What to pack for your trip to Addis, IT Edition

When we packed for our trip to Addis Abeba, capital of Ethopia, I had the following options on the table:

  • Camera
    • Compact Camera (medium-age Powershot)
    • DSLR Camera (recent EOS Rebel/Kiss/triple digit)
    • Smartphone (two generations old iPhone 4)
  • Computer
    • Tablets (small and large, both WiFi, no 3G/UMTS/FancyStuff™)
    • 13″ Notebook (medium-age as well)
    • 11″ Notebook (2006 Dell D420)
  • also rans:
    • Nokia E51 (“dumbphone”)
    • Nokia C06-2 (dual-SIM “feature phone”)

I think, you can't go wrong with tablets. They fit in the backpack, and even in Addis there's so many places with free or reasonable priced WiFi, where you can just pull them out and do stuff. So, the tablets were set.

You better have one mobile on each of you. While I have seen some phone boothes in the street, I've yet to see one used. Everyone here is on mobile. So, the two dumbphones were set, too.

Initially, I didn't want to take any bling bling devices with me, to not attract attention from thieves and so on. So my first setup was to leave the iPhone at home, pack the Powershot and the Dell and be done with it. Let's see where this leads us.

Camera

In the beginning, I tended to pick the Powershot, which gives decent image quality, but on the other hand has a shutter-delay that tends to miss the moment, which is not a good thing when you're out on the street. In the end, wifey championed the DSLR (she wouldn't have to carry it), and with us it went.

Of course, when you're picking up a DSLR body, your next concern is which lens or rather lenses to pick. I opted for the Canon EF-S 15-85mm IS USM, which is optically well regarded, stabilized and focuses fast, giving you an 35mm-equivalent zoom range of 24-135mm. That should cover it, I decided.

But I'm not a birder, and there was no wild-life safari planned, so having no “real” tele for me was fine. On the wide end, 24mm is a pretty decent wide-angle. But of course, depending on your shooting style you'd pick what you need.

I also didn't worry about faster prime lenses, because even the current entry-level EOS Rebels render acceptable images at ISO 3200 (when some three years ago you wouldn't dare cross the ISO 800 line). And don't forget the built-in “Night Shot” function, that combines four single images into a noise-reduced single image. That works very well for static scenes like artifacts in a (usually dim-lit) museum room or paintings in a church.

Notebook

I bought that old Dell on ebay, reasoning it wouldn't be a hard loss if it went AWOL on our journey. But while you sure travel lighty with this old dog, its six year old hardware (which wasn't top of the line when it was new) really shows its age. (To the tech-savvy: It has a “Core Solo Inside”.)

The backlights of the screen get weaker with age, and the harddisk is in reach (or has already reached) its allotted MTBF. It's a hard to replace 1,8″ type with PATA interface (when the current one is SATA 6G), otherwise I'd have outfitted it with a small SSD.

It has a really nice keyboard going for it, and as long as the harddisk keeps humming, I'm pleased with a most-times silent little writing machine. (Using a flash website will change “silent” into “constantly fanning in a high pitch”.)

Added benefit of bringing that old beater was that it wasn't a hard decision to leave it with another couple, who would use it for another week before bringing it home to Germany with them.

Backup Strategy

Besides writing, the main purpose of the notebook is as a double backup for those photographs that should survive theft of camera and crash of harddisk. My routine every evening is to download the new pictures to the computer (1st backup, in case you're counting), maybe weed out some mishaps, and then copy it all to a thumb drive (USB stick, 2nd backup).

Of course, 3rd backup is to upload the real good stuff to your preferred cloud-sync or photo-sharing site. There's WiFi in Addis, is just not always on.

So, how about that Smartphone?, or: Lessons Learned

Hard times for the Smartphone; the iPhone stayed at home.

In retrospect I was probably to timid here. Mobile phones are such a cornerstone of the African economic development that all but the poorest people in Addis have one by now. The better off pick a Samsung, HTC or iPhone like most of the Western world seems to do. The others have one of the modern-classic Nokia designs (featurephone or dumbphone). So you're rather a Ferengi (stranger) for your whiter tone of skin than for flashing an iPhone.

Having an iPhone or another manufacturer's model with a similiar well performing camera on-board gives you that street snapshop capability I need the DSLR for, while attracting less attention from bystanders or your motive.

So, next time I would pack the iPhone for street photos and the DSLR for more controlled environs. Travelling as a couple, we also might have left one tablet at home instead.

While I haven't tried to get one, it must be possible to obtain a Micro- oder Nano-SIM for prepaid mobile access that fits into the current generation smartphones. So by bringing your smartphone(s) you could drop the ordinary mobile(s) from your packing list, too.

What I also hadn't have to find out is if you can get a prepaid 3G data package from Ethionet, the state-owned phone and internet provider. Having such a data package would lessen your dependence on the public WiFi offerings.

Other thoughts

No Notebook

If there's an option to link your DSLR or a card reader to your smartphone (ex.: Apple Camera Connection Kit), your backup strategy might just be to daily download the DSLR's new photos to the tablet or phone and cloud-backup them from there. If you're shooting a lot or shooting raw that might require tablet with lots internal storage. Benefit: Drop the notebook from the packing list if you're good with the tablet's virtual (or tagged-on physical) keyboard.

Get a mobile access point

It's the backup solution here in the Hotel lobby in the absence of the broadband WiFi, and the little sucker does well most of the time. (Most of the time = When no inconsiderate human being uses it to video chat home.) Ethionet seems to provide something like 3G or even better mobile internet. One access point (with one SIM and prepaid data plan) can get your laptop and your two tablets online.

Disclaimer

Please keep in mind that I'm only talking about the City of Addis Abeba, which infrastructure comes up to western standards. We stayed there for 3 weeks starting mid of May 2013. I got zero experience traveling the countryside of Ethiopia.

 

Andreas