The next day in the afternoon the guide came with three other people to the campsite. These people were a cook and two horse assistants. His first estimation was that three horses will be necessary for the trip. But the next day, when the horses were packed, it became apparent that the calculation had been wrong: An additional horse was needed to carry the supplies and the belongings of the horse assistants. The guide explained me that according to the rules established by the local organisation of horse assistants, the number of horses had not to exceed that of horse assistants plus one, i.e. 2:1, 3:2, 4:3, etc. (However, I’m afraid that this rule wouldn’t work for large groups of travelers — when just one more horse wouldn’t be enough.) A horse is supposed to carry maximum 40kg of load. Hence, with my almost 60kg of luggage, I alone needed 2 horses. One horse assistent had to take care of them. But since we were going to spend 17 days in the mountains, we had to take food for us and some forage for the horses accordingly. The guide and the horse assistent had also their own tents, cloths, etc. Hence another horse was necessary to carry all this. Since that were already 3 horses, another horse assistant was required. He also had some personal stuff to be transport, and, of course, we needed some more food.
On my way in Bale Mountains I was accompanied by 6 people and 4 horses.
Since we were 4 persons now, someone had to prepare our meals. A traveler who goes for a short trekking only with a guide and one horse assistant can probably cook meals himself. But if there are more people, either someone has to “play a cook” for all or there should be a special person for that task. During that trip, neither myself, nor the guide, nor anyone from the horse assistants were ready to prepare meals for everybody. Therefore, I decided to hire a cook, and asked the guide to find one. To my big surprise he came with a young lady. I had not expected such liberties for women in this region where the majority of population were Muslims.
Together with the cook, we were 5 people, so three horses were not enough. This became clear in the morning of our departure from Dinsho. Luckily, hiring another man with a horse wasn’t a problem. Of course, I couldn’t mind when a trainee of my guide joined our troop. All together, my support team consisted of 6 people with 4 horses.
You may be asking if they weren’t too many to pay for, if all those 6 people were really necessary for this trip to be a success. I still have no definite answer for this question. Since I don’t know in depth the culture of these people and all details of their relationships, I have to agree that the role separation was right for them, i.e. that a horse assistant couldn’t be a part-time cook, or the guide couldn’t be looking after horses. Certainly, fewer people doing more work would be eligible for a better payment. But this may be just our Western approach, and the sense of efficiency may be just different in other societies. I assume that there are people who would let also others earn money instead of trying to do other person’s job in order to get a maximum payment. If people who were helping me on that trip had this honourable attitude to each other, I certainly respect this. I also enjoyed the company of these extremely friendly, modest and reliable people and am very grateful to them.
The only existing topographic map of Bale Mountains. It is not completely correct and not up to date any more, but there are no alternatives.
1. Bring the equipment in waterproof shock resistant cases, such as Peli, B&W, or similar, instead of sacks or soft cases.
Most of my gear didn’t fit in one such case that I had taken, and I had to put in in a red Ortlieb X-Plorer 35l dry sack. Horse assistants simply have no respect for any luggage: They got used to handle sacks (with flour, rice, and similar) and will treat your valuable equipment like this. (I am going to post here a couple of photographs showing how the horses are packed - so see more in later posts.) Of course, it is easier to transport a sack on a horse, and therefore sacks should be generally preferred - but not for photographic equipment.
2. Bring your cloths and other soft or sturdy items packed in a waterproof bag or backpack.
This is makes sense for at least two reasons: First, it may rain, while your stuff will be on a horse, and in Bale Mountains opportunities to hide from rain are very rare. Second, a waterproof bag protects also from dust, and in dry season this area is extremely dusty.
3. Protect yourself from sun rays as much as possible.
The sunshine is extreme in the mountains, and with large portion of UV rays. You should always have a hat or a cap on your head during the day. A hat is better because it casts shadow over you face and may also protect the neck and the ears. Also the rest of the body should be protected: Wear only long trousers and long-sleeved shirt!
Don’t expose also your hands to the sun whenever possible. This is difficult because you will be holding the camera sometimes in the sun. After my hands got burned, I was wearing thin white gardener gloves all the time that I normally use for protection from thorns. I strongly recommend you to do the same already from the beginning.
Using a sunscreen (lotion, gel, etc.) may also be a good idea. I never had used it and didn’t take it with me for my first trip to Bale. I had to regret it very much already on the second day - after the sun had burned my nose so that it got blisters, and my face and hands were all red and swollen.
Of course, wear sun glasses from late morning till late afternoon.
4. Be prepared that you get altitude sick.
I didn’t expect that this problem will be so serious. I had been at altitudes over 3000 m above sea level before, and never noticed any unusual symptoms. However, those my previous visits in the mountains were short - for only several hours. Therefore, in Bale Mountains the altitude sickness just took me by surprise, and I was very sick for almost a half of the trip. Unless you are well-trained and have a mountaineering experience, the same may happen to you. Thus, if you are aware of any serious cardiovascular problems that you may have, you should not go for this trip. Anyway you should be reasonably fit to be able to trek in Bale Mountains. If you aren’t and normally don’t move much when you are at home, I would recommend you to consult a doctor before you go for such a trip.
5. Don’t take equipment for macro photography for this trip.
Usually I take a macro lens, or macro rings, or both with me wherever I go. But lenses are not all: I also bring flashes, flash brackets, tripods, angle finder, and other stuff. Macro photography is not my specialization but I like it, and usually photograph all invertebrates and flora that I find attractive. On the first trip in Bale Mountains I also had all that gear but never had an opportunity to use it. Maybe it will be different in other season, but in general I would suggest that you leave your macro gear at home.
6. Don’t bother about dust.
Otherwise you will spoil your trip if you will be constantly trying to protect your camera and lenses of it. Just be prepared that it will be everywhere - in your cloths, your sleeping bag, your throat… and in your camera. You won’t be able to do anything against it if you use only one camera body and need to change lenses. If you have more cameras, bring them all and avoid changing lenses this way. I have no idea of other solutions.
It is also better if your camera would have some sort of weather sealing and dust removal automatic. My EOS 5D Mark II did it quite well but nevertheless I had to remove quite a lot of dust spots during image processing at home.
7. Bring hand cream.
The dust will make the skin of your hands very dry. Normally I don’t use such cosmetics at home, but this time I was regretting not to have it. At the end my hands were all sore and ill.
8. Don’t tell any official that you are a photographer.
Unless you are on assignment, and your agency has purchased the shooting rights, you should present yourself as just a visitor of the park - because formally you are one. People visiting the park are allowed to photograph anything. However, the park officials appear to think of a photography as of a job that everyone is doing for money. They fail to understand the word “hobby” and just can’t imagine that someone who is doing something professionally can do it just for fun and not for money. So better keep you mouth shut if you are like me - a pro, but photography is your passion and not a paid job.