Run the equator: The good, the bad and the useless

Monday, January 7, 2008

The good, the bad and the useless

It’s list-time today! For people like us who have their whole life packed up in plastic bags, there always comes a time of reckoning… Was it worth taking those fancy shoes? Did I really need that huge bottle of lotion? How about the electronic gizmo to chase mosquitoes away...? So here they are:

Most useful things we took with us on this trip:
  • Fujitsu Lifebook
    Laptop Computer - not much larger than a DVD case, the Fujitsu Lifebook 1510 is clearly at the top of my beloved possessions. Its compact size makes for easy storage in any day bag and in most safe boxes in hotel rooms. This blog is written on it – I sort and delete pictures and I write the text in advance; thus I am done with most of the heavy-lifting before I need to go to an Internet café where I ask for an Ethernet connection or wireless access, so I can upload all the content. Most I-cafes charge for service (ah, where is Argentina, the land of free wireless…), and in Africa and Europe, unlike in South America, Internet is very pricey (unless you are lucky enough to find a hostel that has “free” wireless access), so these preparations save me quite a bit of dough. Another advantage of having the computer is being able to do online banking and e-commerce without worrying about keyboard loggers and other malware.
  • Digital Rebel
    Canon Digital Rebel XT SLR Camera – I’m far from being an expert in photography, but I cringe when I see how sometimes the flashes of compact digital cameras go off around me in bright day. At least, having this complicated beast has forced me to learn how to use it properly. Who knew there were words like 'aperture', 'depth of field', 'shutter speed' and 'focal length' that I would, one day, understand?
  • Soft case
    Camera protective case – The camera and accessories came with a protective case from the seller (a swindler in New Jersey who overcharged me for batteries), but the thing fell apart to pieces within two weeks. Made in China of course. After getting weary of carrying my camera in plastic bags and my accessories in a clothes bag, I bought a padded square case for the accessories and a triangular padded case for the camera. They are also made in China but they lasted…
  • H&M trunks
    H&M men's underwear – it is no surprise to anyone who knows the special relationship a man enjoys with his underwear, that when you, after years of wearing the wrong cuts and brands, finally find underwear that fits well, you want to have as many pairs as you can carry. I have 10 pairs with me. And with this I have also answered the age-old question "boxers or briefs?"... Well, neither!
  • Steripen
    Steripen UV water purifier – We bought this device from Michael and Mor as they finished their trip in Buenos Aires and did not need it any further. Although, surprisingly, water in Southern Africa is safe to drink in many places (unlike in South America where not even the locals drink the tap water, here even most tourists drink it) we purify it with this tool and don’t have to always worry about having enough bottled water until the next trip to the grocery store.
  • Travel towel
    REI travel towels – thin, efficient, drying fast and completely synthetic, these towels are the perfect companion for the shower. The traditional cotton bathroom towels don’t belong in a traveler’s backpack – they are large, fluffy and will rot fast if they stay wet for too long. In contrast, these towels may not be as absorbent as cotton, but they weigh nothing, take only a fraction of a regular towel’s space, and can be packed wet, which is often the case when you’re on a trip. You have to wash them sometimes though, you know?
  • Prescription sunglasses – Not having to put on contact lenses (see below) to be able to use sunglasses – priceless!
  • Leatherman all purpose tool – a must-have backpacking tool (Swiss army knives are pretty toys compared to these manly utensils), but - sadly - it was stolen from my backpack somewhere in Guatemala. I hope the thief accidentally cuts one of his fingers with it! I had to make-do with a cheap replacement bought in Bolivia, whose corkscrew is now broken, because of too much use…
  • Silicone earplugs – you think I could sleep with the fan or A/C going full power in those sweltering rooms in Mexico? Or in our hotel room in Cairo, located on the main shopping street where taxi drivers, suffering from compulsive honking, drive up and down all night? You bet I can! There’s nothing like the comfort of silence given by ears stuffed with silicone...
  • Ultra-light battery-powered alarm clock – Being able to hit the snooze button a gazillion times when we have a plane to catch in two hours, just like we did when we had to go to work… is there anything better?!
  • iPod Nano G3 – sure, there are many other, cheaper digital music players out there, but there’s nothing quite like the real thing. We did not carry this one from home; we bought it in Spain instead. I don’t use it, but Angela has been longing for a music box for a very long time and she finally got the iPod as a Christmas present. She is very happy with it, especially now that I have taught her (against my common sense) how to use eMule…
Least useful things we took with us:
  • Walkie-talkies – these are great in some situations (as when you want to get a hold of your kids on the ski slopes) but what good do they do for husband and wife on a trip around the world? I can’t picture any use for them besides: “honey, I’m on the beach and I forgot the sun screen, can you bring it to me after you’re done reading the newspaper (which means now)?” So, after carrying them idly in my backpack for a couple of months we sent them home from Ecuador.
  • Rain coat – I love my Columbia sportswear sheer raincoat and windbreaker, and it has served me well in Seattle over the years, but although we have had our share of rain in South America and Africa, I didn't seem to be missing it and used my Marmot jacket instead, although it had no hood. It was just dead space in the backpack. I sent it home from South Africa. This is just one example to show that we had packed too many clothes. Some of you can now tell me “I told you so!”
  • Power transformer – my travel adapter kit came with a power transformer for electrical appliances which understand only the 110 volt standard of the United States (while most of the world runs on 220). However all my electrical tools - the laptop AC adapter, the camera battery charger and the regular battery charger for AA and AAA batteries – work with both voltages and only need plug adapters. The transformer is a small box, but weighs almost one pound. It had to go. I donated it to our hostel in Cape Town.
  • Contact lenses – I took them with me and I still have them, but I have only worn them twice. I’ll keep them, since they do not take much space, just in case I want to shed the intellectual look for once.
  • 98% DEET (Diethyl-m-toluamide) spray and insect-repellent to drench your clothes in – some smartass at REI convinced us that you cannot go into the infested swamps of Central America and Africa without those two inventions of modern chemistry. But it turned out that the mosquitoes in the places we travelled to were just another bearable nuisance, and lower-concentration (up to 20%) deet-based repellent worked well against them.
  • Lots of $1 bills – some idiot on the Lonely Planet ThornTree forum suggested taking many $1 notes to give as tips in Africa and South America, where they supposedly are much appreciated. Totally useless advice! We tipped people in local currency everywhere, I didn't have to bribe anyone, and I never give anything to the beggars. And in any case a one dollar bill is not worth much nowadays, not even in the third world. But it’s money anyway, so not to be thrown away.
Things we wish we had taken with us:
  • Compact digital Sony camera – I didn't have any inhibitions to walk around in South America dangling my gigantic Canon SLR around my neck, but in Africa things are different. South Africa is notoriously unsafe. The rest of Southern Africa is not that bad but a big camera still attracts great attention. Besides, I have to keep either around my neck or in a backpack. Sometimes I wish I could just pull out the small camera out of my pocket, take a fast shot unnoticed by anyone, and put it back out of sight. When we left Seattle, we didn't take the small Sony with us because we had so much stuff in our bags that we have to abandon anything that seemed redundant, and we had a camera already.
  • Underwater camera case – unfortunately we’ll have to look at pictures in National Geographic to remember those beautiful coral reefs from the Red Sea. The case would have worked with the Sony compact digital camera which we didn't take with us either...
  • More books – of course you can’t take as many books with you as you would read in one year but wouldn't it be nice not to have to rely on the dismal selection of romance and action thrillers at hostel book exchanges or not to have to spend large sums in the English-sections of bookstores in non English-speaking countries?
Anything else?

1 comment:

Steve Silvers said...

Glad to see there is a good reason to have a picture of your drawers on flickr