Last minute thoughts about the gear

I knew that. I knew the choice of the lenses was going to keep me awake at night. And it did happen!

So, after last minute thoughts, this is the gear selected for the trip:

  • Canon 5D III DSLR
  • 17-40mm f4 24-70mm f2.8
  • 50mm f1.4 85mm f1.8
  • 100mm f2.8 macro
  • Spare camera batteries x2 + charger
  • Memory cards
  • Rocket blower
  • Lens cloth
  • Canon G1X
  • External flash YN568EXII
  • YN-622C E-TTL Wireless Flash Trigger x2
  • Spare flash batteries x2 sets
  • Light tripod

..and the first 7 items fit in a relatively small and handy (not very light I’d say) bag.
Ah, my lovely 70-200mm is going to be missed. No, actually not, because the best lens/camera is always the one you have with you.

Well, at least this is what they say. 😉

Packing time, here I am!

“On a long journey even a straw weighs heavy.”
So true!

packing

When you’re making your final decisions on your travel packing list, the key question to answer for yourself is:

“When it is 30 degrees and you are running for a train/plane/taxi/tuk tuk/elephant, what do we want on your backs?”

Definitely not much! :)

So in this post you can find what I’m bring with me. As mentioned before the very tough part for me (as usual!) is the photography gear: how to find the right balance on what to get with me and what to leave home.

My Travel Packing List for Uganda

  • 65 liter backpack
  • 30 liter daypack

Clothing

  • Sandals
  • Walking trainers
  • Underwear x 7
  • Light socks x 6
  • Trekking socks x 2
  • Trousers x2 (with zip to turn into shorts)
  • Shorts x1
  • Swimming shorts x1
  • Long sleeve top x2
  • T-shirt x5
  • Polo shirt x2
  • Fleece Jacket x1
  • Light waterproof jacket
  • Hat

Electronics

  • 7 inch Nexus 7 tablet (for work, blogging and keeping in touch)
  • Smartphone
  • Earphones
  • Universal adapter
  • USB External Battery Charger Power Pack
  • Phone battery charger
  • Head torch
  • Watch (I don’t use one since 15 years)

Photography

  • Canon 5D III DSLR
  • 24-70mm f2.8
  • 85mm f1.8
  • Spare camera batteries x2 + charger
  • Memory cards
  • Rocket blower
  • Lens cloth
  • Canon G1X
  • External flash YN568EXII
  • YN-622C E-TTL Wireless Flash Trigger x2
  • Spare flash batteries x2 sets
  • Light tripod

Useful things

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping Bag Liner
  • Swiss Knife
  • Carabiner x2
  • Tape
  • Duct tape
  • Sunglasses
  • Glasses
  • Daily contact lenses
  • Goggles
  • Sunscreen
  • Clothesline
  • Lock
  • Ear plugs
  • Small waterproof bag (for electronics/documents)
  • Plastic Bags
  • Lighter / Matches
  • Elastic bands
  • Resealable plastic bags
  • Neapolitan cards :)

Toiletries

  • Nail cutter
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Marseille Soap bars (for shower and clothes)
  • Tissues / toilet paper
  • Cotton swabs

Medicine

  • Mosquito repellant (DEET 50%)
  • Fucibet cream (for treating insect bites)
  • Malaria tablets (Malarone)
  • Analgesic (Paracetamol)
  • Antipyretic (Ibuprofen – Aspirin)
  • Anti-diarrheal (Imodium)
  • Dioralyte (rehydration powder)
  • Azithromycin (antibiotic to treat food poisoning)
  • Motilium (for treating nausea/vomiting)
  • Thermometer
  • Plasters
  • Disinfectant

Admin

  • Passports
  • Credit Cards
  • Health Insurance
  • International Certificate of Vaccination
  • Flight confirmations
  • Driving license
  • Documents photocopies x2

Stationery

  • Books (on tablet)
  • Uganda Bradt guidebook
  • Notebook
  • Pen
  • Marker

As you can see, I opted for the second and heavier (and better) option for the photography gear. Photos and tiredness will say if it’s been the right decision! :)

 

Practical information for traveling to Uganda

ugandaON GOING UPDATES TO THIS POST UNTIL END OF SEPTEMBER.

Vaccinations
– Yellow fever
– Typhoid
– MMR
– Hepatitis A
– Tetanus

Cost €200 including consultation.

I did the first four ones during the same visit. I had to to a second shot for the MMR after several days. Just one shot for all the others. Moreover the doctor suggested to do one more shot for the Hepatitis A next year so it will last 25 years instead of 1.

Malaria pills chosen is Malarone. More expensive, but less side effects than others like Larium.

Safety

Although much of Uganda is generally safe, there are some risky areas. North of Murchison Falls National Park, and around some towns, such as Lira and Gulu, the fruitcakes of the LRA continue to wreak havoc. It is also important to take care in the far northeast due to regular clashes between armed Karamajong people and anyone they don’t like. It is imperative to make inquiries with knowledgeable local authorities before setting off to these areas.

Tourist Visa

A Uganda tourist Visa is easily obtained at points of entry such as Entebbe International Airport. All you need is 2004 or newer 50 USD bill and the entrance form that you filled out on the airplane. The time it takes is relatively short, no passport pictures needed.

Money

I usually don’t travel with cash, but you need to have some there.  East Africa including Uganda is a cash based society.
The Ugandan shilling (USh) is a relatively stable currency. Cash can be changed easily at major banks and foreign exchange (forex) bureaus. The best banks are Standard Chartered and Barclays Banks. The forex bureaus offer slightly better exchange rates than the banks

Bring US dollars newer than 2004 otherwise they won’t be accepted. It’s better paying in dollars any activity like Gorilla trekking and white water rafting: it will be cheaper than paying in local currency or by credit card.

Credit cards are generally accepted to get cash at ATMs and in some banks, forget debit cards.

At both banks and forex bureaus, small US dollar bills attract a much lower exchange rate than do US$50 and US$100 notes, and the rate for travelers cheques is about 2% lower than they are for cash. Exchange rates in Kampala are up to 15% better than is the case elsewhere in the country, so stock up on shillings in the capital.

Bargaining is necessary in informal transactions such as those at markets and roadside stalls, but not in shops that display fixed prices.

Electricity

240 volts is the voltage in Uganda and you will need a UK plug.
On top of the universal travel adapter, bring with you an USB External Battery Charger Power Pack (and micro usb cables). You’ll be able to charge smartphone and tablet also if there is an electricity black-out. Power supply is iffy, in Uganda can have extended power outages that last up to 12 hours.

Transportation

The easiest thing of course is to have someone to pick you up at the airport. If not, you can easily rent a special hire taxi. No buses or so called taxi vans come to the airport and neither do boda-boda motorcycle taxis. The normal rate that will be asked is around 40 to 50 USD though some will ask for more, negotiate. Self Drive is not suggested, they say you may have a heart attack traversing the Ugandan roads. Coming from Napoli I doubt I will. :)

Taxis “matatus”: The matatus are 14-seater minibuses, often white with blue stripes. They usually drive along predetermined routes and only leave when they are full. They are fast, numerous and, outside Kampala, are often overloaded.

“Special Hire” vehicles: These are taxis according to the Western understanding. These can be hired to take customers to a specific destination.

Boda Boda cycles: These can be either bicycles or motorbikes although, in the larger towns, motorbikes are more common. The name originated from when persons traveling between the border posts of Uganda and Kenya would take a bicycle taxi. The owners of the bicycle would attract customers by shouting “boda boda” (border border). The boda boda drivers drop customers at their destinations. They, however, often do not wear helmets and don’t always follow traffic regulations.

Public buses: These vary from large international buses traveling between Kampala and Nairobi or Dar Es Salaam to seventy-seater buses traveling between the larger towns in Uganda and to and from Kampala. Although some of the services are safe and reliable, many of the buses drive at terrifyingly fast speeds.

Climate

Uganda can be visited at any time of year. Most of Uganda enjoys the perfect tropical climate. Temperatures average about 26°C during the day and 16°C at night. The hottest months are from December to February.

Wildlife

Uganda can’t compete with Kenya or Tanzania for sheer density of wildlife, but with 500 species of mammal it has amazing diversity; and with the opening of the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, the big five are all here again. Uganda is also home to more than half the world’s mountain gorillas, and viewing them in their natural environment is one of the main attractions for visitors. On top of this, Uganda has a good number of chimpanzees and there are several places where you can track them. With well over 1000 species recorded inside its small borders, Uganda is one of the best bird-watching destinations in the world.

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/uganda/

Almost time to hit the road: to bring or not to bring?

weight gearWell, this supposed to be a blog mainly about photography, right? :) Let’s talk a bit about that for what concerns the trip to Uganda.

When you are more than an amateur photographer, you always have a big problem when packing your bags. You don’t think anything else than what kind of gear to bring with you with one main goal: I need to travel light!

Packing anything else it’s very easy and it does not require much space and weight (at least for me!), but when it comes to camera(s) and lenses.. here you got THE problem.

– Which lenses to choose?
– Am I going to use the 70-200 2.8? Such an heavy lens is worth the weight? (It’s my favorite!)
– Where am I going to store the gear while not using it?
– Am I going to carry 4-10 Kg all the time? (What a pain :-/ )

It’s often the case: on one hand, when you carry a lot of lenses and you don’t use them you regret it for the weight you have constantly on your shoulders. On the other hand when you don’t have a particular lens or camera you wish you had them with you.

It’s also true the best camera you have is the one you got at the moment of shooting and not thinking what you left home.

Recently I got the Canon G1X. A part small issues with the autofocus (hey, when you are used to the 5D Mark III you are going to have some issues using any other lower end camera!), it’s a great camera for traveling: low weight, you don’t need to carry any additional lens; the sensor is huge compared to standard compact, it’s about 80% the size of an APS-C sensor format; great image quality at high ISO.

Anyway in cameras like this you also have to get some compromises: slow autofocus, low macro performance, slow lens.

So, DSLR (and lenses) or not DSLR, that’s the question.

Let’s see it in a practical way. I have 2 options:
A) Canon G1X + external flash + light tripod.
B) Canon 5D Mark III + 17-40 f4 + 50 f1.4 + 100 f2.8 macro + external flash + heavier tripod. (As you can see, I’m excluding all heavier good lenses, what a pain.. SIGH!)

Or both? 😮
I still don’t know what to do. Another sleepless night ahead thinking about that. 😛

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Choosing the right NGO

african childGetting there!

About 2 weeks to go and so busy with millions things on top of the organization. Well, to say the truth, I’m very far behind with the organization itself and with the readings I thought to do before leaving. Let’s see what I’ll be able to do :)

A BIG thanks to all of you who donated already, we reached almost 1000 euro, great stuff!

As I mentioned before, it’s not been easy to choose a NGO to go with.
I was totally blind on this, I had no clue where to start from. And of course Google helped a bit.

1) First of all, I started getting one I could trust. I’ve contacted more than 50 different ones, asking a lot of feedback around, doing a lot of networking.

2) On the other hand, it looks like for some of them organizing volunteering abroad is a sort of business also if registered as a charity. Initially (and still now) I was shocked when, getting an answer from some associations: they asked for so much money for volunteering. I’m fine in contributing with some offers, but asking up to $1200 per week it looks really too much. I never had a holiday when I spent so much.

OK, it covered insurance, accommodations, food, assistance.
– You can get a good health insurance for €60-80 max.
– Accommodation and food cost something like $4-10 a day (in Uganda, but it’s the same in a lot of African countries if not less.)
– You get assistance from the local NGO anyway.

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All normally exclude flights, visa, vaccinations you have to take care on your own.
The $1200 per week was the very high limit (probably targeting quite reach college students who would like to put something “cool” on the CV), but the average was something like €300-500 per week.

-ohh, sipping some good limoncello while writing! :)

I ended up with 3-5 “finalists”.

3) Of course I needed to go with a NGO that had availability for the period I can and where I could do something useful for them (and interesting for me. If you do something you like, simply you do it better.)

So Soft Power Education is going to be the one.
The entire selection process took me nearly 2.5 months but I ended up being very last minute.

I found a relatively cheap flight with Turkish Airlines (about €630 return) and did the necessary vaccinations (about €160).
Malaron (malaria pills) is very expensive, but it looks like being the one with less side effects.
Visa will cost $50 and it’s very easy to get (after landing, at the airport).
Again, all money raised will go to Soft Power Education and won’t be used for the expenses listed above.

Trying to get sorted with the photographic gear now (I need to travel light!), a very important topic to be discussed separately! 😉

PS: All donations will go to the charity and of course are NOT going to cover any of my personal costs like flights, accommodation, vaccinations and visa.

First €500 raised!

african childA huge THANKS to all of you who sent your contribute already for the approaching volunteering project in Uganda http://blog.unusualfocus.com/tag/uganda

We raised together the first €500!

If you would like to contribute, please go to the page http://www.justgiving.com/tominuganda and keep it circulating in your blog, facebook, twitter, etc. etc. :)

And again, all donations will go to the charity and of course are NOT going to cover any of my personal costs like flights, accommodation, vaccinations and visa.

I’ll keep you posted as usual, thanks again!

Volunteering in Uganda

Children in a field in UgandaThis year I decided to skip the typical holiday and not going to the beach or visiting a new city. I’ll spend several weeks in Uganda in September assisting the NGO Soft Power Education.
I’ll be mainly teaching english, computer, internet to children and doing some refurbishing/construction work where needed.
My experience as travel photographer will be quite helpful as well in documenting the daily life and all activities of course.

It’s going to be the first experience of this kind for me.

It took me long time to choose the “right” association and I contacted several dozens before I decided to go with Soft Power Education.
Soft Power Education (SPE) is a British registered charity and Ugandan NGO working with communities in Uganda to improve quality of life through education.

soft power education

I’m not required to, but I thought it would be good to collect some funds for them.
If you feel like, please donate through the page http://www.justgiving.com/tominuganda

All donations will go to the charity and of course are NOT going to cover any of my personal costs like flights, accommodation, vaccinations and visa.

Any help is going to be much appreciated and it is going to have a HUGE impact.

You can follow my adventures on this blog and my personal facebook account.
All related posts will be under the “uganda” tag http://blog.unusualfocus.com/tag/uganda/

Grazie! Gracias! Thank you! Asante! Merci!

Tom

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