Out of Eden, Journal I — The Bags
Rarely do I travel with more than one piece of check-in luggage.
Maximum, one medium-sized rolling bag containing a few changes of clothing, loads of underwear, socks and a tube of toothpaste — airport security does not like such items anymore in carryon luggage.
Thanks, Richard Reid…AKA, The Shoe Bomber.
All minimalism is out with the bathwater on this latest story for National Geographic.
Three bags — two mega, the other my normal checkin — went into the cargo hold of two planes, as I traveling from the farm in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts to Ethiopia where they now rest beside me in a 5th floor room of a three-star hotel in this sublime nations capital.
It has taken months of planning for this assignment — illuminatingly titled, Out of Eden — to prepare for every sublet nuance this project may throw; Eight to ten weeks, traveling overland from discovered remains of our first human ancestors in the Afar region of northeastern Ethiopia — literally where each of our brothers and sisters walked out of Africa 60,000 years ago, populating this astonishing planet we can only call home — meandering across deserts, mountains, ravines, depressions and villages, till I reach Djibouti City, Djibouti, sometime in March.
Like New York City, the Djiboutans named it twice.
For those following this story on my Facebook page, Twitter or on Instagram, you might be wondering why I’m carrying so much kit compared to my colleague, superb human, Pulitzer Prize winning writer (twice), National Geographic Fellow and official walker for the Out of Eden, Paul Salopek?
I know my dearest of friends, Gary Knight, has been wondering.
Simple — Paul has seven years to walk from our ancestors remains till reaching Tierra del Fuego — and for this first part of Out of Eden, as long as he needs — totting I believe nothing more than a few changes of clothing, pens, notepads, a laptop, sat phone, solar charger, sleeping gear and other minimal bits and pieces, doing so at least from Afar to Djibouti City with a camel Paul purchased last week who will carry most of these items…including water and basic food stuffs (will be meeting up with Paul tomorrow evening to actually witness what he’s fully carrying).
Encumbered — I’m carry more bobbles and bits which require electricity than a small village might demand in a week, not to mention camping gear for a translator, driver and myself.
Yes, I’m traveling in a car.
Here is why:
Gone are the days when a photographer on a National Geographic story only needed a backpack to carry clothing, a few hundred rolls of film and a camera bag with cameras that only required little more than two watch-sized batteries to operate its metering for weeks on end.
The rest was manual — and we liked it.
With everything gone digital, we now tote a substantial collection of gizmos and contraptions, each requiring their own special cable, a virtual tangled bowl of spaghetti noodles and clamoring hunks of electrical plastic meatballs, the whole lot demanding power. All this nonsense is needed (along with portable 120/220 electricity) or else cease being able to take photographs within 1-2 days.
As much as traveling on camel back may seem romantic, Yonas Abiye (super talented journalist with The Reporter newspaper), a driver (gifted with memory retention of a pasta strainer, I’ve tragically forgotten his name post brief meeting today) and myself will make this journey starting near Mille (pronounced phonetically as Mill-ay), in the Afar region of Ethiopia, to the border with Djibouti, in a grayish-blue toned 2008 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser.
Even if I didn’t have this triple sherpa load of whatnot to carry, here is why I’m driving:
This story, Out of Eden, is not about Paul.
Rather, it’s a story about our collective humanities migration out of Africa to where we each live today.
Therefore, I will not be following in Paul’s footsteps.
In fact I plan to get completely lost, zigzagging in all direction, photographing a reportage piece on the society, culture, landscapes and truly anything and everything which comes my way, illustrating what this part of the world, and its people, are doing today.
Come sometime likely in early March — communucating with Paul periodically via satellite phone — I will meet up with him as he arrives in Djibouti City.
Wonderfully expressed once by a Highlander friend in Papua New Guinea while on another National Geographic story a few years back — sharing with her how unexpected and wildly magical everything kept occurring while in country — she uttered in a marvelously dry tone:
“Expect the unexpected, John”.
With only a few hours remaining in this somewhat unaired room — for a $150 a night hotel, it oddly lacks an air conditioner nor any understandable means to open a window — I thought it might be interesting to start the journals of this journey with some insight regarding what I’m carrying in this anomalous matching set of Eagle Creek bags and their trusty sidekick, the always toting ThinkTank Airport camera roller.
While Monk’s Dream plays from this MacBook Pro speakers (richly expanded on these already brilliant Retina display speakers using the app, DPS…a must have plugin for iTunes — wowy!) here’s The Kit for part one of Out of Eden:
NOTE: IF CURIOUS, CLICK ON THIS ABOVE IMAGE WHICH HAS EACH ITEM LABELED, THEN REFER TO THE DETAILS BELOW
1- Eagle Creek Load Warrior 25 inch roller — This bag contains all clothing for two or more months:
(The first two clothing items have been The Uniform for the last 10 years while on assignments, all the same color — kaki tan pants, dark green shirts, and surprisingly holding up extremely well)
REI light weather pants — three
REI light weather long sleeve shirts — five
Shorts — one
T-shirts — two
Sleeping t-shirt — one
Sleeping shorts — one
Underwear — ten
Dress Shirt — one
Jeans — one
2- Eagle Creek duffle — Empty, stored in main luggage for when needed
3- Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled Duffel 36 in roller — two, used for carrying most of that crap you see on the floor
4- Cliff & Luna Bars — 73 white chocolate macadamia nut power powers…breakfast for the next two months
5- Medical Kit — Containing more meds, bandages and whatnot than
6- iPhone Camera Cable — Supported through a Kickstarter project, Trigger Happy (not my favorite name for this — remember, cameras don’t shoot anything. They take in light. Only guns shoot) is something I’ve yet to use. hopefully it works
7- Reading Glasses — Five sets, in case loosing one, two or more — a habit I’ve been able to master over the years until discovering they were already on top of my head or crushed in a pocket
8- Toiletries — Hand sanitizer, toothpastes, a hair tie…I’m a minimalist
9- Multi-Plug Adapter
10- 120-volt cigarette lighter power supply
11- Camera towel
12- Various headlamps
13- My tent
14- Driver/translators tent
15- Reusable Twists — Various sizes of heavy-duty twisties. Hang about anything, anywhere
16- Bathing Soaps — These are amazing anti-mosquito repellent soaps that contain citronella. Found them years ago while passing through the Johannesburg airport while working on the National Geographic story, Malaria. Picked up an entire box. Unfortunately, these are the last three bars. Sure hope I route through South Africa again soon
17- Bug Repellent Cream
18- Muti-purpose Tool
19- Lamps — Battery power, they put out gobs of light
21- Ground Tarp — Small tent
22- Sunscreen Mozzie Repellant
23- Ground Tarp — Large tent
24- Mosquito Spray — 100% DEET (malaria country where we’re going)
25- ThinkTank Airport Roller — Have had this amazing (and I mean AMAZING) roller carry-on camera case for over 7 years. It’s been through more airports, up/down more stairs, tossed, dropped and careened across floors, rocks and deserts more times than can be counted in memory. Besides a touch bit of the rubber on the wheels fraying, this bag from ThinkTank keeps on going strong. Here’s what’s inside:
Canon 5D Mark III — two
24 1.4 lens
35 1.4 lens
50 1.2 lens
Battery Charges — two
Batteries — four
ThinkTank — A small Retrospective model shoulder bag. This is where a few of the lenses go when out and about. The rest stays in the roller, taken out when needed
26- Inflatable Pillow — Brookstone blow up felt neck pillow (for plane travel)
27- Clothing — Paint/shirts
28- Collapsible Chair — REI has a super-nify foldable chair. This will be seriously used when waiting about in remote areas for the light to get brilliant
29- Stuff — Sharpies, international drivers license, medical vaccine card, passport sized photos, more hair ties and in the envelope, NGM’s amazing Dazzler letter of introduction
30- Map/Guidebook — Lonely Planets guide to Ethiopa and detailed maps of Ethiopia and Djibouti
31- Flash Cardholder — Deputy Director of Photography, Ken Geiger, was kind enough to give me one of the new NGM ThinkTank flashcard holders when I was in DC a few weeks ago for the Out of Eden story prep. They are being given away to National Geographic photographers at next weeks seminar, which unfortunately I’ll be missing this event — sorry for blowing the surprise
32- Clothing — A few more pants/shirts, haphazardly placed on the floor rather than in the other clothing pile
33- USB Cigarette Lighter Charger
34- World Map
35- NGM Luggage Tags
36- Water Bags — To protect kit in case it rains and as backup laundry bags
37- Sleeping Bag — Small
38- Sleeping Bag — Larger
40- NG Hat — Gift for someone along the trip
41- Hammock Ties
42- Mosquito Net
43- Mosquito Net
44- Power Inverters — Two 300volt models that turns 12volt car battery power into 120volt power. To be used to charge a MacBook Pro, camera batteries, sat phone, iPhone, etc
46- Multi-Plug Adapter — Two more for a total of three
47- Belt — Special type…
48- Small Bag
50- Mesh Bag
51- French Press Coffeemaker — THE most important piece of the kit
52- Shelters — Three Kelty 3×3 meter shelters to protect driver, translator and myself from the harsh Afar desert sun while waiting for good light
53- Waterproof Zipper Bags — To hold all the various loose items seen here
54- Small Bag
56- Inflatable Pillow
57- Self-Inflating Mattress
58- Satellite Phone — Thuraya. Including a Thuraya Wifi Hotspot box, allowing to wirelessly connect all communication items to the internet from any location
59- Hiking Shoes
60- Canon Cigarette Lighter Battery Charger Kit
61- Hardrives — Two, 2TB Western Digital USB3, which will make transferring photographs off cards and into Aperture each day an extremely quick task
This is The Kit, which will (should) sustain most if not all needs for the next two or more months while driving throughout more than half of Ethiopia and all of Djibouti — yes, Gary, I’m driving, not walking nor with a camel because tomorrow I pick up the LaMarzocco expresso machine and generator…
Hope the peering into my bags — bags which received more Likes on Facebook than likely any photo of just bags have ever receive — was informative.
4 hours till Yonas Abiye and the driver arrive at the hotel for the 10+ hour drive to the Afar region to meet Paul.
And satellite phone is still not working. Sure hope Thuraya in Dubai sorts this soonest or this might be the one and only journal from the trip. . .
All my best,