What’s In Your Bag, Graham?

I often get asked what’s in my bag.  I’ve already done a blog on what (not) to take backpacking, but I didn’t really get into the technical stuff, so here goes:

CAMERA: I use an old 2006 Sony HVR-A1(E) HDV camera. It takes mini-DV tapes, which are surprisingly easy to get anywhere on the road. The hand-held successors in this product line were mostly hard-drive cameras, which are fantastic, but in environments where things can go missing, humidity can affect drive heads and stuff is likely to suffer from knocks, tapes are a better idea than hard drives.

When I first started I used the top-mounted XLR mic plugged into the hot-shoe on the A1, but after a couple of weeks I ditched it – at arm’s length the A1’s inbuilt mic was just as good and in stereo.

I use a cheap Chinese-made 37mm wide-angle lens so my mug doesn’t take up too much of the screen when I’m holding the camera at arm’s length. The official Sony wide-angle one costs three times the amount and weighs three times as much, so I opted for the lighter, cheaper version. Works just as well.

Keeping things cheap, light and low-fi, I don’t carry an XLR mic, tripod, boom, clapperboard, track or even a dolly.

LAPTOP: I carry a (now very battered) Dell Latitude X1, which I bought off ebay for 200 quid. It’s one of the last 11.1” notebooks to include a 4-pin firewire input – essential for backing up my tapes off the A1. I then courier the tapes – the raw footage – to the production company. And, so far, I haven’t lost a tape (or deleted anything I wouldn’t want to be on television)!

I shoot everything in HDV, aka ‘half HD’ – 1440×1080 pixels per frame with rectangular pixels (full HD is 1920×1080 with square pixels). The TV show is edited in SD, don’t really know why. I edit my YouTube clips in SD, on my Dell laptop. I use a legal copy of Adobe Premiere, although to be honest I’m not really stretching the program much: you could probably get away with doing the same kind of thing on Windows Movie Maker.

BACKPACK: I use a Lowe-Alpine “Pax25” bag which I bought back in 2001. This bag has travelled to over 250 countries in that time and still hasn’t let me down. You can’t buy them any more. Ahh… they don’t make ’em like they used to!!


GPS: I use a little Sony GPS-CS1. It’s hardy as hell (it survived a dip in the Persian Gulf!) and does the job magnificently. Although it doesn’t like trains. It takes a single AA battery. I use rechargables and have a little gizmo for charging them via the USB on my laptop.

PHONE: I use the simplest cheapest Nokia I can find and I carry two of them, just in case. They’re fairly indestructible, the batteries last all year and Everyone’s got a Nokia charger and there’s a torch in the top!! Stick it, iPhone!!


IPOD: Talking of Rotten Apples, Lonely Planet kindly bought me an iPod Touch for Christmas. Yippee, I thought: I could put all my Lonely Planet books on it and easily read them as I go. A nightmare experience of trying to navigate the map of Baku, Azerbaijan at 5am when it was minus 5 put paid to that idea: the time it takes to refresh a pdf screen is painfully slow… we’re talking up to a minute just for one step (zoom or move) on a map. I stick with the real books and just use the iPod for music.

STILL CAMERA: I kind of regret not taking a better still camera, but my little Sony Cybershot does an adequate job of holiday snaps. A digital SLR would weigh too much and just be one more thing to worry about.

CABLES ETC: A 4-pin to 4-pin firewire, a couple of USB cables, a third-party all-in-one charge block for my still and video camera batteries, laptop power cable and a DC/DC converter for charging my laptop from the ciggie lighter of a car. Great for long bush-taxi rides!


SLEEPING BAG: I have a tiny Karrimor Global 700 Traveller Lite which packs down to the size of a small loaf of bread. Hardly ever use it, except when I’m on a bus and the air-conditioning is freezing my face off.

Right, that’s it. Apart from my Swiss Army Knife, a rather sparse first aid kit and mosquito net, I don’t use any other specialised kit, except for my fishing vest which I bought in Herat, Afghanistan. It’s got about 20 pockets and can hold two full bottles of whiskey in the lining. Lovely!!

Day 1,419: We Advance At Dawn

Mon 19.11.12:

It was 0600 when my wake-up call came through from the third officer, but he need not have bothered: I was already wide awake. Giddy with that I-can-believe-this-is-actually-happening vibe, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. From now to South Sudan there is an open road: no ships to organise, no visas to be purchased in advance, from the moment I step foot on African soil it will be go go go to the end of the Odyssey Expedition.

I’ve been doing this for nigh on four years. In less than a week I’ll have achieved the impossible. Or at least something that nobody has ever done before. By 0700 I was posing for photos with the crew, ready to depart with Alfred, the ship’s agent. I was getting off at the same time as second engineer Jay from The Philippines. By 8am we had both been stamped into South Africa.


At this point I should mention that I’m rapidly running out of passport pages. Assuming that Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan all take up a page each (something I have no reason to doubt), when I get to South Sudan I will have exactly *zero* pages left in my passport to get back to the UK.

Lucky then I have a second passport! This morning it arrived back in London from its totally pointless trip to Madagascar and is currently in London with my good friend Lindsey. She should be dropping it into the Ethiopian embassy tomorrow, and on Friday when the visa (hopefully) comes through, it’ll be picked up by Casey and sent to Nairobi for me to collect. So long as I can buy multiple entry visas for both Kenya and Uganda, I should have *just* enough room to get back to Nairobi from South Sudan.

Happily, South Africa has a teeny-tiny entry stamp and hurrah for that!!

By 8.30am we arrived at the bus station just in time to see the Intercape bus to Johannesburg pull out of the depot. Cursing myself for faffing around this morning (although I’ve come to realise that immigration opened at 0800, so all the rushing in the world wouldn’t have changed matters much), I took some Rand out of the ATM (and got a new note with Nelson Mandela on it, only came out last week!) and bought a ticket for the bus that would depart at 0945, arriving Jo’burg at 1720 that afternoon.

I said my goodbyes to Alfred and Jay and waited to go. All was going swimmingly until the bus broke down. Overheating caused by an oil leak, from what I could fathom. Now anywhere else, a replacement bus would hurry out to us. But This Is Africa, so we drove to the garage instead and waited THREE HOURS while they fixed the problem. Sitting on the bus in the searing heat, no AC because the engine was off, and you couldn’t even open a window, because the cretins that design these buses obviously never ride in these buses.

Would you buy a new car, no matter how AC’d up to the hilt, in which the windows didn’t open? No. Exactly. Why engineers and architects are so confident that the air conditioning will *never* go on the blink is quite beyond me. But we still let these morons design buses, trains and office buildings whose unique selling feature is the opportunity to be slowly cooked alive rather than allowed to open a frikkin’ window: an otherwise nice, environmentally-friendly low-tech solution to the problem of, you know, being too hot.

As a consequence, it wasn’t until 2025 that I arrived in Jo’burg, the good ol’ murder capital of the world (sort of). As the last underground train left for Janine’s nearest station left at 2030, a frantic sprint to the Gautrain was in order. This is a brand new system – wasn’t here last time I was in town – but your ginger travelling monkey here had the system sussed out within seconds (I guess it helps I’ve ridden on an insane number of Mass Transit Systems) and by 2029 I was on the train, doors beeping as I boarded, almost catching my backpack as they closed.

Sat down, happy but sweaty, took out my phone to text Janine telling her I had made it: then realised the awful truth that Londoners have to live with everyday: there is no mobile signal when you’re underground. Oh well, that’s fine, methinks, I’ll text her when I arrive. Ten minutes later, I arrived, bounded up the up escalators and after waving my phone the air like I was directing a plane to the gate, I picked up some signal. I texted Janine only to receive the reply ‘ARGH! Was just driving all the way into town to pick you up!’.

So there I was with all my bags in the rape capital of the world, waiting outside a train station in the dark. I just hoped the station wouldn’t close – the security guys milling about at the entrance gave me a modicum of reassurance. And my fearsome ginger hair, obviously.

Janine took about 20 minutes to get back to me. It was great to see her again. We went for some Nandos (geniune South African / Jamacian tucker) because they make adverts like THIS:

Once back at J9’s, I barely had time to scratch my arse. Casey and I had a zillion and one things to sort out – there’s a good chance I’d have no internet contact from now until South Sudan. I’m taking care of the transport and the whole ‘not getting myself killed’ bit and Casey’s doing the rest. One way or another, this time NEXT WEEK, the Odyssey Expedition will have drawn to its inevitable and Jubalant conclusion…