Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

The weighty problem of airports…

September 13, 2011

Your camera equipment is never heavier than when you’re trying to board a plane. Rules may be rules, but they don’t make any sense, says Nick Smith

My story starts in one of those swish rustic safari lodges nestled deep in the heart of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. After an unpleasant overnight flight from London to Johannesburg, a four-hour delay prior to a short haul to Maun, followed by a hop, skip and a jump in a Cessna, I was exhausted. Exhausted and minus one camera.

Elephants in Botswana by Nick Smith, nicksmithphoto

Elephants in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo: Nick Smith

This was a long time ago and I’ve since been told many times what a daft idea it was to put a camera in my hold baggage. ‘Always take your photographic gear on board with you,’ sniggered Martin Hartley over a beer, before going on to tell me that if you put anything of value in your main luggage you’re asking for trouble. They don’t call it ‘Thiefrow Airport’ for nothing, he said, trying to think up a daft pun on Johannesburg to go with his earlier one. ‘I know all that,’ I said, ‘but my gadget bag was overweight and the check-in staff made me take some stuff out and repack it into my hold luggage.’

I told him how I transferred my spare camera body which, as we know never made it, having been smuggled out of an international airport presumably through the same weak link in the system that allows explosives, guns and drugs in. At least I’d had the presence of mind to ditch the spare, but I can tell you I was spitting blood when the insurance company refused to cough up, while the two airlines involved in the connector flight blamed each other. But I’ll have a rant about camera insurance another day.

Over the years I’ve varied my approach to a problem that all photographers on overseas assignments face. Through trial and error I’ve managed to get the weight of my kit down, but I can never get it to under 11kg no matter how hard I try. By the time you’ve packed the laptop, card readers, chargers and all that gubbins, there’s barely room for a compact point-and-shoot.

Sunset shot through bush sage in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo: Nick Smith, nicksmithphoto

Sunset shot through bush sage in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo: Nick Smith

I bought myself one of those ‘Airport guaranteed’ ultra light packs, but the truth is that most airlines simply won’t allow you to go airside with more than 10kg of the tools of the trade. This annoys me for several reasons, but mercifully they don’t often check, so long as you pick up your pack as if it were as light as a feather. Once you’re on the plane the real nightmare begins because, while everyone plugs themselves into their iPods, novels, and handy horseshoe-shaped cushions, I’m just sitting there waiting for the hot rectangular tray of what they call food to arrive.

I suppose after years of feeling like a criminal something had to give, and on a recent trip to Malaysia I nearly snapped, before being on the receiving end of an unexpected happy outcome. Heathrow check-in again. ‘I’m sorry sir but this bag is 11 kilos. It’s too heavy to take on as hand luggage,’ came the bored and yet still slightly helpful voice of someone not really enjoying what they were doing. I counted to ten and decided to reason with them.

giraffe bones in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo: Nick Smith, nicksmithphoto

Giraffe bones in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo: Nick Smith

Ah, I said, but what about the people who take through a 10kg item of hand luggage and then buy a litre of water airside? As we all know from our physics classes the definition of a kilogram is that it is the weight of a litre of distilled water at 4 degrees centigrade. So, hah! The minute they buy their water they’ll be carrying the same weight as me. And what’s more, not only will I not buy a bottle of water, I further promise to drink nothing between now and boarding.

The woman looked at me sadly before repeating that my bag was overweight. But my check-in luggage weighs less than my cameras, I remonstrated. If you aggregate the total weight, I’m miles under. ‘It doesn’t work that way, sir,’ said the lady who, despite knowing I was morally right, had started to take a dislike to me. In frustration I pointed out that the portly gentleman she’d just let through was easily ten stone overweight, but did she pick on him? Oh no, that would be weightism. Maybe he’d eaten his cameras before arriving at the airport…

After further heated discussion where logic failed, and after more ‘computer says no’ moments, I was desperate. But somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered what a teacher of mine once told me years ago: that politeness and kindness would open more doors than any amount of swagger and bluster. ‘Please let me through,’ I begged. ‘Oh all right,’ she replied, ‘just this once.’

So next time I go to check in with my 11kg of kit – that I can’t put in the hold because someone will steal it – I’m going to be sweetness and light. If challenged, I’ll ask their advice, help and expert opinion on how to solve the problem. The cynical misanthrope in me doesn’t for a second think such flattery will come naturally, but I suppose we could all do with learning from our mistakes.

This article appears in the latest edition of Outdoor Photography magazine

Quick sketch of a recent trip to Mozambique

February 8, 2011

Mozambique: a destination with a difference

From the wild untamed bush of the interior to the pristine coral sands of the Indian Ocean, Mozambique is Africa’s next ‘go to’ destination

Sunset in Mozambique by Nick Smith

Sunset over Guludo in Mozambique. Photo: Nick Smith

As the sun sets over Africa’s interior, through my binoculars I can see a small herd of elephant making their stately way to a water hole amongst the acacias. Here at Guludo the sky is aflame with rich apricot orange and salmon pink. Below me, the endless expanse of untamed African bush is abuzz with impending nocturnal activity. Sitting on the crest of this huge escarpment it’s hard to believe that only hours ago I was lounging on a coral island watching a pod of humpback whales, listening to the cry of swift terns circling in the tropical breeze.

Forget Botswana. Forget Zambia. For the intrepid adventurer in search of ‘barefoot luxury’ today’s African destination of choice is Mozambique. For nearly half a century this breathtakingly beautiful country has been a closed book due to its turbulent politics. But today it’s safe to travel here and for the modern pioneer, eager to see a land that’s been in the shadows for so long, now’s the time to get to know the country at its best, before it becomes the next fashionable destination. In so many ways Mozambique is ‘real Africa’, where the thrilling sights and sounds of the bush are waiting for the truly discerning traveller.

With its national parks teeming with wildlife, Portuguese colonial architecture and far-flung luxury beach resorts, this quiet and isolated country is one of the continent’s best-kept secrets. And Guludo – a multi-award winning eco-lodge – is an example of top-end eco-tourism at its best. Here you can chill on the white coral sands, go for a scuba dive or a game drive, play a game of beach volley-ball of take a cultural visit to one of the local villages.

For many though it’s the colonial ruins that give Mozambique its special atmosphere of faded grandeur. Not far from Guludo there’s the exquisite Ilha do Ibo, a remote and tiny speck of a coral island in the Indian Ocean, a former regional capital of the colonial era. Visit the restored fortresses and churches built by the Portuguese, but by far the most intriguing is the ghost town of Ibo itself. Once a bustling centre of colonial administration, the centuries old deserted civic buildings are a photographer’s paradise, as well as home to countless wild flowers, butterflies and geckos.

But Ibo isn’t just about its cultural heritage. Take a boat out onto the ocean and spend a morning on your own desert island, snorkelling in the turquoise lagoons or enjoying an al fresco barbecue breakfast of freshly caught fish from the ocean. But whatever you want from Mozambique – the extraordinary green-barked fever tree, the majestic royal blue goliath heron or the sound of lions roaring in the night – this is a land of real adventure.

For specialist small group travel to Mozambique visit www.steppestravel.co.uk

Nick Smith’s latest book ‘Travels in the World of Books’ was published last May.