Una vacacion es un concepto extranjero para una familia Latinoamericana de bajos recursos. Pero un concepto aun mas raro es una vacacion de acampamento.
If you did not understand the preceding sentences, then you will understand what going on a vacation, more specifically a camping vacation, sounded like in our household. While we enjoyed an occasional excursion to the beaches of South Florida, the weekend family gathering of aunt/uncles/cousins, or a day at the park, we never went on a single vacation. Not in Summer, not during Spring Break, or Christmas, or any time whatsoever. Yes, the fact that my mother worked in a chicken factory earning minimum wage to feed the mouths of six hungry children played a significant role in our not having a vacation. However, camping, which may have been perceived as a rather inexpensive family excursion to a low-income family like ours was such a foreign concept, we found it mind-boggling “Americans” defined sleeping outside as a way of vacationing.
I had been introduced to “camping” in the Marine Corps, and I found nothing peaceful or fascinating about freezing my butt off while sleeping under the stars and pulling guard duty as part of war training. We had to carry our rifles everywhere and guard it with our life. Then there was the dirt, the digging of holes to bury bodily functions, the pounding of heavy combat boots through uneven terrain, and the MRE’s (meals ready to eat) loaded with ridiculous amount of calories. There were no s’mores, or campfires, or the occasional consumption of adult beverages.
To be honest with you, it took some time to embrace camping, and it became much more enjoyable with the introduction of children. The night accompanied with a crisp camp fire is so primitive, so simple, yet powerful enough to convert any adult into a joyful child. Witnessing a little girl dancing around heat radiating flames, and grown-ups gathering around the warmth of burning wood under a blanket full of stars can make one forget the existence of an unjust world. The simple shelter of a tent and a sleeping bag is a way to recognize the beauty of nature in its truest form like the way our ancestors once did.
Camping with my husband and daugthers was my introduction to nature. It was an introduction to a life that was far more grand than any mansion or building erected by mankind. So when my sisters told me they were coming for a very short 5 day visit to Eastern Oregon from Miami, FL, I knew that camping was a must. I wanted to share with them the majesty of the mountains, lakes, and the “natural” amenities the state of Oregon offered. Camping was something my sisters had never done, and I knew it was something they would never pursue on their own. As the oldest sister, it was my duty to share with my sisters an experience that all human beings should do at least once in their life – camping.
We decided to go to Wallowa Lake State Park. It is not the kind of backpacking-and-find-your-camping-spot camping experience, but it was far beyond outside the comfort zone of my “city-girls-at-heart” sisters. Plus, we also had a two-year-old and ten-year-old joining us, so that factor was taken into consideration as part of our camping location. I knew my sisters weren’t completely thrilled with the idea they’d be missing out on social media and the warmth of a comfortable bed under a sturdy roof, but they were good sports and went with the flow. However, I knew deep down inside they found the novelty of sleeping under the stars intriguing. We were only staying for two nights, but when you live in the big city, two nights outside with the elements can feel like a survival experience.
We arrived to our campsite close to 6:30 pm, so we had very little daylight left to set up the tent. Once darkness fell and our tent was up, it was time for a fire and time to make everlasting memories. Most importantly, it was time for s’mores! I crashed early with my two-year-old, and my husband, sisters, and ten-year-old gathered around the fire and told scary stories. Scary stories are not my cup of tea, so I was a bit relieved I did not have to sit and pretend not to be scared.
The next day, we took a tram up to Mt. Howard and hiked the perimeter of the mountain, which was 8100 feet above sea level. Since Florida is flat as a pancake, I knew my sisters would enjoy the views of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Our hike was a very slow hike because the pace was set by a 42″ toddler, but it helped us take our time and take in all of the views. There’s actually a restaurant at the top of the mountain, so we treated ourselves to a delicious late lunch after hiking for almost two hours!
Prior to nightfall on our second night, I managed to squeeze in a five-mile run, which was immediately followed by delicious hot dogs and bakes beans. I’d like to add the campsite has showers, so I did not go to bed with sweaty pores. I know, I know, there’s no shower in camping, but we were doing the quasi roughing-it version of camping.
More s’mores around the campfire followed, and I went to sleep that second night with my cup of happiness filled to the brim. My sisters were with me under a starry sky where there was only a nylon of fabric separating us and whatever it was the night would bring. As a little girl, I laid next to bed with my sisters for years, and not once did we ever fathom we’d share the experience of campfires and s’mores together. As and adult, we made memories that were not possible as children, but I felt like I was a little girl playing with my younger sisters once again during those two short but very memorable camping days. I’m not sure if my sisters will ever try camping on their own, but I am hoping my daughters will one day take their children like the way we will continue to take them.
Have you been camping? What is your favorite camping experience? Can you recall your first camping experience?