Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sleeping in the Great Outdoors

My family did a lot of camping when I was young. Every summer we hitched our pop-up trailer to the big red van, and toodled around the great campgrounds of Southern Ontario. When I was a little older, I was introduced to the joys of a damp sleeping bag when I was sent to a summer camp in Algonquin Park. This was a canoe trip kind of camp, and we girls were sent out for a few days at a time to paddle the lakes as the blackflies buzzed and the mosquitoes whined. After a long day of paddling a canoe and acquiring a mild sunburn, occasionally punctuated by a tiring portage, our counsellors would guide us to a campsite. As the sun went down, we would coax the wet sticks we found into a fire and try to cook something before falling dead into our drippy canvas tents. (Note to the interested: Kraft pizza mix is a superior camping meal. Wrap the dough around a stick, cook it in the fire, then dip the dough stick into the tomato sauce and sprinkle with cheese. Cést magnifique. I only had this once during my camping career, and still remember it clearly almost thirty years later.) As a parent, I see how wise it was to tire out a quartet of nine-year-old girls in this way. Although I didn´t care for camp as a whole (too much rigidly-scheduled cheerfulness), I have fond memories of gliding across still lakes, listening to the birds overhead, and eating charred, sticky marshmallows at the end of the day.

The years went by and I encountered My Dear Spouse. It should surprise no one reading this blog that Erik is keen on camping. But Erik was a proponent of La Vie Sauvage in a way I could never be. For example, winter camping. True, there are no bugs to worry about, but actually choosing to sleep outdoors during a Canadian winter only begs the question: why? Nothing he said abut the crisp beauty of the thing fizzed on me at all. There I draw the line.

Happily, there is a middle ground between trailers and snow forts. When we travelled around Europe during university, we slept in a two-man tent Erik bought in Compiegne. In the years that followed, out little Jamet took us through the mountains of Switzerland, climbing in New Hampshire, hiking in Maine, and into our own backyard when Stylish was young. And while I never developed an antipathy to camping, I thought my days of sleeping on the cold, hard ground were over.

We recently celebrated Erik´s 40th birthday in the atoll of Makemo. After a day spent snorkelling around reefs with a fish population to put the world´s finest aquarium to shame, we decided to camp out on an uninhabited motu for the night. After a dinner of fish grilled over the fire, we laid out a bed of palm fronds on the coral rubble, pitched our old friend the Jamet, and crawled inside when the sun went down.

It is rather entertaining to camp in the Tuamotus. Huge parrotfish abound along the shoreline, and their dorsal fins and tails flap out of the water as they munch on the coral just below. And, rather than worry about snapping turtles, one has to be on the lookout for sharks. Although the shallows beside the motu are only a foot or so deep, still blacktip sharks as big as Indy patrol right to the shoreline. This morning, as I washed out the breakfast dishes, I was surprised when two large-ish sharks suddenly turned and swam away from me. They were only three feet away when they turned, and whether they objected to the hot peppers I´d rinsed away or didn´t like the look of their reflections in the big metal bowl resting on the bottom, I don´t know.

I am still getting used to reef sharks. I prefer a certain cultured aloofness in my sharks. But the sharks here, especially those of human size, are interested in us and want to know what we are about. So they circle, ever so slowly. Our local friend and guide told us the sharks would likely not bother us, provided we didn´t move much or follow them. I am hardly about to go chasing sharks. But it isn´t always easy to freeze like a popsicle when a higher predator glides past only four feet away. The rule is, no splashing, no noise - just stay resolutely large and wooden. The largest sharks we´ve seen were 12-14 feet long, and the largest pack held at least twenty bodies. I am delighted to report that these refined animals feigned the lofty ignorance of our presence of which I so approve. Their smaller comrades should take a lesson.

It is crucial when camping up north to hoist your food. Otherwise, critters from racoons to bears will get into it, no question. We also had to hang our food at night on the motu... because of the hermit crabs. The hermit crabs here are the size of my fist, and they are wonderful cleaners. Anything left out at night will be gone by morning, and one can hear the clack-clack of shells sliding over the coral rubble all night long. The hermit crabs were especially fond of the plastic Ikea forks we´d brought, and we had to retrieve these well-chewed items from all sorts of far-flung and unlikely places.

The sun came up, and little eyes opened. Maybe it was the mild tropical night. Maybe it was the lack of biting insects. Or maybe curling up with our girls on a Thermarest as the stars circled overhead is just one of life´s small pleasures. Because all of us agreed when we woke up - we would stay the next night as well.

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4 comments:

Kate said...

Glad you finally enjoyed camping. Sounds lovely. Stay away from Bruce.

Love Kate (and mom, who had a hard time trying to get the comments to work...Sheèll try again later)

xxoo

Anonymous said...

I knew there was a good reason we prepared you for camping under the stars with your family.

Enjoy those sharks:Bruce has many friends. It thrills me that there are still some corals that are thriving. We look forward to the loads of pictures you must be taking.
Lots of Love
Grannie/Mom

Anonymous said...

Your followers can see, if they click on your Tracker link, that you moved to Raraka yesterday. To get the most out of the "Adventure" they should click on "Satellite" on the map - atolls look pretty skimpy on "Map" Also click and "grab" the map to centre it where you want, then you can zoom in with the "+" key. The huts can be seen in the village to your northwest.

Manateemama said...

Such lovely writing, Amy! So sorry I haven't written to you in a while... Life for this city mouse has been BUSY this summer.

Your adventures sound incredible! The not-encountering-any-land-for-days bits give me the heeby-geebies, but the rest of it is magnificent.

The photos are beautiful, but I'd love another video or two. (HINT)! It was lovely hearing your voices and your "Wowee"s. :)

Big hugs to all,
Larisa

 
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