Warning - this is a long post. You may want to print it out.
Three months ago, I wrote about some of my future my goals and my timeline to recover from hip surgery. One of my goals was to begin light exercise on May 17. Didn’t happen. Another was to start rigorously exercising a month later. July 17 was the date set to begin traveling around Thailand to begin shooting photos for a proposed photography book. None of these has happened. None. I’m pissed off the healing is taking as long as it is, but I’m over it. I can’t waste time worrying or complaining.
Three months ago I also wrote, “This timeline is tentative because anything can happen. Right now, this is the plan.”
Seven months ago, I wrote how “I am feeling old, brittle, and grouchy. Despite having 240MG codeine in me, I feel like an African buffalo stomped on my hip.”
It has been painful to walk. I limp, I grit my teeth and walk through the pain, and I try to do things I normally would do. In the beginning it seemed easy. Then it became flat out work. At first, I was frustrated, then slightly bummed out. Immediately after surgery, my recovery was excellent. Then I hit the wall and the recovery slowed. For the past year, my hip has prevented me from living how I want to live. I went from regularly traveling around Bangkok and other parts of Thailand to considering a 5-minute trip to The Mall Bangkapi a lengthy sojourn.
In the past four months, I have traveled to Chiang Mai three times and the place is growing on me. Get away from the tourists and there is an element of peace difficult to find in Bangkok. Will I ever be an American in Chiang Mai? Doubtful. If our family ever moves away from Bangkok, we would probably move to Suratthani, where my wife is from. We have friends and family there plus we have land and a house so it seems like the ideal area. However, we stayed there for two weeks a year or so ago and by the tenth day we were bored stiff. Maybe when we’re old and gray this would be a good part-time option. Who knows? Anyhow, even though there are hordes of Chinese tour groups and backpackers in Chiang Mai, I would probably live there before living in Pattaya, Samui, or Phuket.
Two weeks ago, I spent a couple of days in Chiang Mai. My orthopedic doctor is based in Chiang Mai so I flew up to have him assess how I am healing. Fortunately, there is nothing wrong. The hip implant is grafting with the bone and is still firmly in place. The problem is with my hip flexor and/or soft tissue. Healing is going to require more time so I have been forced to modify my plan.
I still feel old, brittle, and grouchy but fortunately, there is far less pain than even two weeks ago. Apart from when I wake up and stand up, I am virtually pain-free. I have started walking for 10-15 minutes a day and will see how I fare. It’s a step in the right direction.
Getting Out Again
As I have said before, making videos from home or from Starbucks leaves something to be desired. I always want more. I want to have a camera in my hand and even if my video skills are somewhat lacking, I want to make to make videos of my travels. The last decent trip — in my eyes — was to Myanmar in January 2014. Maybe all the walking during the trip hastened the deterioration of my hip, who knows, but I learned quite from the journey and ended up with some nice photographs. I want more. More, more, more!
Those who have followed me through this website or through my YouTube channel know I have been planning a trip to Central Africa. I have written and spoken about this for far too long. The three countries I am most interested in are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Burundi. Why? Because by all accounts they are extremely challenging countries to travel in but more importantly, to photograph. To be honest, I would like to spend more time photographing outside of Southeast Asia. A hard-core, change of pace. No Asian faces, no temples, no Khao San Road, Chinatown, or Rohingya.
There are numerous potential photojournalism projects in Central Africa : poverty, malaria, HIV, drug addiction, religion, conflict between various factions, the high incidence of rape and mutilation, unemployment, child soldiers, and political turmoil are but a few. My main interests are poverty (caused mainly by internal strife), disease (Malaria, HIV, Dengue Fever, Sleeping Sickness), the effects of war on children and drug addiction.
With my hip surgery and also a shortage of funds, the Congo trip has been put on the back burner. Getting around the countries in Central Africa can be time-consuming and costly and the minimum time needed to stay in the region is 3-4 weeks. Traveling to the Congo is unlike taking a trip from Thailand to elsewhere in Southeast Asia for a number of reasons. Obviously it is much farther away from Bangkok. Although getting around certain parts of Asia can be troublesome, traveling in some parts of Central Africa makes rush hour traffic in Manila look like a cakewalk. Kidney splitting, painful, and at times, dangerous travel.
Since I have been asking for donations to help fund this trip, it’s a good idea I illustrate the costs involved for three weeks in Central Africa. I have gone over this again and again and the costs below are whittled down as little as I think is possible while at the same time retaining a measure of safety.
1. Flight ($1300)
It took a while for me to figure out which airlines and routes are the most affordable and provide the best value but a ticket to Kigali, Rwanda (you can cross into the D.R.C. or Burundi from here) runs approximately $1300. A ticket to Kinshasa or Entebbe is also possible for around the same price. However, Kinshasa is quite some distance from Goma, which is where I would like to spend the majority of my time. From Goma, I can go to Kisangani in the D.R.C., Kigali, Rwanda or Bujumbura, Burundi. Kinshasa is closer to Bangui in the Central African Republic so I must decide soon as I plan on buying my ticket in the next 30-45 days.
2. Accommodation - $75 a night ($1575)
There are places I can stay that will cost less than $75 and places that will cost more. Decent, safe hotels can run $150 or higher but $75 a night is probably a fair guess to the average over a month. This is for a 2 or 3-star hotel or guesthouse or hotel. Staying in a 4 or 5-star accommodation is not an option as prices are exorbitant. Neither are regular trips to Starbucks at The Mall.
3. Food - $25 a day including water ($525).
Decisions, decisions. If this were a trip through Asia, my culinary choices would extensive. As my knowledge, Africa is almost zilch, feeding my face will probably cost a bit more than in Asia. Plus I need to make certain I have plenty of fresh water available at all times.
4. Visas / Permits / Fees ($350)
Visas - $150
Photography permits - $200
5. Fixer - $150 a day ($3500 including tip)
A good fixer can make life much easier, save money, and possibly even your life. They know where to go, where not to go, who to grease, and who to tell to bugger off. They’ll watch your back, make sure you stay out of trouble, help with projects, and let you know what is and is not acceptable. The price may seem steep but considering this person might be the only person you can trust and he might save your ass, and the price includes his food and accommodation, it is a small price to pay. If I can’t afford a fixer, I don’t go.
6. Transportation ($800)
I’ll be honest, I’m guessing here. But from everything I have read and been told, travel is expensive within any of the countries I may visit. Need to go cross country? Try $500. Need to fly? There goes the budget. Traveling is expensive in Africa — much different in Thailand where I can go just about anywhere for less than $100.
7. Palm Grease ($500)
Palm grease = bribes = tea money. In my opinion, this is a pretty piss-poor buffer considering how much I could be “charged” but I am hoping my fixer can stave off the greedy. Still, the occasional gift can go a long way and I would hate to be caught in a situation I wasn’t prepared for.
8. Spending / Other - ($1450)
This amounts to approximately $75 a day. This might be overkill. Then again, it might not be but I think I’m dead on.
Sub-total - $10,000
9. Equipment / Supplies - $2500
These are the items I think I’ll need. Some of the film cameras I am now using are not up to a heavy-duty, gnarly trip and I do not own a flash. While I would prefer to have all or most of the items on this list, purchasing even three or four of these items would help immensely.
Travel Insurance - $150
Complete physical - $350
Nikon F2 camera (100% mechanical) - $250
Sekonic Mechanical Light Meter - $150
Nikon 24MM 2.8 Lens - $200
Nikon 85MM f/1.4G Lens - $400
Fuji Flash - $250
Film - $300 (approximately 50 rolls or 2-3 rolls a day)
Film Developing - $250
Miscellaneous - $200
Total = $12,500
Of the $12,500, I can come up with $3500-$4000 over the course of the next few months. To bring a professional filmmaker with me would cost another $2000 which is something I think would be beneficial. A rough estimate of what I need to raise is $8500. So far I’ve raised a little under $500 — nowhere near enough. If you enjoy this site, my videos on YouTube, consider making a donation to my Congo fund or through Paypal at scottmallon [@] me . com. Alternatively, you can sign up for a VIP membership ($39.95) to this site, donate Delta Frequent Flyer Miles, or purchase one of my photo prints at www.scottmallon.net. For every $200 donated, I’ll send one 20 x 30 print from the trip. Finally, if you are interested in sponsoring the trip financially, or with gear, please get in touch with me.
A better video camera or a Sony a7ll with 4K capabilities would be nice to have, but this would add to the budget another $3000-$4000. Paying for the trip is already a stretch so I’ll use what I have. Two things about photography equipment; it is expensive and there always seems to be one more item needed.
Anyhow, there you have it - my hip should be better in 3-4 months and I’ll make this trip in another 6 - 8 months. Look for videos in the coming weeks on what I am doing to prepare for the trip.