical Stuff
Travelling light gets a bit more difficult once you have thrown in all the bits of electrical kit and all the cables, plugs and adaptors which are par for the course.

There are those who travel with very little technology but for anyone looking to blog on the road and feed that blog with pictures and videos, that gets difficult.

Laptop – Bought five years ago for my Trans Africa trip, my MacBook Air is still in good health. Like me, pretty sure it has one more big trip in it. Will have a full clean and back-up before departure. The iPad which went to Africa as well will not be coming on this one.
Hard Drive – Already holds an awful lot of pictures. A lot more to come.
Camera – Managed to break three cameras in Africa so on the lookout for a new one that might withstand seven months on the road. With added batteries and memory cards,
Go Pro – One of those broken cameras was my Go Pro which refused to accept a charge before really getting to grips with it. Appears have managed to get it going again, just need to find batteries, memory cards and any accessories for a five-year-old model. And work out how to use it properly.
Phone – Will be turned off the vast majority of the time, but a handy alarm clock and – with my track record – emergency camera. Or when you don’t take a proper camera out with you.
iPod – Just take a look around this website to realise how important my iPod is. Signs this trip may be a step too far for the current version, one of the big shopping decisions is whether to get a new one before the off. Almost certainly with a new pair of proper headphones and couple of spares from the ones have somehow amassed over the years.
Powerbank – There is the chance to charge stuff on the truck and should be more access to power than Africa but worth taking a bit of a back-up. If only to avoid the frantic race to the power outlets.
Clippers – Very much in the only if there’s room category, not likely to shave that often on the road.
Adaptors
Chargers
Cables – Power and USB

Misc

Watch – Never wear a watch at home, don’t even own one that works. But without a phone on me at all time, on the airport shopping list.
Head Torch – A must. You might look like a burk and dazzle anyone you talk to, but vital when bush camping and you need your hands for cooking or putting your tent up. Often worn around my wrist or neck.
Torch – Another in the if there’s room category.
Batteries – For those items that don’t plug in to anything.
Books – One of two South American guide books and at least one other which will make its way into the trick library.

One of these items is definitely going. Airbed bottom right needs a clean. Actually, so does the sleeping bag and rucksack.

Kit
The bigger bits needed to make life more comfortable or to carry the stuff that will. Among the jobs for the to-do list in an upcoming week off is working out how much kit from Africa can be re-used.

Rucksack – It’s seen me through both my long overland trips and a few other shorter ones. But will my 70L bag see it through another trip? Yet to find anything better.
Day Bag – One of the great plusses of my rucksack is the detachable 20L bag which can carry the essentials for a day or slightly longer trip away from base. Ideal for the Inca Trail, but will need a bit of TLC to recover a bit of a rip down one seam. The search has yet to uncover as good a combination – don’t want to get two separates because…
Carry-On Bag – The job of the second bag will go to the one carrying my laptop and assorted other easily-accessible essentials, leaving just clothes in the rucksack once on the truck. That one is already sorted.
Lightweight Bedding Bag – Handy when camping, some smallish, easily foldable cheap bag to store and carry your bedding when camping. Bought one in a market for couple of quid in Africa.
Dry bag – Another one that’s sorted. Can be used to store wet stuff, dirty clothes and, when full, as a pillow.
Sleeping Mat – Decided ahead of Africa when camping made up the vast majority of accommodation that would spend a bit extra on being comfortable. The Thermarest air bed did the job (patched up a couple of times) but probably needs replacing. Will test it out to be sure – once it has been cleaned.
Sleeping Bag – Same goes to my sleeping bag which has been stored away for ages and definitely needs a clean. Need to check if it has kept its insulation and will be warm enough for some potentially cold nights. It has the advantage of packing down really small.
Liner – It has been around the world and Africa without being used. There if needed.
Pillow – Not a fan of travel pillows so the option may be to buy one on arrival, rather than fill a bag for flying. Lasted from Morocco until South Africa last time before being thrown away on health grounds.
Rug – Great purchase in Morocco added extra layer or warmth and comfort. Covering a chair in my front room and not coming, another to be picked up if needed en route.

Footwear
In many ways the most important clothing decision before departure.

Walking Boots/Shoes – The decision to trek the Inca Trail made this a vital purchase and now top of the shopping list. Quite what will change what else comes with me.
Shoes/Trainers – If it is thick boots, then a pair of outdoor shoes will go with them. If the walking shoes are lightweight enough for everyday use, my running shoes will be the second pair.
Flip Flops – Was converted in Africa. Have one pair but given the propensity for blowouts, always worth having a spare. And as Havianas are South American, should be easy to pick some up.
Sandals – An option but unlikely.
Spare Laces

The (almost) final selection for the Trans Africa packing

Health
One of my bags will rattle given the number of tablets inside. Once the issue of sorting them out is done.

Malaria Tablets – Not as essential as in Africa, but with my ability to get bitten by the only insect within miles, worth having some form of anti-malarial treatment.
Prescriptions – Like it or not (don’t particularly but have given in to it), am on daily tablets, plus back-up strong painkillers when needed. Fine when you can go online and get them sent to the supermarket round the corner. Not so easy when you need seven months’ supply. That’s a lengthy story for another time (and when it has a conclusion).
Antihistamine
Ibuprofen
Medical Kit – Plasters, blister plasters (believe me, will need them), bandage… normal stuff. Must remember to remove scissors from kit if in carry-on luggage.
Antiseptic Cream – As good a relief for bites as anything else tried, although been suggested lavender oil, iodine or bite relief pen.

Eyes
Amazing how quickly your bag can fill up – if it is not tablets, it is contact lenses. Have largely stopped wearing them at home (staring at a screen all day) but like wearing them when away. And easier with sunglasses.

Contact Lenses – New monthly disposables sorted and already arrived, the optician clearly not liking the idea of wearing lenses 24/7 for a week like in Africa. Some of the dailies which have been stacking up for a while will go as spares but 200+ pairs of lenses takes up a lot of room.
Glasses – The prescriptions fine, whether to change them or not before the off is another decision. Would at least give me a spare pair. Also need reading glasses for when wearing lenses (the perils of growing old.
Sunglasses – My ability to break cameras is nothing next to the same talent with sunglasses. Two or three cheap pairs likely with a more expensive answer.

Toiletries
Do you really need me to list this? Likely to take very little, pretty sure the shops of Quito will be able to stock me up before we head out on the road. Toilet rolls definitely on the Quito shopping list.

Misc Travel Stuff
Those small things you will need at some point and a lot of which have accumulated over the years – there is still a St Christopher’s bottle opener attached to my rucksack given to me by a friend a few years ago. No idea where my binoculars are.
Small travel towels are very much in fashion but can’t get on with them – too small, they get wet without seeming to dry you and find they get slimy. It’s against the pack light rule, but think it is worth taking one.

Mosquito Repellent
Suncream
After Sun
Towel
Water Bottle
Bandana
Washing Line
Bottle Opener
Locks/Cables
Earplugs
Document Wallet
Multi Tool
Notebooks
Pens
Binoculars
Lighters
Gorilla Tape

Clothes
How much exactly depends on how much room is left after all that stuff. Three T-shirts always seems the recommended number but will definitely go above that – for no other reason than it avoids having to do laundry for an extra couple of days.

Lightweight Fleece – Already brought. Advantage of living very close to two outdoor shops outlet branches.
Waterproof Jacket (Have a poncho which has never been
Merino Layers
Hoodie – Basically my standard travelling uniform
Warm Hat – Couple of Gloucester Rugby hats bought for the trip. No bobbles in The Shed but fine in the Andes.
Cap (Boston Red Sox)
Shorts
Swimming Trunks
Trousers
T-Shirts – Mixture of short sleeve and long sleeve
Socks – Walking, walking liner, gym socks, normal
Underwear

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Mali And Me

ONE thing about elephants that’s hard to forget. They are pretty big.

That, hopefully, will come in handy when trying to frame them in focus somewhere in the middle of a photo at some point in the next nine months, but when they are lingering in the corner of the room, it makes them pretty difficult to ignore (which also holds true about the pile of kit which has been growing in the corner of my flat).

As mentioned in a previous post, the elephant in the room for our Trans Africa overland adventure over the past few months has been Ebola.

And no longer can it – or the fairly constant questions about it – be ignored.

In the end, it was not any threat of the disease which forced a bit of a diversion around the affected countries in West Africa, but practicalities stemming from steps being taken to contain it.

Nala
Nala

Oasis Overland have been tracking the elephant over the last few months and after consulting, among others, the World Health Organisation, African Travel and Tourism Association and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, they have taken the decision to turn east from Senegal rather than continuing south around the coast.

Instead of heading straight through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone – the worst affected countries – the new route takes us through southern Mali (and possibly a bit of Burkina Faso) before heading back towards the coast and the original route in Cote d’Ivoire.

Overland trips have to adapt and it is all part of the adventure, but it is nothing new for Oasis. They can explain.

“Ebola is bringing many challenges, and as a group we need to be prepared that elements of the trip may need to change or be amended,” read our e-mail from Natalie at Oasis HQ, who has been keeping us informed, steering us in the right direction and answering any number of questions over the past few months. “It is still two months until we get close to the areas that have been affected and we will continue to monitor the situation.

“Mali is a country we know well from past trips, your drivers have been to before and visas are easy to obtain on route.  I should stress that the decision to travel via Mali is based primarily on us needing to avoid border closures rather than the chance of contracting Ebola.

Our tour leader Joe checking out tents and, below, stocking up the truck
Our tour leader Joe checking out our tents and, below, stocking up the truck

Created with Nokia Smart Cam“It is a hard disease to catch. However, we will be putting extra steps in place to ensure good hygiene standards on board the truck.

 “The route through Mali is not a new one for us.  We travelled this way for many years up until two years ago and in the past our groups have really enjoyed Mali.  As with our past expeditions, this is all part of the nature of a Trans Africa trip.”

The debate about how to deal with Ebola has not been the only thing keeping Oasis busy over the past few weeks.

On my visit to their base to drop off bulkier bits of kit a few weeks ago, our truck Nala – evidently the name of the animated love interest in The Lion King, but also the name of one of my sister’s Labrador’s mates – was undergoing a touch of paint and bit of TLC.

It has been stocked up, our tents tended and checked and our tour leader Joe has been wading through a pile of paperwork and the plans for the next nine months, taking a quick break to write about his preparations, before Nala and crew headed off to Gibraltar tonight. We fly out to meet it on the rock next Tuesday.

Preparations here have stepped up a few gears since the countdown to leaving work reached zero and there was finally time to crack on with the jobs which had been multiplying for months.

And, with one or two minor exceptions, the to-do lists for the trip itself are pretty much done – dutifully maintained, drawn up and written up each night, only to be immediately altered early the next day to accommodate my failure to get up as early as planned.

Visas are sorted (Ghana in the passport with pre-approval registration for Senegal), all jabs complete, malaria tablets collected, rucksack repaired, farewells said (and toasted) and piles of kit and clothes bought (some of it planned), dug out from storage and currently filling up the sofa and its surrounds in the front room of my flat.

The one major job for the trip left – before packing up my flat, bidding farewell to my car after 12 years and finding time to say a few more goodbyes, write a few more posts and learn how some of the new bits of tech work together – is to pack and one glance at those piles suggests my reputation for over packing is well deserved.

All (well, most) of this has to fit in one rucksack and a shoulder bag. Meanwhile, there's only the chair by desk to sit on...
All (well, most) of this has to fit in one rucksack and a shoulder bag. Meanwhile, there’s only the chair by my desk to sit on…

But it isn’t all going into those bags, those piles are everything that could go, not everything that will go.

There’s decisions to be made – old shorts, new shorts or both?; an old fleece which can be discarded after some cold early nights or the one which zips inside my waterproof and is more convenient, but not as warm?; iPad as well as MacBook Air? Whatever the answers (and the iPad decision is becoming easier due to the negative impact the latest update has had on it), it’s going to be a complicated process.

Suggest getting up on time to allow all of the morning allowed for packing on the to-do list.

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