Leica Explorer: Hubert & Mayra in the Footsteps of Ibn Battuta

Hubert Hayaud and Mayra Roffe Gutman were the only Leica Explorers traveling as a team. Through the eyes of Ibn Battuta they documented their journey through India and Sri Lanka on the Leica Explorer blog. We had the chance to talk to Hubert and Mayra about the best parts of their trip (planes, trains and motorbikes) and the worst (internet troubles and rouge elephants).

Q: How did you hear about the Leica “In the Footsteps of the Great Explorers” contest?

Hubert: I am subscribed to many different kinds of blogs, most of them about photography…

Mayra: … and the rest about motorbikes and Westphalia.

Hubert: The Leica blog is one of them, so that’s where I found out just two days before the deadline!

Q: Why did you decide to apply for the contest?

Hubert: Why would anyone refuse to give something like that a try?!

Mayra: Since we first met Hubert and I had been playing with the idea of doing some work together with him behind his camera and me with my writing. This contest just sounded like a dream opportunity to give it a shot.

Hubert: Once you decide to apply, you want to make sure you have the highest possible chance. So as soon as we found out we rushed to prepare the best possible application, which included photos, texts, a map and a short video.

Q: How did you prepare for your journey?

Mayra: Well, one week before departure we were still waiting to get our Indian visas! It was a bit nerve-racking; I drove to Ottawa twice and pretty much begged the embassy agents. Apart from that, not much except reading about Ibn Battuta, finding a guide, some road maps. Everybody around us insisted on us bringing tons of medicine (the stomach disease kind in particular) and the day before our departure a friend came by with a snake bite emergency kit, but don’t worry you don’t really need one of those.

Hubert: As I do whenever I travel, I surfed the web (photo agencies, Flickr, Google images) in search for visual ideas and inspiration, as well as to try to avoid clichés. I do not prepare too much because I really want to keep my first moment of surprise.

Q: What was the highlight of the trip for you?

Hubert: Riding a Royal Enfield has always been a big dream for me. Doing it in India, with monkeys and elephants, through winding mountain roads, with no helmet and at the time where I’d normally be surviving Canadian winter was just beyond any expectations. But this is just because I need to choose something, the trip was all about highlights.

Mayra: For me it was going up the Sri Pada mountain in Sri Lanka. It’s not really about the physical challenge (although for someone as un-sporty as me it meant quite a bit of effort), but about being up there in a tiny crowded Buddhist temple watching the sunrise.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced during the trip?

Hubert: It sounds a bit strange, but I think the most difficult thing was to find fast internet connections with reliable computers.

Mayra: On the funny side, one evening we decided to stay at a cheap hotel in this small village in Sri Lanka. As we needed to post on the blog that day, we thought we would crash the lobby of this other high-end hotel to use their wifi. As we were walking out, the owner of the cheap place ran by us and pointed at these gigantic footprints explaining that a wild elephant family tends to roam the village in the evening (deforestation in the area has made food scarce for them). When he also said that every year a few dozen people are killed by elephants in Sri Lanka, we thought Leica would not mind if we were a bit late with the blog. That night we actually heard them passing by behind the hotel’s fence.

Hubert: It may sound disappointing that internet was the biggest challenge, but both of these countries are really easy to travel. So it is not a challenge at all, it is a real pleasure.

Q: You were “following in the footsteps” of Ibn Battuta whose motto was to never travel the same route twice. Did you apply this to your journey?

Mayra: We really kept that in mind when we were planning out the trip. We actually dreamt about taking a boat down to Sri Lanka instead of flying, but sadly the political situation in the north region of the island didn’t allow. Basically we tried to sleep in a different place every night and also to use as many means of transportation as possible.

Q: How did the V-Lux 2 perform during your travels and what feature(s) of the V-Lux 2 did you find most helpful during your journey?

Hubert: Really well in fact. The batteries last long, the camera is silent, the flipping screen makes it easier to be discreet and the zoom range is so enormous that for traveling it was great. It’s small, lightweight and can be switched into full manual mode, which I love. I must admit, I am used to my M7 and my M8 and prime lenses and I love them for their simplicity. The V-Lux 2 has a lot a options and buttons and auto-focus, so it took me a while to tame the beast, but once I did I was able to get the shot I wanted which is the most important at the end. I know that I am not doing the same kind of pictures I would do with a rangefinder, but in a way it did oblige me to try different things. I would have liked to have shorter depth of field of course, as well as 24fps in the video mode but you cannot have everything!

Q: You rode on planes and trains and even a Royal Enfield “Bullet” during your journey? What was your favorite type of transportation?

Mayra: Well, I think you know Hubert’s answer already! For me it was definitely the train, both in India and in Sri Lanka. There are so many things going on: the food and chai tea vendors, the passengers and the conversations you have with them, putting your head out to see and feel and smell the countryside.

Q: All the other Explorers traveled alone, except for the two of you. Did you find it easier or more difficult to travel as a team? How did you divide the planning, blogging and photography duties?

Mayra: The task splitting was pretty straight forward: Hubert took care of the image department and I wrote the posts. Oh and if you see some shaky frames on the video, that would be me filming as Hubert drove the bike. Usually he would select his images first and then I would look at them for writing inspiration and together we would choose the final edit. I guess it was much easier for us to work as a team, since preparing the posts turned out to be much more time consuming than we first thought, but I also think we put some extra pressure on ourselves, since it was the two of us working.

Hubert: As a photographer I like to travel on my own. I could walk all day long, as street photography is a genre I like to practice. I can spend hours on the same corner to get the best light and the perfect moment. If needed, I will come back to the same spot again and again. It may seem a bit neurotic and it is in a way, so this is certainly something you cannot impose on someone else. But this trip was completely different; it was on the road, moving a lot, trying to catch what is there as it occurs and get as much as you can so people who follow the blog will feel the richness of these countries. So being a team is good to make better decisions, share your doubts and joys. I had to choose my pictures quickly and Mayra was helpful for the editing. So in the end, yes, it was easier, but most importantly it was a pleasure.

Q: Any tips for others planning to visit India or Sri Lanka?

Mayra: One good idea is not to plan too much beforehand and to take your time. In India there seems to be a surprise waiting at every corner so following a prefixed schedule might feel a bit like a rat race. The country is so enormous that after having spent only a few days there we wouldn’t dare to give any kind of precise advise. Sri Lanka is definitely worthy on its own, smaller and much more quiet than India. It has beaches, mountains, temples, all in a very small, ancient and welcoming island. Train, cars, elephants, nature, culture, it’s all there. Avoid Colombo, which is strangely ugly and enjoy trains as they really are one of the best ways to discover this country.

-Leica Internet Team

You can read more about Hubert and Mayra’s journey on their Leica Explorer blog, http://leica-explorer.com/battuta.