And despite my university camping trips to the Cordillera Cantábrica, I’ll have to describe myself as a greenhorn when it comes to camping. I wasn’t going to put a lot of trust in my teenage experiences, fueled by youth and confidence – university students and mothers sit in two different camps, not to mention separated by years and a steady decline in outdoor adventure. The Ozoz then and now are worlds apart, especially when it calls for putting up a tent!
So, off we went, J (daughter #1) and I on Saturday, the trunk of the car was full to the brim. I followed the recommended packing list to the T – no extras, save for my makeup case. I didn’t pack any heels or spaghetti strapped tops. I did manage to forget J’s raincoat, though I took her ‘Hello Kitty’ brolly. We arrived, minus a couple of wrong turns but right on time. By 2.03pm, we’d packed the car, registered for the Girl’s scouts event and the prospect of S’Mores seemed closer by the minute.
Till I saw the task that lay ahead – transporting our luggage up and down multiple hills, with high chances of rain; suddenly those S’Mores began losing their appeal…by the minute. The journey began, and the lessons too – Here it goes:
Lesson #1 – Leave the suitcase and heels at home
Except your suitcase has huge tractor wheels, taking it to a forested camp area will prove trying as I learnt – somehow regular suitcase wheels tend to get stuck in sand and get ruined fast. My luck? A wheelbarrow specially reserved for people like me with too much essential stuff saved me. Once all our stuff was on it, then began the task of pushing it up and down hill. We had many breaks 🙂 but made it eventually. My advice if you plan on making camping your passion? Get a backpack that is light and expandable and ditch the suitcase. Returning home was wonderful though – the camp ground workers came and picked up bags (people) in batches.Unknown to me. It was during my first trek to my car that I spotted the truck, of course my last batch of ‘load’ and my daughter and I went in – saved a good 20 minute walk!
Lesson#2 – Pine cones and away, I am a Princess
Thankfully, we went as a group. Had I been on my own, my daughter and I would have slept on the tent, not in it. We would have had a pretty rocky night, with a floor of pine cones and twigs, for I had no idea how to rig the tent or that the ground needed clearing prior to laying out and setting up.
The rain-carrying clouds.
Lesson#3 – Set yourself up on higher ground
Another thing to note? Best to set your tent on high ground, as opposed to in the valley. We camped down low and thankfully the rain didn’t progress to a storm. A young girl told me how a few years ago, families who camped low in the valleys woke up to find themselves afloat, victims of flash floods. This is what she said of the storm that year – ‘The thunder was deafening and the lightening, blinding’!
Lesson#4 – Half believe the weather report
The day before, on Friday, my colleagues laughed at me for picking a wet weekend to go camping. The weather forcast was heavy rain galore. We woke up Saturday to superb weather – blue skies and warm temperatures. Still the weather report looked dreary. Knowing the Netherlands, I took no chances and packed up properly – good on me, as time would tell. Not long after we set-up camp and laid out all our creature comforts, the skies slowly gave notice of what was to come. Clouds drifted by rapidly, heavy and grey. From the central point, I ran to get our water-proof gear, well, the bits I’d packed. When the downpour followed, I was mighty glad that I was a true (boy’s) scout, ‘prepared’. For me it was rain, for you it might be sun – packing appropriately is the key.
Lesson #5 – Join the debate – pack light or go as-comfy-as-you-can
I went for the latter, with no regrets (save for the awkwardness of the suitcase but that’s a small matter). We had sleeping mats, sleeping bags, an air mattress, a duvet and pillows. We had flashlights, and chairs (which we didn’t use this time) and much more. I wasn’t going to freeze and I was glad I packed up properly for it gave one of us (J) a good night’s sleep. I still ended up cold and could have sworn I didn’t sleep a wink, except I kept waking up from dreams completely out of kilter with the green wilderness we were in, so I knew for a fact I slept :-). My daughter on the other hand had to be woken up for Sunday’s breakfast. Sure we could have done with just the sleeping bags but I guarantee I would have had a worse night than I did. You’ll have to be the judge though: in some instances I live by the philosophy of ‘Better too much than too little’. This was one of those cases! As for the make-up, it never made it out of the suitcase so…..don’t be silly like me. Make sure you take medicines and keep them wrapped up tight.
Note, the orange sleeping bag on the left is for us, my daughter was jumping on our air bed in excitement (not knowing the fate that could have befallen us both), the shower is not ours! I couldn’t resist taking a photo when I sighted it!
Lesson #6 – Take as many plastic bags as possible
I took a couple of bin bags but next time (assuming there is), I will take a shed load of smaller bags. You’ll need them – for the clothes and the shoes and to sit on, and even to shield your camera. And of course for trash and more. My two bin bags were used up in no time – one was filled with garbage and the other our wet clothes, meaning that I ended up sitting in wet and muddy places, with a big brown swathe of dirt on my trousers – comfort taken in the fact that I was not alone and there was no catwalk. Like I said, this will be top of my list next time
Lesson #7 – Camp food can be delish
So, we went as a large group – 200+ boys and girls and parents. I was prepared to starve for a day, saved only by the S’Mores and return home lighter. On the contrary, the ‘Chili for 100’ proved to be extra tasty and the cornbread made me love cornbread, it was light and fluffy, with the distinct yellow colour and cornmeal flavours.
It was MUCH better than my feeble attempt at cornbread. The chili was superb – the complex, melded flavours of regular chili were there and it was full of beans and meat and tomato sauce. A few dashes of Tabasco, I was warmed to the bone. I think the key was preparation.
Even if you’re going in a small group, it is worth it thinking of some nice and easy recipes which pack well or can be partly cooked. Everything from cheese and apples to grilled hotdogs using disposable tin foil BBQ packs is possible.
Lesson #8 – Beware of ticks and other strange animals
I hadn’t considered the dangers of ticks and Lyme’s disease till we returned home. Thankfully, we were tick-free. Keep ticks in mind when you’re out and about, having forest fun. They can burrow under the skin, seeking warm dark areas. Some of them carry a strain of bacteria which causes Lyme’s disease – a disease that can have serious consequences. Dress appropriately and be vigilant if you notice any strange bumps/warts on your skin.
Lesson #9 – S’Mores are …just ok.
Well, the Dutch version I tried. I saw Dutch because we used Dutch cookies which were covered with chocolate on one side. Let me start from the very beginning. We watched the fire being made. First the men gathered the wood and carefully set it up – I laughed at the ceremony they made of it. Come evening, my daughter needed to go to the bathroom, just before the communal marshmallow roasting. When we returned, my friend Alysha – thank you Alysha, had saved us marshmallows, impaled on long sticks. I had worn her ear thin with my talk of S’mores so she wasn’t going to let me miss this. We got our cookies and easily found spot to stand and roast. Except my marshmallow caught fire…
….like others around me!
Then it was ready and it was tricky to get the marshmallow off the stick and onto the cookie, with one hand! The first one went to J, and I set about making mine. In no time I was done, struggled again to get the marshmallow off and on to the cookie and then I took my first bite.
I was a little bit disappointed I think because we weren’t using graham crackers and Hershey’s thin milk chocolate pieces. Then I recovered and enjoyed it, even if I got more of the chocolate flavours than the ‘bubble-gum’ sweetness and texture of the marshmallow. Strangely, my American friends preferred the ‘Scholiertjes‘ – the Dutch cookies, citing easier handling as the reason: because the chocolate is already on the cookie, you have one less ingredient to worry about.
I also found out that one marshmallow wouldn’t give me the real flavours….and so back at home (today), we tried it, with two marshmallows per S’More and the girls and I really enjoyed it. I can see myself eating them on a Saturday night, with my tartan blankie, watching ‘Americas best dance crew’, and going to bed happy. I have resolved, with the aid of the kindhearted to lay my hands on the real ingredients (not make my own) and do this someday this June, or July….or/and even August. Let you know when.
I did enjoy the camaraderie around the fire
Plus we learnt the art of roasting/toasting marshmallows and it was nice and warm!
Lesson #10 -Keep a set of clothes in the car
Bringing down a wet tent is no fun, especially if you have to fold it 🙂 – note that most tents require some folding. Come Sunday morning when I dismantled our shelter, successfully, I was soaked from head to toe. And had to drive home like that……wet fleece, wet tracksuit bottoms, wet hair! If I had that extra set of clothes in the car, things would have been different. I am glad I didn’t end up with a cold!
Lesson #11 – If in doubt, stay home
And you know, if camping isn’t your thing, stay home. My husband did…..and we’re still married!