Here I am in Chile, somewhere. It has been a few days since Andres and I have left Arica where we had a pleasure to be hosted by a friend of Andres, Fernando and even more so by his mother Alejandrina. For a few days we were back in civilization where water, hot water comes by turning a tap and there is no need to set up a tent every evening just to put it back down in the morning. And also when you crave for a cup of coffee, there is no need to first set up your camping stove. You simply go to the kitchen, turn a knob on the stove and the water is boiling. A welcome change after more than two weeks in the desert.
And here we are again in the desert. About a kilometre away from the main road, the noise of sporadic traffic almost does not make it to here. Here there is peace and quiet, solitude. Just the wind is our companion. Constant!
I have decided that this time around I will not write about current events, well at least for the most part. This time I will focus my thoughts on one constant of my wandering and that is camping. It has been almost 200 times I have set up and put down my current home and one could say that in the past year and a half my most current address was “Tent under stars 3”.
What new, up until now unwritten, can I write about camping. Well probably nothing, but I can put into these lines some of my thoughts on the subject and in doing so try to avoid reinventing the wheel.
For start the most obvious – To camp or to use some alternative?
There are plenty of alternatives, more so free ones. There are those that require internet access to use them. These are different so called hospitality portals like couchsurfing which is meant for all kinds of travellers. Or one that I prefer, warmshowers which is meant just for cycle touring. With the help of these portals the doors to homes of local people open up. There you receive hospitality, almost always a bed, occasionally a meal or two, surely almost a conversation and the possibility to meet different, interesting people.
Since internet access is not always available and the host on these portals are not in every single town or village you pass, there are other, more traditional options. They require you to come there, knock on the door and ask in person. These can be fire stations, Red Cross, schools, municipalities, stadiums, churches,… Options are abundant, all you need is some imagination and most of all you should not be afraid to knock on the door and ask. The results can be amazing, from a simple room or a garage where you make your bed on the floor, to a private room with air con, WiFi, shower and use of kitchen as was the case for me one night with Red Cross in Nicoya, Costa Rica. Up until now there has been so many of these kind of experience that I could write a small book about them.
Then there are not free alternatives such as all sorts of cheap hotels, hostels and similar establishments. As a rule of thumb I try to avoid them, my bank account being them main obstacle. Besides they can be so soulless, so empty and the four walls of a stuffy, cheap room can be stifling. But sometimes the body and mind deserve, even demand a hot shower, a bed and peace insde the four walls of a hotel room. This was the case in northern Peru when after several rainy days and three consecutive days of climbing up to the mountain pass four weary cyclists arrived in Celendin, a small town. Exhausted we searched for a cheap hotel where we treated ourselves to an invigorating shower, went outside to grab a bite and then dragged ourselves to our proper, warm bed. Yet there was something missing. What it was I have learned the next evening sitting in front of my tent. I had all my “kitchen” set up around me and was cooking dinner on my little stove. The ability to comfortably sit down in front of your tent, everything you need within reach and sipping your coffee under a starry sky, this freedom only comes with camping.
All in all I would have to say that most of the times I’m for camping. But since this can be more of a challenge in a town or when it’s cold or when it rains or when you simply need a shower and the ability to wash your clothes or maybe you just want company, in these cases alternatives are more than welcome.
Wild camping or seeking permission?
OK, so I’ll camp. Next thing is how will I camp. There are two general options, one is wild camping and the other is to go and find a house where I can ask for permission to camp there. On the driveway, behind the house, on the yard, under some roof,… Again, many options.
Wild camping has it’s benefits such as there is nobody to bother you. With houses there are sometimes nosy kinds that in awe observe how you set up your tent, prepare your stove and cook yourself a dinner. Sometimes quite fun and without trouble you quench their curiosity but other times you just want your peace and quiet.
But when you are in the mood, it’s worth asking at a house. It can make camping easier in so many ways.
With house normally comes access to water so there is no need to carry extra weight (one litre of water equals one kilo).
Then there is greater sense of security if someone gave you permission to camp beforehand as opposed to hiding somewhere in the wild. I do sleep peacefully in both cases, it’s just that if I’m wild camping I tend to make sure my things are nicely packed inside my tent.
What makes camping next to a house more attractive are the occasional bonuses. These could be access to a shower, the ability to wash your clothes, sometimes WiFi, sometime invitation to a dinner/breakfast or even sleeping inside.
Occasionally you get to sleep in a less conventional option. The other day Andres and I were seeking shelter from the desert wind so we headed towards a property that seemed to have some abandoned houses on it. It turned out Roberto was living there. Obviously we were granted permission and in the end we ended up sleeping in an old, redesigned bus. We also had a shower and unlimited access to water in the middle of Atacama, the driest place on Earth.
Deciding on what option to take again comes down to your current inspiration. Or you might be “limited” by the offer since in more remote areas such as deserts or high mountains there aren’t always houses where you could ask for hospitality.
So we make it to the next item – Choosing a location
Now there is a topic I have read several posts about. From how it’s not really recommended to start searching for a hidden place in the middle of the day to how you have to pay attention to the inclination so that a potential nightly rain does not turn your tent into an aquarium. I would say you have to set up priorities and be capable to adapt to the environment.
It is highly unlikely it’s going to rain in the desert, however dry river beds are still ill-advised. You just never know. What you should absolutely take into account in the desert is the wind. It can create sand dunes inside your tent.
In rainy areas you will surely pay more attention to finding a roof above your head. It just the way it is!
I will always try to find a location where I will feel safe. This means I will try to avoid sleeping next to a road where anyone can see you.
There is something I haven’t, up until now, seen anywhere written down and that is access to toilet. Obviously it’s not going to be your normal toilet seat, but surely a place where in the morning you can peacefully squat and watch the nature while your intestines do their job. For me personally this is way up there on my priority list. But then again, everyone has his/her priority list set up according to their own taste.
And now the equipment. A topic I could write several posts on and still not cover all the options. So I will not even try. What I will do is, I will write about what I use and why I use it.
Let’s start with the tent, surely a piece of equipment most linked to camping (thou not always needed since there are alternatives such as hammocks). Mine is Robens Raptor, colour green. I would never have thought, but the colour does matter. Fluorescent orange, incredibly useful when you are trying to find your way back to your tent in a blizzard is absolutely rubbish when you want to remain hidden between the trees.
Then there is size. My is a two (and some more) person tent. True, it’s big and for that a bit heavier than a ultralight one-person. But then again it doesn’t get cramped when I’m putting all my stuff inside and away from unwanted attention it might receive left outside. Only Lou doesn’t fit inside.
Robens Raptor is also freestanding. It means I can set it up even on concrete without using pegs or some other option just to keep it up.
Then there are two entrances that are longitudinal. Incredibly practical when you are putting your stuff inside and you do not have to crawl all over your sleeping bag just to reach something you forgot in the pocket next to where you lay your head.
And there are many, many more small things that transform it into a true villa on the road. Absolutely highly recommend.
I sleep in Robens Caucasus 600 goose down filled sleeping bag. With it’s temperature range from max. 13°C to the extreme of -27°C I was happy to have it from Canadian spring up to 4.500 meters high in the Peruvian Andes (and even in the surprisingly cold Atacama nights). Soft, warm and once packed small and doesn’t take up much space. And it’s light.
What also doesn’t take up much space and provides ample comfort is my Robens AirImpact 3,8 inflatable mattress. It makes sleeping much softer and provides insulation from sometimes very cold floor.
These are basics. Then there are wishes and desires. A big desire of mine is to have a hot meal and coffee. To make it a reality I use MSR Whisperlite camping stove. It works on normal petrol as well. Something that you can get anywhere unlike cartridges for gas stoves. Good luck finding them in the Peruvian Andes or Guatemalan jungle.
Basically this is it. I did my best to keep it short. No way have I covered all, but then again I’m not writing a guidebook on camping. If the is a specific question you might have, do put it in the comments.
May 2017 be a year you go and follow or keep on following your Dreams!
With a Smile on my face, until next time!