Recently we have had a few people asking us what they should bring when coming out here. We thought we would put together some general thoughts on the subject, so last night we sat down and drafted some ideas on what to bring to the bush.
Depending on the time of year you visit you might be very cold or very hot or both in one day! July here at Kaingu can get down to low single digits (Celsius) and the wind chill on an open vehicle or boat can make this a lot colder still. If you are coming in the winter months then gloves, scarf (silk or similar) and a woolly hat are pretty much essential. Several layers are a good idea – worth considering is one of the fairly new soft shell type jackets which give the warmth of a fleece but are far more wind resistant.
Footwear is often overdone, you don’t need heavy boots. Decent walking shoes or trainers are generally enough, or lightweight walking boots – like for European or US summer hiking. In the evening you might want to change into some lightweight sandals and let your feet also take a rest.
You don’t have to be clad in head-to-toe khaki, but fairly muted tones are best – and essential if walking in the bush.
In the summer months a fairly warm outer shell is often still needed on boats and vehicles in the early mornings, but the gloves and all that can be left at home. Loose fitting summer clothing is essential. Temperatures during the day can reach mid to high 30s and so think of it as like say the height of an Andalusia summer. In other words hot!
Either winter or summer please bring a hat. A wide brimmed one works well, and if it has a cord so it doesn’t blow into the river and disappear towards lake Itezhi Tezhi then that is a bonus.
Sunglasses are another obvious but totally vital essential.
If you are coming in the wetter months – which are stunningly beautiful – then bring a lightweight poncho type raincoat, which is a fantastic invention! They will cover you and your gear and you can even put it over the seat back in an open vehicle or boat so the rain doesn’t run down and soak your behind.
A pair of lightweight waterproof hiking boots and quick drying trousers makes sense. Poly cotton or man made fabrics will dry much faster than cotton. A waterproof bag for valuable equipment or stuff that doesn’t like getting wet is a good plan too. Ortlieb are basically the leaders in waterproof bags of all descriptions.
Moisturising cream is essential – any time of year. Malaria prophylaxis is recommended. We don’t take, but if you are here for a matter of weeks then why take the risk! Every safari camp worthy of the name will have a fairly comprehensive medical kit, but do remember that if you are carrying essential medication then pack it in your hand luggage. We have had cases of guests with bags going astray and then trying to source medication on arrival. You do not need this added stress. Sun cream is essential at any time of year. Remember that exposure to the sun is not helped by the wind in open vehicles which makes you feel colder than you would when standing still so sunburn can really creep up on you.
Electronic and Optical Gear:
You could probably write a thesis on what people bring on Safari. Nowadays people travel with all sorts of things – laptops, tablets, smart phones, e-readers, GPS. The list is endless. Remember that in many places charging facilities are limited – if not in power available (many camps are specified to exact requirements, and 8 ipads and DSLR batteries all charging actually do take a lot of power, this is certainly the case here at Kaingu) but simply in terms of the number of plug points that have to be fought over if the camp is full. One of the pleasures of the bush is that you are stepping back and getting closer to nature. Do you really need to constantly be in touch? Will there even be a phone network or wifi connection? And if there were would you rather be on facebook or watching for finfoots and otters from the deck? But anyway now we are sounding really old (or bush)! But food for thought.
Remember that the African bush is not like other places – internet will come via a satellite system and every MB has to be paid for, so your hosts might not be delighted if their monthly allocation is consumed by someone on youtube or their connection grinds to a standstill and they miss a massive block booking and a Conde Nast journalist who cannot get an email response in five minutes goes somewhere else! Camps can be paying literally hundreds of dollars per month for a connection that in say Germany would hardly even be acceptable for home use.
Rather than all the electronics (which you will constantly be worrying about charging) why not bring a big weighty paperback that you always said you would read! We won’t pretend; Jill Mansell and Tom Clancy would most likely be our choices and not Jane Austen and Tolstoy. But if you really do like reading electronically then an e-reader with a paper-like screen is better than a tablet – you hardly need to charge them and they are much easier to read in daylight as well as being kinder on the eyes at night.
So we have talked about the things that you really don’t need. But what about what you do need?
Number one on the list is binoculars.
Do yourself a big favour and skip the little ones with 25mm objectives. When the light fades they fade too, and the field of view makes it difficult to pick things up. They have their uses (e.g. walking when weight is paramount), but on Safari you generally don’t have to worry about that. You don’t have to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on top end German ‘glass’. Companies like Nikon, Bushnell etc have lower end ranges that you can find online for bargain prices and optically they are very, very good. A pair of 8×40 or 10×40 will be the best. Don’t be fooled by higher magnification, which end up being very difficult to see due to slight movement and tremors being also magnified.
Number two is a camera.
Again this can be a full dissertation. Now some people will show up with 500mm lenses that cost the price of a small car. That is great and fantastic if your hobby or profession demands it and you can spend that much on a lens. But at the other extreme, lets face it, the little point and shoot that you break out at family gatherings to take snaps with is going to be a big disappointment. The lion that is 80m from the vehicle will be a tiny dot when you finally look at your pictures. The Pied Kingfisher on the river may as well be a mosquito! So called ‘bridge cameras’ however offer decent focal length in a small and relatively cheap package. A model that has just been replaced by the latest greatest can often be picked up at relatively bargain prices. And the results these cameras can produce can be surprising! But if you are really into your pictures then you don’t need me to tell you that you can always rent a lens for your DSLR! But still take along the point and shoot for landscapes and people. Photo buffs will often travel with two DSLR bodies and one long lens and one short lens for landscapes, but to be honest why bother as a point and shoot in the pocket solves that problem! I won’t even go near the Nikon Vs Canon thing… Nikon is better and we use Canon. That is about as straightforward an answer as you will get on that one! All the gear that goes with your camera; Hmm. Another minefield. Bring a couple of batteries and the charger and plenty of memory. Tripods, mega flash extensions and all that is fine. But we have lost count of how many tripods are brought here and sit on the deck for three days not being used. We have hosted professional photographers who bring nothing but a single body and a longish lens and produce dozens of images that are just superlative. Of course if you are flying in then if you are not careful then camera gear alone can max out your 20kg “soft bag” allowance in a heartbeat.
Number Three is a torch (or flashlight)
Weird eh! Well not really. If you live and work in the safari industry your torch is your best friend. Think about modern life when the lights stop working… scary. And there are no lions in Luton. But joking apart, many safari camps run on solar power and it is all too easy to go to dinner/out on activity and forget to switch your lights out. You then go back to the tent and… surprise! No lights. Or you wake up in the night on your first night in a strange room… instead of fumbling around grab your light of the bedside table and voila – light! Or the circuit breaker under your tent trips because it is raining… I won’t go into details about guides walking guests back to their rooms and finding that the “high powered mega light” is running out of batteries and the guests small torch saves the day (at a lot of embarrassment), but it happens. A lot. Not here though. Never. Only in big name corporate type entities that forget to buy batteries. A small single or double AA powered LED light with different power levels would be a good choice. Try Fenix as a brand that take some beating for the price. Torches taking 3 x AAA cells are also widely available and used, LED Lenser and Maglight produce popular ones. Headlights are also good; Petzl or Zebralight would be our choice. And a pack of lithium (energiser) batteries should do the job for the duration of your holiday. Or go nuts and check out oveready.com for a triple XPG modified surefire that will change your thought processes forever about what the simple torch is capable of!
Number four is a water bottle
Two in fact. Most camps have water filters, and there is nothing worse than dealing with sacks of plastic bottles. Do yourself and the environment a favour and get a Sigg or similar. Don’t forget that you will dehydrate here much, much quicker than back home. It doesn’t matter how fit or athletic you are – the body takes several days (up to 14 even) to acclimatise to much different temperatures and water loss. We have seen guests suffer serious dehydration and even heat stroke. It is not pleasant. Rule of thumb: if your pee is yellow then you are not drinking enough water. Luckily public loos (termite mounds and river banks) are literally everywhere. Don’t be embarrassed to ask your guide for a ‘comfort break’ – one of the useful Americanisms! If he or she looks blank then just say you want to “mark your territory” and they will instantly understand. It sounds weird, but having your own bottle that you carry around will actually encourage you to drink more water.
A few last other things
The only other thing that we would really recommend is a decent bird book and mammal behaviour book. For the birds, ‘Birds of Africa South of the Sahara’ by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan is the reference text for Zambia and worth bringing. Even if you don’t consider yourself that keen a birder you will get a lot of enjoyment from the book and identifying birds yourself.
For the mammals we would highly recommend ‘The Behaviour Guide to African Mammals’ by Richard Despard Estes. This book gives fascinating insights into mammal behaviour and is well worth purchasing.
Oh, and a Swiss Army knife or leatherman type multi tool is always good to have!